What is Gluten?
Gluten is the protein found in wheat, rye, barley and oats (due to cross contamination)
What are the reasons people are intolerant to gluten?
- Coeliac Disease – This is an autoimmune condition where the body reacts to gluten. Once consumed it then attacks itself. The small intestine becomes damaged and malabsorption issues can occur. People with this condition need to avoid gluten 100% of the time. No exceptions.
- Non-Coeliac Gluten Sensitivity – Is an immune response to consuming gluten that can cause the small intestine to become more permeable or ‘leaky’. People can experience a range of different conditions, which are not just digestive complaints. Joint pain, skin conditions and other inflammatory conditions can also be caused or at least made worse by gluten.
- Wheat Production – The wheat crop now has 50% more gluten in it to what it use to 50 yrs ago due to the hybridization of wheat. There is also roundup sprayed on the wheat crop 3 weeks prior to harvest to kill the wheat so it’s easier to harvest. There are then chemicals used on wheat during the production process. A line of thought it is these chemicals are also causing problems. Wheat also used to be allowed to ferment for many days when making bread. This fermentation process would see the gluten reduced, as the bacteria in the yeast would eat the gluten. Now commercial baking production see’s breads rising in less than 2 hrs. Extra gluten is also added to make food ‘fluffy’. Wheat is also used in many commercial products as a bulking agent. So not only has the wheat crop itself changed but the consumption of wheat has dramatically increased through food production processes and the increased consumption of processed foods.
Gluten and the gut
Understanding leaky Gut
Intestinal permeability is the more technical name also more commonly expressed as ‘Leaky Gut’.( I don’t recommend you use the word ‘leaky gut’ to your GP you will most likely get a roll of the eyes! ). Here are the footnotes on what it is!
- We are one long tube mouth the anus. This long tube is technically still the outside of our body.
- The small intestine is where we absorb out nutrients. It has small finger like projections called villi, which are lined with single layer of cells and are designed to get a larger surface area for absorption of nutrients.
- These cells form tight junctions that are designed to only allow broken down molecules of food and micronutrients through into the blood stream.
- This single layer of cells serves as ‘gatekeepers’ to the rest of our body. It is the interface between the external environment and the insides of our body.
- Certain substances can cause these tight junctions of the cells to become loose.
- Leaky Gut Syndrome is linked to a whole range of conditions – not just the gastrointestinal tract. These include autoimmune conditions, cancer, skin conditions such as acne, psoriasis and eczema. The list is long. With any sort of inflammatory condition there is always gut integrity issues. So if in doubt heal the gut!
A Healthy Gut Lining
This demonstrated by Dr Libby in her book Exhausted to Energized and it’s the simplest and best way of understanding it I have seen so far (fabulous read BTW).
The cells that line the intestine are a single layer of cells which are like a healthy row of bricks. Only nutrients broken down small enough are allowed to travel through to the blood stream.
XXXX XXX XX XXXX XXXXX X = food
An Unhealthy Gut Lining (AKA –intestinal permeability or Leaky Gut)
A permeable gut lining is demonstrated like this. The cells on the villi form a row of bricks with gaps in it.
0000 00 00 00000 00 000 0000 000 000 00 000 000 00 0 0000 0 0000
XXXX XXXX XXXX XXXX XX X XX X
0000 000000 00000 00 000 0 0000 000 000 000 0 0 000 00 0 0000 0 0000
If the intestinal lining is more permeable than they should be (larger gaps) then larger fragments of food are allowed to pass through this ‘GATE’ into the blood stream. The immune system then detects these fragments – particularly undigested proteins the blood stream and your body doesn’t recognize them as food, so your immune system strikes an attack.
This is how food intolerances and allergies start as constant bombardment of these undigested proteins in the blood sends the immune system into overdrive.
Food fragments that end up in the blood stream create extra stress on the body through the inflammatory response.
Gluten has recently been found to influence a pathway called the zonulin pathway. Zonulin regulates the ‘gate’ in the intestinal tract to open. This then therefore is why gluten can be a real offender in causing so many health issues. If we are consuming gluten for breakfast lunch and dinner then our guts are always ‘open’ for things to pass by the keeper that normally shouldn’t. Therefore our immune systems are always in overdrive.
This combined with the increase in gluten consumption in western culture is why wheat is causing issues for so many people.
There are of course other factors that contribute to intestinal permeability. Not enough stomach acid is one of them. Hydrochloric acid in our stomach which is highly acidic helps break our proteins down in the stomach. If we don’t have enough stomach acid then the proteins are not broken down enough. Stomach acid also stimulates certain enzymes to be released into the small intestine that continue with this process. The undigested proteins (such as gluten) move through into the blood stream and this is what out immune system reacts to as it does not recognise the proteins.
This obviously is a really simplified version but you can now see how eating the wrong types of foods and not having a well-functioning digestive system can start to cause all sorts of problems in the body.
It can also be noted that gluten will not always cause direct digestive issues in some people but will have other effects in the body. This is why to really see if it’s affecting you it’s best to cut gluten out for a while. If you have any type of inflammatory issue that your dealing with such as skin issues, digestive complaints, joint pain, arthritis , headaches, allergies, sinus complaints etc then you may benefit from removing gluten from your diet. It is particularly an issue for anyone with an autoimmune condition!
The other option is that you go and get a food intolerance test from your holistic practitioner ( like me). This is an expensive test but well worth it in if you have other food intolerances. You might cut out gluten and not notice anything different because you have other foods that you’re reacting to.
That being said cutting gluten out on can still be highly beneficial.
Take the gluten free challenge
Because of the damage gluten can do to the gut, when removing gluten from the diet I also recommend also removing dairy as the casein in dairy can also cause a similar effect on the gut and its permeability. You need to cut it out for a minimum for 30 days but ideally 3-6 months.
Once symptoms have subsided you can then reintroduce dairy slowly. Try one thing once and then wait 3-4 days. Start with Ghee then butter, fermented dairy such as yogurt or kefir, harder cheeses and then try some raw milk.
Many people cannot tolerate casein but the effects on the body will be worse when the gut is inflamed. Often people can tolerate some forms of dairy once healing has occurred and I hate to be the bearer of bad news. The dairy needs to go – at least for the short-term.
What’s Ok and What’s Not to Eat?
What’s Not Ok
|Fruit and Vegetables||All||Nothing – eat as much vegetables as your heart desires.|
|Grains + legumes||Rice, buckwheat, corn, quinoa, millet, sorghum, chickpea, peas, tapioca, lentils, beans,||Wheat (durum, semolina, triticale), spelt, rye, barley, baked beans, oats, wheat germ and wheat bran, anything with malt in it and glucose|
|Snacks||Popcorn, carob, nuts and seeds, coconut flakes,||Commercial biscuits and cakes etc, pastries, scones, lollies, glucose syrup,|
|Condiments||Salt and pepper, Tamari, mustard seeds, fresh herbs and spices, dried herbs and spices, vinegar’s, some balsamic vinegar||Malt and Malt vinegar, vegemite, wheat starch, modified starch, mustard pickles, soy sauces, gravy mixes, hydrolysed vegetable protein, textured vegetable proteins|
|Beverages||Water, tea and coffee, fresh juices, white and red wine, white rum, potato vodka and gluten-free beers||Milo, instant coffee and coffee alternatives (some), beer, ale larger|
Remember to read all ingredients !
Foods to help heal the gut
These are some added bonuses to add in healing. but don’t forget that eating a whole food diet is what is most important.
- Turmeric – add this into cooking, bone broth etc It has been shown to reduced the inflammation in the gut. Supplementing with curcumin can also be beneficial.
- Fermented foods – getting your fermented foods into your diet on a daily basis will regulate the balance of bacteria in your gut. These include kombucha, sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir, kombucha and fermented vegetables.
- Bone Broth – Is extremely healing for repairing the gut as it contains certain nutrients that assist in the healing.
- Gelatin – Which is actually a component of bone broth. It’s also excellent to add this to your diet for assisted intestinal healing. It also helps regulate digestion through regulation of stomach acid and can assist the liver in detoxification. You can do al sorts of cool things with gelatine such as making these amazing gummies. Make sure it’s organic and grass fed.
- Organic foods – Pesticides can interfere with the gut bacteria, which directly affect the integrity of the gut lining. Reducing the amount of foods sprayed with pesticides to aid the repair of the gut lining. You can read here more about organic foods.
- Slippery Elm Bark – Is a digestive aid that provides fibre and soothes an inflamed intestinal wall. It is particularly helpful for constipation or diarrhoea
- Foods high in omega 3 fatty acids – Oily fish, such as wild salmon, sardines, mackerel or supplement with a good quality fish oil ( you get what you pay for and the oil are better than the caps)
- Grass fed butter – high in butyric acid, which is fuel for the good gut bacteria in the colon and it is also high in vitamin A, which is important for healing of the gut lining.
How to Plan a GF Meal
- Pick your protein – e.g. fish, chicken, legumes, Serving of protein should be a palm size serving
- Add the rest of the plate with vegetables or salad (2 handfuls min). Try to include some fermented vegetables if possible
- Flavour with herbs and spices
- Add some good fats – e.g.: Olive oil, home-made mayonnaise, avocado, nut oils etc ( steer clear of vegetable oils, margarines, and other processed oils such as rice bran oil etc)
Example Meal Plan
|Meal||Day 1||Day 2|
|Breakfast||Green smoothie with almond milk, avocado, tahini, banana, lime ginger, kale and cucumber, green powder and brown rice protein powder||Mini frittata’s with chopped vegetables sauerkraut, rocket and hummus|
|Lunch||Roasted pumpkin and zucchini and quinoa salad with shaved carrot, beetroot, peptita’s, rocket, baby spinach,||Roasted organic chicken with salad and roasted sweet potato and Kim chi and whole egg home-made mayonnaise|
|Dinner||Osso buco and steamed vegetables or salad||Steamed Salmon with cauliflower mash (w grass-fed butter), steamed beans carrots and brussels sprouts|
|Dessert||Home made raw chocolate||Vanilla bean chia pudding with coconut milk|
|Snacks||Sliced pear with tahini and cinnamon||Veg sticks with baba ganosh dip|
How to eat out and stay gluten free
- If you are going out for dinner look up the menu to see if hey have GF options. If unsure ring and ask ahead of time.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Just do it with kindness and grace!
- An easy go to option is meat/fish and veg. Be careful with vegetarian options or things that are crumbed etc.
- Asian restaurants often use soy sauce that has gluten in it. So be sure to ask for gluten free soy.
- If going to a friends for dinner offer to bring something yourself that you know will be gluten free
More resources for you to learn from
Chris Kresser – http://chriskresser.com
Dr Libby Weaver – http://www.drlibby.com
The healthy Chef – Teresa Cutter – https://www.thehealthychef.com – plenty of healthy gluten free recipes on this site.
Changing Habits Changing Lives Website – also great for organic food.
Western A Price Foundation – http://www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/traditional-diets/to-gluten-or-not-to-gluten/
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Weaver, Libby, and Cynthia Louise. 2015. Exhausted to Energized: Dr. Libby’s Guide to Living Your Life with More Energy. 1st ed. Little Green Frog Publisher.