Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Gluten Free or Not To Be

     The public has made it's demand, and the gluten free business is booming, lets talk about why. As you may have noticed, a craze for gluten free products has become increasingly popular. If you have yet to jump on the band wagon, don't know what gluten is, or are interested in understanding more about such a diet, please read on.
     About five years ago I decided to try to be gluten free for a month, just to see what happened. After the month passed I reflected on my overall health. I noticed two things, more energy and clearer thoughts. A funny thing happened, having finished the month, I forgot to avoid gluten and ate a white flour bagel. I was feeling great, energetic and ready for my day. Within 15 minutes of eating the bagel I was so tired I couldn't keep my eyes open. I slept for 3 hours strait, a deep dreamless sleep. When I woke up I felt groggy and slow minded. Needless to say, I avoid gluten now.  It suddenly made sense why I so often felt I should have more energy, or be able to focus, when I had no excuse for this lazy attitude. I was poisoning myself by eating an allergy food every day!
     However, that's just me, and each individual will have their own experience and sensitivities to foods. We'll start with the basics. What is gluten? And, what is gluten free? Gluten is a protein composite that is found in 3 main grasses, wheat, rye and barley. There is another type of protein build-up that is not considered true gluten, since it acts differently, found in corn and rice. These are not really gluten, although people sometimes think so. True gluten is the stuff that makes your bread have an elastic chewy texture. It acts as a binder, like eggs or soy lecithin so that dough will rise and keep its shape.
     Gluten free means to avoid all 3 of the true gluten grasses, wheat, rye, and barley. This means researching what's in sauces, protein bars, cereals, alcohol, soup, and well, about everything you find packaged or served in restaurants. Gluten products are sometimes labeled with names of grains that might confuse the non-wheat conosour. Wheat is disguised with names such as bulgur, durum, farina, graham, kamut, semolina, and spelt. Gluten is found everywhere these days. So, gluten free can be tough if you don't live near a natural food store, or have access to gluten free options. Interesting fact, it was Buddhist monks who identified gluten as an alternative protein source for vegetarians. 
     Herein lies the trick, if you don't eat gluten, what can you eat? To be honest, most store bought gluten free products are not very healthy. Since the chewy texture is taken out, in order to make GF breads, snacks, and cereals bind together, questionable ingredients are substituted. I will reserve another article for such ingredients, as I have learned to also avoid them. Substitutes such as soy lecithin, tapioca starch, and potato starch. Here is a general list of gluten alternatives to get an idea of what you can have being GF: Amaranth, millet, quinoa, corn (careful! again, reserved for another article), brown rice, and teff. Be aware that some of these are also mixed with gluten although the package may advertise the gluten alternative as the main ingredient. And, teff is almost always mixed with wheat in the United States when served at Ethiopian restaurants, unless specified as GF. Rahel is a great vegetarian Ethiopian restaurant here in LA with GF teff!
     Okay, so now we have the fundamentals of what gluten free means. Now, lets talk about who benefits from a gluten free diet. Number one, any person with Celiac Disease should already know to avoid gluten. With these folks, gluten builds up along their intestinal walls and prevents nutrients from digesting fully. Symptoms include constipation, diarrhea, painful digestion, fatigue, and anemia. As a result, a vitamin deficiency can occur, and left untreated can lead to a malnourished brain. Scary! Luckily, most of us don't have this problem. So, why are so many people avoiding gluten?
     Approximately 80% of the human race is an O blood type. Generally speaking, O blood types are found to be allergic to gluten. The range of sensitivity to gluten among O blood types, and anyone else allergic, can extend from very minor and unnoticeable to severe and life threatening. Yet, unlike the extreme symptoms and risks of Celiac Disease, an allergy simply means the body is responding to an intolerance. The most common symptoms of a minor food allergy are lethargy, bloating, lack of focus, itching, irritable digestion, and mental fatigue. For more serious allergies, one might have swelling, inflammation, rashes, dizziness, insufficient oxygen flow, and death. If gluten was of the latter group of allergens for you, I'm sure you would know by now. Which is why so many people overlook the minor symptoms as normal or tolerable. However, the body is still experiencing stress when you give it what it has trouble digesting.
     I'm an A blood type, and I'm allergic to pesticides gluten foods are grown with. A's tend to be sensitive to chemicals, so I can eat organic or sprouted wheat and not feel the effects. My challenge to you is to take a couple weeks to a month and remove gluten from your diet. See how you feel, and monitor your energy and mental capacity. Test organic and sprouted gluten options after your trial period, to see if you feel different or get sleepy. Then test the commercial white breads or pastas and see how the body responds. There is no blood test at the doctors office to test for laziness or dull mindedness. So, it's up to you. Being in tune with the body, knowing what it appreciates and what it doesn't, is one of the most self-loving acts you can possibly perform. Feel free to email me if you have questions along the way! To your health!

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