The Big Gluten-Free Lie

Everyone loves bread, right? You would be hard-pressed to find someone who says they don’t like it. But for many people in the 21st century, living without wheat has become a reality. In their desperate quest to keep eating bread and bread products, they have found their savior – gluten-free foods. But did you know that many gluten-free philosophies, which espouse that the sufferer merely switch from wheat to some other grain or carbohydrate food can be equally as harmful and damaging to health? It’s true. Let’s take a look at wheat and then we’ll discuss why alternatives may be causing identical problems in people who consume it.

The history of wheat

Wheat is a crop that has been used pervasively for food by humans for thousands of years. Its origin dates back approximately 11,000 years ago in the Middle East. When people discovered they could grow this crop and harvest it to feed many people, and transport it to far away places, its use became more common and widespread. People discovered that they could grind the grain into flour for bread, and foods made of flour were born.

As time went on, farmers selected the best kernels from their harvest to use for continuance of planting each successive year. By the time of the Industrial Revolution, we were already starting to see processed and packaged wheat products. The appealing qualities of wheat were gradually bred more and more into the plant – namely, its gliadin content (where the protein gluten resides). Gluten is the elastic, water-insoluable component in wheat, spelt, kamut, oats, rye, and barley that allows flour to rise during baking. Many other products contain gluten as well such soups, sauces, artificial cheeses, soy sauce, candy, pharmaceutical drugs and over-the counter medications. It can even be found in the glue used on envelopes and stamps.

Gluten makes bread wonderfully soft and pliable, but it also is difficult to digest and causes issues in the digestive tract. When problems occur in the digestive tract, it affects the rest of the body. During digestion of grains, and in particular, wheat, the gluten irritates the lining of the intestines and eventually penetrates, getting absorbed into the bloodstream. This causes over-response by the immune system, leading to allergies and many other health problems.

Do flour products really deliver the nutrition shown on the label?

Another consideration many people don’t make about grains being ground into flour is that during this process, nutritional content is compromised. The longer flour sits after being ground, the more it becomes rancid. Many flours are enriched with synthetic nutrients to give the appearance that you are eating something healthy – gluten-free items are not exempt. As an example, flour made from wheat undergoes the following changes during its processing:

  • The calorie content of refined white flour actually increases about 10% because of everything else that has been taken out.
  • An average of 66% of the B vitamins have been removed.
  • An average of 70% of all minerals have been removed.
  • 79% of the fiber has been removed.
  • An average of 19% of the protein has been removed*

*source, Walton Feed

With the consumption of wheat so high among consumers, it is no wonder wheat causes allergic reactions, health issues, and of course, celiac disease. An estimated 1 in 133 people have celiac disorder.

Does it seem strange that the proliferation of celiac disease and wheat allergies have become so common? It shouldn’t, given the fact that wheat is in so many products we eat. In celiac disease, the individual has a genetic tendency toward a violent reaction toward gluten (exacerbated by the ever-increasing consumption of wheat as the generations have come down, which affects human physiology), and therefore must avoid all contact with gluten to avoid becoming sick. Celiac sufferers experience symptoms such as bloating, abdominal cramping, gas, chronic diarrhea, vomiting, weight loss (or gain), and constipation.

Donna Gates from Body Ecology agrees with this philosophy and elaborates:

“Individuals who have an imbalanced inner ecosystem and who eat improperly prepared grains for years (not soaking, sprouting, or fermenting grains before eating them) can end up with gas, bloating, and other digestive problems. These individuals lack healthy “grain-loving” bacteria that can help digest grains. I believe this may be the REAL reason behind gluten sensitivity.

All grains have enzyme inhibitors and phytic acid (like soy) that make them difficult to digest and inhibits the absorption of minerals in your body. Eating large quantities of grains and flours that have not been soaked, sprouted, or fermented can lead to mineral deficiencies, bone loss, digestive illness, allergies, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and mental illness”.

Indeed, you will see incredible health claims on the packaging, including “high fiber”, “all-natural”, and even “organic”. Products show nutrient information on the label as containing certain vitamins and minerals, but most of these are greatly diminished by the affect of processing and/or added back in as synthetic counterparts to their real-whole food ones found in natural foods.

Other problems with grains (wheat and gluten-free) include the fact that the majority of products on the market are genetically-modified and treated with chemicals such as pesticides. That’s why if you are going to eat grains, you should always make sure you are getting whole and organic!

Wheat, wheat, wheat

Everywhere you look, you will find products with wheat in them. They are so pervasive in our food stores you practically cannot go down an aisle where there is not some type of wheat product sold. And if you do find a gluten-free section in the store, notice how each item that would ordinarily be sold as wheat is traded for one made of some alternative grain – buckwheat, amaranth, soy, corn, millet, quinoa, teff, potato, coconut, and the list goes on.

The human body is not designed to digest the volumnous amounts of grains and carbohydrates we constantly feed ourselves – crackers, bagels, pasta, chips, breads, pitas, tortillas, pastries, muffins, croissants, scones, desserts, and cereals. These foods are naturally high in carbohydrates, and after grinding, flour can contain anywhere from 85 grams (buckwheat flour) up to 135 grams (durum wheat flour) per cup! Whole grains contain much less as they are more dense and have not been processed and had the nutrients effectively removed.

There are a variety of reasons why we eat these foods – because they are readily available most everywhere, they are convenient, and they taste good. However, the ultimate cost of consuming these foods – these processed foods – is a decline in our health. The result is heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, osteoporosis, and cancer. The way most of us consume grains is the processed way – not the old, traditional way of sprouting, soaking, and fermenting grains the way our ancestors once did. If we are to consume grains at all, they should be prepared properly in order to afford the body its best chance of digestion and absorption of nutrients. Grains consumed any other way will lead to mal-absorption of nutrients and failing health – plain and simple.

As one example, the gluten-free diet commonly prescribed for children with autism often does not lead to improvements, according to Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, because the gluten-free foods on the market are really just another form of nutrient-deficient junk food that fosters the growth of candida and contributes to poor digestion.

Gluten-free, the new craze

Just like everything that has come before it, gluten-free has been eye-balled by food companies as a way to make money – low-fat and non-fat, vegetarian, vegan, low-carb, and now too, gluten-free has ascended the ranks as one of the most sought-after “health food” products as a way to escape the foods that are making people sick – only to be the culprit of many of the same health issues the others were guilty of causing. There isn’t a place you can look where you won’t find gluten-free – restaurants, cookbooks, magazines, grocery stores, online, or offered as a topic in classes and in seminars. And it is being touted as a miracle-fix for those who are allergic to wheat or stricken with celiac disease.

Marketers and food companies know they have consumers attention – and that the false health claims they put on packaging is bought hook, line, and sinker. If you don’t believe me, just watch your fellow shopper the next time you go to the store for food – the average grocery cart is chock full of processed, packaged foods – a large percentage of them being wheat products and labeled gluten-free foods.

So basically, the gluten-free containing foods don’t deliver anything better nutritionally to your body than wheat since most of them are processed. Very little emphasis from people in the wheat camp or the gluten-free camp is placed on eating these grains in their whole form, and making certain they are sprouted or soaked before consumption.

It makes no difference if something is gluten-free; if it is ground into flour or processed it is not a whole food and will go rancid the longer it sits around. Although you may not suffer the ill-effects of consuming gluten since you are eating alternative grains, you will experience many of the same digestive problems, mal-absorption of nutrients, immune system deficiencies, allergies, weight gain, and other issues like insulin-resistance, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

What is the general consensus on grains?

The Food Pyramid , as recommended by the USDA, tells us we should be eating 6 – 11 servings of grains a day. Are you kidding me? No wonder so many people are obese and have diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and other degenerative disorders.

As an unpopular dissenter, I completely disagree with the Food Pyramid and a lot of the general rhetoric about nutrition given out by dieticians, doctors, and government agencies. Why? Because much of their information is incorrect and they are actually advising us to eat in such a way that is harmful to our health – the Food Pyramid being one of the worst offenders of all. We are taught from a very young age – usually starting in school – that this is a good way to eat and to stay healthy throughout our lives. I believe the grain component of the pyramid is one of the most misrepresented segments of  this chart and does a huge disservice to both the people who teach and and those who are forced to learn and believe it as a truth.

What are the solutions?

To keep ourselves healthy, gluten-free (for those with a genuine wheat intolerance, allergy, or celiac disease), and to truly replace our wheat and alternative wheat products with something nutrient-dense, life-giving, and satisfying, we must:

  1. Detoxify and heal yourself with nutritious, whole, traditional foods and heal your digestive system properly.
  2. Buy real, whole grains and prepare them as our ancestors did – sprout, soak, and/or ferment
  3. Eat grains in moderation – once or twice a day.

And remember, if you are eating a truly traditional, whole-foods based diet, you should not be encountering health issues like those you’d associate with eating wheat (or other processed products such as many gluten-free items on the market). If you are going to do something for your health and throw away the wheat, do yourself a favor and remove all processed foods from your diet – gluten-free or not – and go from unhealthy to truly healthy.

For more information about soaking and sprouting grains, read What are Sprouted and Soaked Grains?

10 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Jenny said,

    This is an EXCELLENT post! I was DXed celiac in 2004, shortly before I became pregnant with my son and it made a world of difference for me. It takes a constant reminder that just because something’s gluten-free doesn’t mean it’s good for me. I see a lot of people who are not intolerant of gluten switch to gluten-free products because they simply think they’re healthier whic, as you so eloquently explained is NOT true. I’m tweeting & stumbling your post – too. It’s a good one.

  2. 2

    AS said,

    Thanks much Jenny! I have been waiting and waiting for someone to notice this post, because the points I have made are not made by many people often in the health communities, and I believe this is critical information that everyone needs to know – whether you are celiac positive or not. Our wheat consumption is so incredibly high, and then when people find they cannot tolerate wheat (no wonder, with how much we eat it), they immediately go to gluten-free foods, many of which are just as processed. Just think how much improvement in health we could achieve if people understood this and started eating truly healthy foods! What a glorious day it would be! 🙂

  3. 3

    Stephanie said,

    Wow, I’m so glad someone out there is recognizing this! I am gluten free and every GF person I know has completely gone overboard with replacing wheat products with GF products because those are now “good for you”. Eventually we are all going to be rice intolerant! I have to admit that was me for a short time but then I have started having all of the same reactions to most alternative grains. Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon has opened my eyes to the world of soaking grains and flours but still uses wheat. It would be great to learn to cook/bake with GF soaked grains and flours if you know any resources. Learning and taking the time can be a little overwhelming but it is where our society needs to go. This in itself can teach us a lot about life and the importance of slow food and where it all comes from outside the processing and packaging.
    Thank you so much for being “aware” and I look forward to reading more from your post and starting my own here very soon!

  4. 4

    Dana said,

    Great article. Hey, I saw your post at Food Renegade about how you lost your appendix in pregnancy and your gallbladder after that. I wanted to say, if your doctor didn’t tell you this already, that it’s possible the gallbladder loss was related to the appendectomy. I know someone who went through what you went through (only he’s a guy, so can’t get pregnant), and he said what happened was they nicked a major nerve that runs between the appendix and the gallbladder, roughly, so when that happened the gallbladder started malfunctioning.

    I’ve since heard something like this from one or two other people who’ve had GBs removed post-appendectomy and really wonder how common it is. Maybe docs need to start watching what they’re doing a bit more closely. Or maybe the nerve-nicking can’t be avoided so we have one more reason to encourage gut health as much as possible so that we hopefully don’t ever *get* appendicitis. Dunno.

  5. 5

    AS said,

    Hi Dana, thanks for your comments. I do know that my gallbladder was already full of stones when I was admitted to the hospital to find out about my appendix (which they didn’t know was my appendix at the time). An ultrasound I had done when I was still pregnant revealed the presence of stones, but I had never had any problems with gallstones or gallbladder issues before that. I’m sure that nicking the nerve during surgery is quite possible, and I don’t doubt that happens frequently. I think the organs are definitely connected and if your lifestyle is unhealthy, it’s likely that all digestive organs will be affected, especially the appendix and gallbladder since we hear about them happening to people so frequently. It’s true that many doctors aren’t careful and fail to find out what is really going on, nor recommend to patients real lifestyle changing items to help with the health issues at hand. It’s unfortunate that our whole system is so centered around drugs and surgery rather than nutrition, prevention, and holistic lifestyle changes.

  6. 6

    mark moody said,

    Their is a new food out their that may help in a gluten free diet,well I should say new old food it is mesquite flour used by native tribes for thousands of years it is high in protien 18=20% and naturaly sweet it can be used in bakeing ,cooking as a meat rub and in the raw food world it rates as a new superfood.

  7. 7

    AS said,

    I’ve never heard of mesquite flour, that sounds interesting. Although anything ground into flour should be suspect because the minute a whole substance is ground up, it can go rancid quickly. Now, I know there are really nutritious grains that are ground into flour and they are eaten by people with success – such as Teff, a hearty, Ethiopian grain that people who have trouble with Gluten can consume. I have also heard of flour made from grapes such as Chardonnay, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Curious to hear if anyone else has heard of these substances and what types of experiences had with them…???

  8. 8

    You mention that artificial cheeses contain gluten, they aren’t the only ones. While doing research for high quality, authentic Parmigiana-Reggiano, I discovered that at least this cheese naturally forms gluten during the curing process. Is this because of the way cows are fed (dairy cows from whence the parm makers in Italy get their milk have strict diets to enhance the quality of the milk (and in turn the cheese)).

    So what about other natural cheeses? Do they all contain gluten?

  9. 9

    […] I found this really good article that better sums up what I could about the common gluten-free diet  vs.  a healthy gluten free diet. […]

  10. 10

    Bret said,

    Gluten is not found in most commercially available oats. Gluten does not ‘reside’ in Gliadin. Gluten is formed in the kneading process in which disulfide bonds are chemically reduced and non-covalent interactions occur between gliadin and another protein found in wheat and other grains called Glutenin. Technically speaking no grain contains ‘gluten’ until it has been kneaded. This gluten formation can take place through the use of reducing agents which are used in commercial bakeries to speed up the process of gluten formation. Gluten is necessary for cell formation in the leavening of bread. In celiac disease the gliadin fraction of gluten provides an undigested portion of the protein to antigen presenting immune cells which triggers an autoimmune reaction in which the epithelium of the small intestine is destroyed when this protein fragment is absorbed.

    I know of no epidemiology that has found an association between gluten consumption and cancer, heart disease or cancer. A search on PubMed for any epidemiology associating gluten with these diseases found no results. Celiac disease itself results in weight loss due to malabsorption of nutrients after the sufferer’s intestinal epithelium has been destroyed. Gluten intolerance is believed to encompass a multitude of symptoms but no randomly controlled trials have been conducted that have isolated any gliadin antibodies in persons self-reporting gluten sensitivity. It is not clear from the evidence if gluten intolerance/sensitivity results from any particular protein fraction found in grain or if symptom relief results from a dramatic reduction in carbohydrate and/or energy intake.

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