Gluten is such a HUGE topic in the health food world today. Some people swear it’s evil and some say it’s totally harmless. So what is the deal with this somewhat enigmatic substance? I still have a lot to learn, but I have discovered a few things in my own experience with trying a gluten free diet.
First of all, what exactly IS gluten? Gluten is a protein substance in many grains that acts as a binding agent and creates the doughy texture we’re all used to. There is nothing inherently wrong with these proteins, and if you have a very healthy, strong digestive system with plenty of good bacteria necessary to break them down, then you can probably eat gluten with no problems! But for many of us, with years and years of poor diets, stress, and foods lacking the probiotics to replenish our gut, our digestive system has become damaged and less able to properly break down these hard-to-digest proteins. Celiac disease is the very serious form of this issue, but many more people are noticing that they seem to be “gluten sensitive” and that removing gluten from their diet helps a myriad of common illnesses. Issues like eczema and other skin problems, irritable bowel syndrome, ADHD, many autoimmune disorders, as well as mood disorders are all said to be exacerbated by gluten. Removing gluten helps to heal your gut lining so that your body can properly digest food without this unhealthy response.
When I first started really trying to have a healthy lifestyle, two of the primary things I gave up were sugar and gluten. For me personally, that basically meant giving up processed foods, which is really how I prefer to describe it. I don’t believe that it is simply “gluten” that is always the culprit- but many of the foods that contain gluten are! Overly processed, bleached, nutrition-less breads are one of the main foods containing gluten. This “white” bread is depleted of its nutrition and fiber when they remove the parts of the grain that have a shorter shelf life and detract from that soft, fluffy texture that you find in white bread. This bread is digested very quickly because there are few remaining nutrients to help slow the digestive process, so in turn the bread causes your blood sugar to spike. So all you’re left with is a struggling digestive system, unhealthy blood sugar levels and practically no nutrients.
Though wheat flour still contains gluten and is still difficult to digest, it is much better than white flour because it still contains the nutrients needed to help in the digestive process and nourish your body. Eating too much of it is still not great, but it’s much better than the alternative! However, our favorite bread is even one step ahead of wheat bread! This is what is called “sprouted” bread, when the grains are soaked and begin to sprout before they are turned into dough and baked. Though it is not technically gluten free, the sprouting process begins to break down the difficult to digest proteins so that your body doesn’t have to work near as hard. So this results in a bread that is much lower on the glycemic index, is much easier to digest, and allows you to absorb more of the nutrients that it contains! You can make sprouted bread at home, or you can purchase something like Ezekiel bread at most health food stores. It’s definitely not a soft, light, sandwich bread, but that is because it is full of beneficial nutrients and is what real bread is supposed to be like! It is an absolute staple in our house now, and we love using it as toast! Ezra even loves it 🙂
Another point that I want to share doesn’t really have to do with gluten itself, but is still incredibly important in my opinion. Conventional wheat in America is treated with many pesticides and sometimes other chemicals like glyphosate which is a potential carcinogen and has been thought to disrupt gut health. Many people disagree on exactly how harmful all of these chemicals are, but from my research there have definitely not been enough studies proving their safety. If these substances are known to kill bugs and plants, I’m very doubtful as to how good they can be for humans either. I would definitely suggest studying more about this on your own and maybe I’ll blog more specifically about it in the future. But we as a family have decided to eat organic grains as much as possible because of many of the possible side effects of the different chemicals put onto (and sometimes into) most wheat today.
All of that being said, here is the main point I want to make; All foods that contain gluten aren’t evil, and all gluten free foods aren’t great either! We need to look at WHAT we are eating and how our body is processing it, not just if it contains gluten or not. There are plenty of “gluten free” items at the store that are still full of sugar, chemicals and lacking in nutrients, and yet there are foods like Ezekiel bread that, though not technically gluten free, are much more nutrient dense and easier to digest! So don’t just jump on the gluten free bandwagon blindly. The gluten free pasta may be much healthier than the white pasta, but those “gluten free” oreos may not be exactly healthy, so don’t be fooled by the label alone 🙂
So with all of this in mind, here are some of the main things that I try to do! Avoid processed white bread as much as possible (yes that means those delicious white rolls at basically every restaurant…) limit pasta or choose a gluten free or sprouted grain variety, choose baking flours like almond, coconut, flax, or rice flours or make your own sprouted grain dough for homemade bread, and as a last resort, always choose wheat over white bread! And over everything else, try to always choose organic!
When we decided to make these changes, I can honestly tell you that I never wanted to go back. I felt so much healthier, lost weight quickly and easily, felt more energetic, and noticed stomach pains whenever I tried to eat bread with gluten or difficult to digest grains. I used to LOVE bread. I never thought anything could make me give it up, but when I realized how much better I felt and how many substitute options there were, I just couldn’t go back. So if you think you may have a sensitivity that could improve by limiting these foods, just give it a try! It’s such a simple solution to some major problems that we’re facing as a society, so who knows, it may be the solution for you too.