How Grains and Gluten Ruin Your Health
What would it feel like to never eat bread, pasta, muffins and bagels?
For many people the answer is: free from aches and pains, full of energy, and glad to be rid of grains!
For those of us raised to eat our four food groups, or eat according to the grain-friendly government food pyramid, this sounds crazy. How could bread be bad, if almost all of use eat it?
But think about it… most Americans are overweight, tired, and have ongoing aches and pains. We believe grains and gluten are a huge reason why. Based on our own experiences, the experiences of our clients, and the science, we encourage everyone to consider going grain- and gluten-free.
In our opinion, science hasn’t caught up with what people all over America feel. Many “mystery ailments” (headaches, fatigues, joint pain, and so on) can be attributed to an under diagnoses of gluten sensitivities. In fact, in 2016 people will spend double the amount on gluten-free products as they did in 2011. This is not, in our minds, a coincidence. This article will explain why.
The problem with grains
Grains are cultivated crop of cereal: a grass grown for the edible components of its grain. Common grain crops include wheat, rice, barley, millet, oats, and rye. None of these are included in a Paleo diet.
There are many reasons to avoid grains. Here are just a few of the components of cereals that make it unwise to eat your daily bread.
Lectins: Lectins are a mild, natural toxin found in wheat and other grains. Chemically speaking, they are a type of protein that can bind to cell membranes. They are also present in raw legumes, and some seeds.
In plants, lectins are a defensive mechanism that makes certain seeds and grains resistant to human digestion and damaging to the intestinal lining. Because we don’t digest lectins, we produce antibodies to them. Certain people can develop intolerance’s or immune system responses to lectin. Symptoms may include skin rashes, joint pain, and general inflammation. Consuming a large amount of lectins can lead to vomiting, cramping, or diarrhea.[i]
When we eat lectins, our natural gut defenses are compromised and the gut can become “leaky” and let molecules into our bloodstream that really shouldn’t be there. Lectins can also inhibit the absorption of vitamins and minerals, making your attempts at a nutritious diet moot. Interestingly, researchers have shown that children with autism have very high rates of leaky gut and similar inflammatory GI tract diseases.[ii] The easiest way to limit lectins (and all of their associated problems!) is to get just rid of grains.
Phytates: Phytates are anti-nutrients that inhibit the availability of minerals (such as iron) inside the body, and influence digestive enzymes. In other words, they make it harder for your body to take in nutrients… not good. Phytate can also reduce the digestibility of starches, proteins and fats.
Phytate is the storage form of phytic acid that is present in many plants, including grains, legumes, and some nuts and edible seeds. Like lectins, the anti-nutrient properties of phytic acid can be reduced by soaking, sprouting, fermenting and cooking plant foods. We prefer to keep it simple and just avoid the most concentrated sources of phytates: whole grains and beans.[iii]
Carbohydrates: Grains almost universally have a high carbohydrate content. Many breads, pastas, baked goods and breakfast cereals are especially high in refined (processed) carbohydrates. Eating a lot of carbs is a good approach… if your goal is to pack on the pounds.
Indeed, when it comes to gaining weight, refined grains are just the worst. Refinement takes away several parts of the whole grain; removing the bran and germ from the endosperm. This process creates a finer texture and extends shelf life.[iv] It also removes fiber and increases the speed with which these now simple carbohydrates are absorbed into your blood stream. In fact, all carbohydrates will eventually be broken down into glucose, be it in the gut (intestines) or the liver.
The key point here is that refined grains (the main component of white bread, baked goods and pasta) are broken down in the body into simple carbohydrates, which is essentially sugar. As your blood sugar levels rise, your body responds by releasing the hormone insulin, which then “mops up” all the blood sugar and stores it where it won’t knock your body out of balance (homeostasis) in that moment: in your fat cells.
In this way, you gain weight. Worse, if you eat carbohydrates and sugars often enough, your cells start to become resistant to insulin. Glucose can’t enter the cells as easily, so it builds up in the blood. Eventually, this can lead to type 2 diabetes: a condition that one out of every three people will develop in their lifetime.[v] So it’s no surprise that preliminary research has shown that a Paleo diet can improve glucose tolerance in patients with certain health problems such as diabetes and heart disease.[vi]
Although low in carbs, a Paleo diet is not devoid of them. Vegetables and fruits are mostly carbohydrates, and even nuts contain carbs (although proportionally much less than fats). The Paleo approach is not avoiding about all carbs, it’s avoiding all processed and grain-based carbs (flour, sugars, baked goods, pastas, white rice, and so on) … the kind that often correlate with increased risk of diabetes and other chronic diseases.
The truth about gluten
The aforementioned problems aside, gluten is perhaps the biggest culprit in certain grains, and especially wheat. We want you to go gluten-free.
Now, although we are gluten-free advocates, we are also health advocates. So we will start by saying that gluten-free does not automatically equate to low-carb, and certainly we don’t want you subsisting on a gluten-free junk food diet. We do, however, encourage you to go gluten free for good. Here’s more information about gluten sensitivity, and why going wheat-free may be the best decision you ever make.
Gluten—the protein that gives bread is chewy texture—is a general name for the proteins found in wheat, rye, barley and triticale (a hybrid grain produced by crossing wheat and rye).[vii] The term “gluten-free,” when used on a food label, means that the product must contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten.[viii]
Note that not every grain contains gluten (for example, rice and corn are naturally gluten-free, although still not part of a Paleo diet). Naturally gluten-free food groups include vegetables, fruits, meat, poultry, fish and seafood, dairy, and nuts. (Beans and legumes are also naturally gluten-free, although not part of a Paleo diet).
Wheat, however, is an excellent source of gluten. It contains carbohydrates and protein. The proteins in wheat include gluten (actually a mixture of two proteins), plus wheat germ agglutin (itself an inflammatory and immune-disrupting protein[ix]).
Many people have a negative reaction to gluten and wheat, ranging from the mild to the very severe. The three main gluten- and wheat-related health problems are celiac disease, wheat allergy, and gluten sensitivity.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune reaction triggered by the ingestion of wheat gluten and related cereal proteins in genetically predisposed individuals.[x] Celiac disease affects about one-half to one percent of the world’s population,[xi] although one study found markers of celiac disease in 5.6% of a specific population (Saharawi children in Saharan Africa).[xii] The disease is definitively diagnosed with an intestinal biopsy performed by a doctor.
Symptoms of celiac range from joint pain to nausea to delayed puberty to migraines to itching. Because of the wide variety of symptoms the disease presents, and because it affects people differently (not everyone has the same symptoms), celiac disease can be difficult to diagnose. Research shows that approximately 85% of individuals with celiac disease remain undiagnosed, and there is an average delay in diagnosis of symptomatic patients that ranges from 5.8 to 11 years.[xiii] Could this be true for you?
A wheat allergy is an immediate (within minutes) immune system reaction to wheat protein ingestion, characterized by hives in mild cases, or in severe cases, anaphylaxis (rash, nausea, difficulty breathing).
In contrast, gluten sensitivity (or in technical terms, non-celiac gluten sensitivity or NCGS) is a syndrome triggered by gluten in patients who do not test positive for celiac disease or wheat allergy.[xiv] Symptoms usually occur soon after gluten ingestion and disappear when gluten is removed from the diet. NCGS produces symptoms similar to those seen in celiac disease, but it is not an autoimmune disorder and does not appear to have a genetic component. In celiac disease the immune system attacks the intestinal wall; in NCGS it does not.
Symptoms of NCGS include gastrointestinal manifestations such as diarrhea or constipation, bloating, and abdominal pain; and extra-intestinal symptoms such as brain fog, neurological disorders, joint pain, and fatigue, headache, leg or arm numbness, muscle pain, dermatitis (eczema or skin rash), depression and anemia.[xv][xvi]
Preliminary double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled studies (the “gold standard” in research design) have shown that gluten ingestion can induce symptoms (such as intestinal inflammation) in non-celiac individuals with irritable bowel syndrome[xvii] and in some patients without gastrointestinal symptoms.[xviii] These people feel better and experience symptomatic relief when on a gluten-free diet.
In the medical community, NCGS is a poorly understood condition that is only just beginning to be vigorously studied. Research shows that the severity of overall symptoms increases significantly after only one week of intake of small amounts of gluten in patients with suspected NCGS.[xix] Conversely, people with self-reported symptoms of NCGS feel better when on a gluten-free diet. Clinical subgroups of NCGS may exist, which means that not all gluten sensitive individuals will have the same symptoms and history.[xx] The extent to which gluten may definitively cause intestinal discomfort—and not, say, another component of grains that exists alongside gluten—and the mechanism by which NCGS may be based are, as of yet, unknown.
Indeed, there is currently no biomarker-based diagnostic test for NCGS; diagnosis is currently based on establishing a clear cause-and-effect relationship between eating gluten and the appearance of symptoms under specific protocol[xxi] and on excluding a diagnosis of celiac disease and wheat allergy.[xxii] It’s important to note that there are non-gluten-related causes of intestinal distress as well; gluten isn’t the only possible culprit. (On that note, if you go gluten-free and still experience discomfort, look into the following dietary approaches: a full Paleo lifestyle, and/or FODMAPs).
Clearly, however, gluten-related health issues are a big problem for many people, and are underdiagnosed. Symptoms can be vague, but relief comes quickly after switching to a gluten-free diet.
Still, some people argue the grains are a staple of the human diet, so why change? Here’s why we don’t agree.
Are grains getting worse?
Why does it seem like increasing numbers of people are experiencing daily digestive problems? After all—as some people argue—humans have been eating grains for thousands of years, so they should be fine, right?
We don’t think so. Perhaps it was our ancestors’ much healthier lives that helped protect them in spite of eating grains—they ate only “organic” foods (by today’s standards) and moved a great deal more. Also, in past years, grains were a minor and seasonal crop. A few hundred years ago, you couldn’t just pop to the store and stock up on bread and breakfast cereal. And certainly grains were not a substantial part of the human diet prior to the agricultural revolution.
However, we believe there is another important consideration: the grains of today are not the same as they were for our great-grandparents, thanks to selective plant breeding, genetic modifications, the decline of “heritage” or “heirloom” seeds and the massive prevalence of ultra-refined grains in our foods.
As evidence, consider a fascinating study was carried out by the Mayo clinic in 2009, that demonstrated that an immune system reaction to gluten in the diet (celiac disease) is four times more common today than 50 years ago.[xxiii]
The study was based on the fact that people with celiac disease will test positive for a specific antibody in the blood (the same test is negative in wheat allergy patients and produces variable results in people with NCGS[xxiv]). In this recent study, the Mayo team tested blood samples gathered at an air force base between 1948 and 1954 for the antibody that people with celiac disease produce in reaction to gluten. They then compared the results to blood tests performed on two groups of people: first, a set of young individuals whose ages matched those of the air force base recruits when their blood was drawn over sixty years ago; and a group of older people who were the same age the air force base recruits would have been at the time of the Mayo study.
The results were fascinating. The researchers found that today—based on the measurable bio-markers—young people are 4.5 times more likely to have celiac disease than they were in the 1950s. The group of older people were four times more likely to have celiac disease than the air force base recruits from the 1940’s and 50’s. They also found that the air force recruits who did not know they had celiac disease—so-called silent celiac disease—were four times more likely than non-celiac subjects to have died in the 45 years since the air force base blood samples were originally taken.
This dramatic rise in the incidence of gluten-triggered disease cannot simply be attributed to the greater public awareness and diagnostic practices.[xxv] Clearly, something is going on with gluten.
Here’s our take: It’s simple: science is only beginning to understand the negative effects of grain. So rather than wait for the government to change its dietary recommendations, just try it. If you feel better eating a gluten-free, grain-free diet, then don’t eat grains and gluten! You don’t need them.
Dietitians warn that people eating a gluten-free diet must take care to get all necessary nutrients, but if you are eating a well-balanced Paleo diet—focused on meats and a variety of vegetables—this will not be a problem. Animal products and vegetables are almost all more nutrient dense than grains, and the rise of the Paleo movement will attest to how great you can feel on a grain-free meal plan.
Certainly there are parts of the world where people have no choice but to consume grains. They are, if nothing else, a good source of inexpensive calories that encourage weight gain. If you live in an impoverished part of the world, and they are your only option, then of course eating grains is better than eating nothing.
But for those of us fortunate enough to be able to choose a diet rich in meat, fruits, and vegetables, it should be an easy decision to ditch the grains for good. Still, it can be hard to change habits overnight. That’s why we make transitional foods—familiar products such as breads, noodles, and baked treats—that are all grain-free. These can help people who just love their lunchtime sandwich to go Paleo without giving up the meals they love.
The best test is to try living grain-free and gluten-free for a few weeks. If you feel better, why would you ever go back?
Check out our gluten free, grain free, and GMO-Free online store today! (Click Here)
Written By: Heath Squier / CEO / Julian Bakery, Inc.