Gluten free…it’s a huge buzz right now in the wellness industry. Often I am asked, “Why was gluten not a problem 30 years ago?” The answer is not that complicated…
Today’s wheat is genetically-modified… the gluten content has been increased, and it is often referred to as franken-wheat. It is difficult for the human digestive tract to break down this newer gluten, and it can contribute to a number of health issues. Sometimes gluten can be the culprit for certain skin conditions, and/or chronic sinus issues – which we learned when we eliminated gluten from our teenage son’s diet for several weeks. He had experienced chronic sinus issues and repeated infections since he was a young boy. I will add that dairy also contributes to congestion, foggy thinking and need for a box of tissues – however, between the two food groups, gluten has a more immediate effect on his nasal cavity and its ability to breathe freely.
There are a number of books and articles on the topic of gluten and wheat, and it is encouraged for additional reading. However, I would like to share my own experience and journey to renewed health…
Nearly five years ago I was introduced to the company, Arbonne International. Consultants in the company educate people on label reading, which was not a practice I was accustomed to when purchasing products. I began to learn, study, subscribe to newsletters of medical professionals practicing alternative medicine, and built a library on hormone balance, nutritional wellness and cancer prevention…and so the journey continued. I was very overweight, had chronic joint pain, my blood sugar numbers were borderline type II diabetic, and I had some additional concerns that made me quite nervous. I was using heartburn OTC medications daily.
A book on hormone balance titled, “What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Breast Cancer“, by Dr. John Lee, Dr. David Zava and Virginia Hopkins, changed my life. It was about so much more than breast cancer. A few paragraphs on nutrition provided the life-changing “ah ha” moment. It was really quite a simple concept – in this book I learned that ALL processed, refined flours are metabolized just like table sugar in the body. Cancer cells are fueled by the intake of sugar.
It was from this point on that I made a decision…not to go Gluten Free, but to cut processed flour foods way back. For my morning routine, I substituted a vegan, Arbonne soy free protein smoothie, for convenience and great taste. This resolved any temptation I may have had to return to my breakfast of “heart healthy, cholesterol lowering multigrain cereal” – which, by the way, was endorsed by the American Heart Association. The packaging said so…and I learned was a clever marketing ploy, and not a true “heart healthy” fact.
Initially, I cut back 50% on refined flour products. I also eliminated processed skim milk, after learning milk contributed to acid reflux. The acid reflux diminished much. As well, I lost 32 lbs. in three months. Encouraged, I continued to cut back on gluten, and discovered I really did not miss breads, pizza crust and baked goods much. Rather than sandwiches for lunch, I enjoyed a large salad of organic greens, chicken, raw seeds, berries and feta cheese, with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and squirt of fresh lemon juice for dressing. (Bottled, store-bought dressings, for the most part, contain ingredients that do not promote a healthy lifestyle.)
I continued to decrease refined flour products, and to this day gluten products are approximately only 10-15% of my weekly food intake. I must also share that after much study, I eliminated ALL artificial ingredients – which includes artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, sucralose (aka Splenda), Truvia, etc.; artificial colors…and other ingredients that contribute to hormonal imbalances and interrupt the complexity of the endocrine system. Cutting back on gluten WILL make a difference for anyone I am sure, but I desired much more than weight loss…I wanted to reverse symptoms I was experiencing.
In June of 2011 the scale at the local clinic (I did not have a scale at home, and weighed in every two weeks at my doctor’s clinic), indicated that I had lost 85 lbs. My journey did not dismiss the importance of using hygiene products that did not disrupt the fine balance between hormones, and I was aware of hormones in our food supply – an all together separate topic.
Many lose weight, but gain it back. We are told that you can’t out exercise a bad diet, but I would like to add, that you cannot out exercise, or out diet – a large gap between two key hormones – estrogen and progesterone. I have been able to maintain the loss of 80 lbs. since 2011, with a 5 lb. fluctuation, which I embrace.
After the initial 65 lb. milestone I participated in an elimination diet as outlined by the Arbonne 30 Days to Healthy Living program, which resulted in another 16 lbs. lost in 30 days. It was through this program that I was able to discern, by learning to listen to my body, that I had a gluten sensitivity (which will not show up on an allergy test). Symptoms I incur when I consume gluten include aches in my knees, and sinuses that begin to drain incessantly within minutes.
Elimination diets are popular, and often prescribed by nutritionists and endocrinologists trying to get to the bottom of a patient’s GI issues. For people who are not having serious health concerns, the concept of eliminating their favorite food groups for 30 days is a short-lived idea. If the thought of eliminating the top, most allergenic food groups 100% for thirty days seems overwhelming, I encourage you to cut back on ONE food group (gluten/wheat or dairy are two food groups that are typically prime suspect) for four weeks. The idea is to reconnect with your body, what ails it and what fuels it.
Counting calories is not necessary, and you don’t need to measure or weigh yourself unless you wish to….your clothes will let you know if your body is losing body fat through the mid-section and elsewhere. In all likelihood, your joints and overall sense of wellness will be telltale signs of how your body is responding.
It is imperative to find vegetable/plant-based food substitutes to take the place of the glutinous foods you are eliminating. In lieu of breakfast cereal, toast or bagel, consider gluten free steel cut oats, quinoa served with a splash of almond milk, cinnamon, blueberries and touch of raw honey. Restoring proper pH to the body is always smart, and an alkaline-based breakfast smoothie that contains plant protein, fiber, and a small amount of complex carbohydrates will offer satiety, provide mental clarity and prevent that mid-morning crash and burn.
For lunch, omit the traditional sandwich or pizza, both of which are quite acidic. The goal is to fuel the body with food that does not fuel diseased cells. Green salads (not iceberg lettuce), are a great choice. Consider sandwiches and taco fillings using a fresh collard leaf as your shell or wrap. My own family uses Teff flour, or quinoa, or brown rice wraps. Gluten free savory flat breads make for an awesome pizza crust.
Whatever you choose, it must TASTE awesome or you will not stick with it. Fresh, raw plant-based foods are a great choice. When farmer’s markets are in season, there is an abundance of nutrient-dense foods that promote a healthier lifestyle. If you have considered cutting back on gluten, late spring and summer is a great time to get started when local produce becomes readily available.
Remember that healthy is the new happy. If you have struggled with excess weight, chronic joint pain, or inflammation – consider reducing gluten. Once you begin to feel improvements and have more energy, I am confident that you will be encouraged by the results, and make a decided choice to gradually phase today’s franken-gluten products out of your grocery cart.