As I believe I’ve mentioned the Bauman College Eating Model advocates emphasising non-glutinous grains…. but I have to admit that before I started studying there I’d never really given the idea much consideration. For the past five years or so wheat has gotten a bad rap, but its only recently that more health advisors are starting to inform us we should avoid all glutinous grains.
So what is gluten!?
Gluten is the family name of the key proteins found in various grains such as:
- and to a lesser extent
Modern day wheat has a very high gluten content, whereas older grains, such as rye and spelt have less. Proteins from the gluten family are also found in oats, although many believe these to be less problematic.
Non-glutenous grains include:
Although I consider the word kind of un-appetising, gluten is the main reason wheat flour has such awesome baking qualities. It is because of gluten that wheat based baked goods rise and have such yummy chew! Unfortunately, this has also been part of gluten’s downfall. As food producers grew more aware it was gluten that gave its wheat palatable quality, they began specifically breeding wheat hybrids with a far higher gluten content than the plants of the past. Coupled this with the fact that wheat now makes up 20% of the average Westerners calories, and you have a recipe for some serious gluten consumption across the US and most European countries.
What’s the problem with gluten?
Okay, let’s start with the inherent criticism that gluten is very difficult to digest. Many holistic nutritionists believe that the sticky proteins, which give gluten its elastic and binding qualities, are difficult for digestive enzymes in the small intestine to break down. Instead of being broken down into their smallest components, and properly assimilated within the body, they rub against the intestinal wall causing irritation. This damages the sensitive gut lining. The lining eventually becomes porous allowing undigested bits of gluten and other foods to pass though the damaged cell membranes, and into the bloodstream. These particles enter the bloodstream where they are viewed as an ‘intruder’ and the body stimulates an immune response to try to break them down. These holes can also allow bacteria and pathogens, that would normally have been broken down in the gut, to pass through.
This immune response is dangerous partly because it causes inflammation. This is bit like what happens when you breathe in a foreign particle and start to develop a sore throat. These particles are undigested food molecules and they are not meant to be in your bloodstream… you therefore launch an inflammatory response against them. These repeated inflammatory reactions are pretty serious; they can result in cellular destruction and are linked to both cancer and heart disease! Additionally, because the particles have been transported in the bloodstream, the reactions can take place far from the gut area. This means people frequently fail to link them to their diet. Issues such as arthritis are an inflammatory response – that is sometimes theorised to be a response to food and pathogens, which have been transported elsewhere in the body.
The second problem is that irritating the membranes of the cells in the gut lining also heightens the likelihood of further food allergies. Like I said, once the gut lining is damaged, undigested particles of whatever foods you eat most regularly can pass through cell membranes and into your bloodstream. This includes gluten… and all your other favorite, or most commonly eaten, foods. This can result in further inflammation. Worse still is that eventually, instead of only instigating an immune response when un-digested particles pass into your bloodstream, your body will react to the presence of these foods as soon they hit your system. It’s like an oversensitive alarm system, which basically means you develop an allergy.
Finally, there is the suggestion that constant instigation of immune responses up-regulates your immune system as a whole, not just in reaction to foods. As your immune system goes on high alert, you become more sensitive to a variety environmental and chemical pollutants and are more likely to develop all sort of allergies from hay fever to acne. A number of skin conditions are thought to be the result of poor digestion and an up-regulated immune system. Also, once your allergic immune response is up regulated, your immune response that deals with bacteria and virus’s may be down regulated… leaving you more open to disease.
That doesn’t sound very good!
And that is not it either. Some nutritionists also cite increases in the rates of Celiac disease as another reason we should all cut down on gluten.
Celiac disease is an inherited condition whereby people who suffer from it have an immediate and acute immune response to the ingestion of gluten. Eating gluten causes their body to launch an immune attack that severely damages the gut lining, causing inflammation. Usually, this inflammation is accompanied by severe abdominal pain and/ or weight loss, as the body is unable to digest other nutrients. Some people with celiac disease choose to eat a very limited amount of gluten, but most avoid it entirely.
The crucial thing is that, whereas celiac disease was once extremely rare, it is now on the rise and it is estimated that up to 1 in every 133 people are diagnosable. This increase in the diagnosis rates, coupled with acute danger celiac diseases poses (chronic inflammation is not healthy!) has caused a number of holistic nutritionists to question the safety of large amounts of gluten for any of us, not just those with a tested intolerance. They argue that hybrydization in grains have made glutenious grains more dangerous for all of us.
On an even more serious note, a number of studies have shown links between autism and gluten consumption. Proponents of the ‘Gluten and Casein Free Diet’ argue that the bodies inability to completely digest gluten or casein, the protein found in dairy products, lead to elevated peptide levels in the bloodstream. Peptides are released in your small intestine and are used in the breakdown of all proteins, including gluten. These peptides transmit to the brain and can result in symptoms of autism or even schitzophrenia. A gluten and dairy free diet is recommended by a number of autism support groups including the Autism Research Institute.
If you don’t have any of these issues… can you eat gluten then?
Symptoms such as autism only apply to a small proportion of the population. However, some alternative practitioners argue that the evidence implies none of us are well equipped to manage either gluten, particularly to the degree we eat it today. Interestingly these same peptides that cause people with autism so many problems have an opiate-like effect in all our brains – explaining why wheat based goods and dairy are so attractive to so many of us!
I know – quite a list right. But please be aware that not everyone feels this way about gluten (far from it, in fact!). Come back for tomorrow post for information on the pro’s of gluten, as well as my opinion on the topic!