Today one of our store employees, Marley, has joined us to help explain a gluten free diet. She works part time here at the store, teaches yoga when she's not here, and has plenty of first-hand experience about living a gluten free lifestyle.
Here's her story...
Clearing up the Gluten Confusion
“Gluten free” has been a buzz term we’ve heard thrown around recently. Countries like New Zealand and Australia have recognized this dietary need and catered to this group of consumers long before it became popular here in the US. It is said that more than 50 diseases have been associated with gluten, the protein found in wheat, rye, and barley.
According to mindbodygreen.com (a favorite page of mine whose goal is to make wellness inclusive and fun), it’s estimated that 99% of the people who have either gluten intolerance or celiac disease are never diagnosed. It is difficult to determine what percent of the US population is gluten intolerant, but it is estimated that 30% of people carry the gene for celiac disease (also known as CD - a condition where a person is allergic to gluten). However, it is my experience that you don’t need to have an allergy to gluten to need to avoid it.
For as long as I can remember, I have had digestive upsets. Bloating and gas every time I ate in high school, and later in college those symptoms combined with radiating heartburn. I was having terrible asthma attacks that landed me in the ER several times, and had to keep a nebulizer at the ready at home, for when my regular inhaler wouldn’t cut it. My doctor treated my heartburn with a standing order of Prilosec OTC and later a prescription for another proton pump inhibitor that was only available by RX. The problem with these medications and many others, is that they can cause other health problems down the road by possibly robbing your bones of essential minerals, for example, and later contributing to osteoporosis.
I knew something else preventative and natural must be possible, so in addition to turning my digestive system into an ongoing science experiment that I carefully examined and evaluated (I’m a biologist AND a yogi, after all), I cut back on coffee, cheese, tomatoes, chocolate, dairy, and other acid-forming or inflammatory foods. Although some stomach problems were feeling a bit better, I still felt sick. After having a biopsy done in my intestine, and the doctor STILL telling me I’m perfectly healthy despite the inflammation he found there with the camera, I suggested to him that in my experiments over the years, I felt best when I cut back on gluten. Disappointingly, I didn’t get a straight answer, I got an “Oh, I’m not sure that’s it, unless you have anemia...(flips through my file) which...you do...”
That was all I needed to make my decision; I would not visit the doctor again for my digestive system distresses. I will fix my stomach without medicine. And guess what? I did! It was confirmed to me that after eating about two years gluten free, I have actually had an intolerance this whole time. My stomach is better, I NEVER have asthma attacks, and after having a break from gluten, I can see that when I DO eat some, my skin actually breaks out.
I now follow a whole foods-based diet consisting mostly of vegetables, nuts/legumes, and fruit. Taking probiotic supplements in addition to this diet change has majorly helped my stomach problems as well, and I highly suggest loading up that intestinal flora army ASAP! I also add a small amount of Mother nature’s gluten free grains, which help feed these beneficial microorganisms. I try to keep processed grains and snacks to a minimum because I’ve grown to know how my system reacts to them (notice how I said try - sometimes you gotta say "yes" to sugar!).
In college when I was first trying to experiment with different foods, there weren’t a lot of gluten free options out there. I tried making my own crackers; they were dry and granular, and the consistency was similar to baking soda (they were, in a word, horrible). Luckily, there are countless options now that taste like the real thing. If you have celiacs disease and are highly allergic, be sure to look at labels that are certified gluten free - these companies have committed to making sure that there's no cross contamination with gluten-containing foods on any machinery within their facility.
Of course, its always better to eat vitamin and mineral-packed whole foods, rather than GF junk foods. Some naturally GF grains include rice, amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat and millet. Oats are also naturally gluten free, however celiacs beware because most oats have been processed on machinery with gluten-containing products and possibly cross-contaminated. The company Bob’s Red Mill sells certified GF oats. For those of you looking to satisfy a defiant hankering for something baked or sweet (and we all need to, right?) check out the gluten free pastas, crackers, breads, chips, cookies and other treats that Sunflower Natural Foods has to offer.
Symptoms that gluten-sensitive people can show
- Diarrhea and constipation
- Keratosis Pilaris, aka chicken skin on the back of your arms
- Fatigue (especially after eating gluten)
- Hormone imbalances (PMS, unexplained infertility) and mood swings/anxiety
- Diagnosis of an autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Rheumatoid arthritis, Ulcerative colitis, Lupus, Psoriasis, Scleroderma or Multiple sclerosis
- Diagnosis of chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia
- Gluten can also cause inflammation in your entire body- particularly knees, joints and hips.
“Testing” for gluten intolerance
I chose to not get tested, because my results from the “Marley Experiments” supported my hypothesis. I suggest doing an elimination diet. The book Clean by Alejandro Junger is where this was first introduced to me, but I know there are countless websites and info online readily available. Cut all gluten completely out of your diet for 2 weeks or more. Gluten is a large protein that is difficult to digest, and some say it can take months and even years to clear from your system, so the more time spent on the elimination diet, the more beneficial (be sure that 100% of gluten is erased from the diet in order for the results to be accurate). Notice how you feel. Reintroduce gluten into your diet, and again be mindful of how your mind and body are feeling. Looking good and feeling great while you’re off it? Awesome, but you have a gluten intolerance. Now what?
Treating and managing your gluten sensitivity
My best advice: don’t eat it! Taking out all traces of gluten from your diet means keeping 100% of gluten out of your body. Check your supplements, cross contamination in medications, condiments, etc. to be sure you’re not causing more inflammation and harm to your body, and be careful when eating out! Search for integrative practitioners, natropathic doctors or functional medicine physicians in your area if you are still uncertain.
Thanks for your personal account, Marley! It's hard to change lifestyles so dramatically, but encouraging to hear that someone real has had a positive experience from eliminating gluten. Readers, do some of those symptoms sound a little too familiar? Maybe it's time you conduct your own elimination diet and see if you have a gluten sensitivity, too. Come on by the store for lots of gluten free foods and diet suggestions. See you soon!
Health & happiness,
* Info from MindBodyGreen.com. Post by Marley Baldwin.