People love bread … right? You would be hard-pressed to find a person who says they don’t enjoy bread. But for more people in the 21st century, living without wheat has become a reality.
In their desperate quest to keep eating bread and bread products, people believe they have found their bread savior – gluten-free foods.
And yet, 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?
Let’s take a look at wheat and then we’ll discuss why alternatives may be causing identical problems in those consuming 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 inhabitants 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-insoluble component in wheat, spelt, kamut, oats, rye and barley that causes flour to rise during baking. Many other products contain gluten including soups, sauces, artificial cheeses, soy sauce, candy, pharmaceutical drugs and over-the counter medications. Gluten is even present in the glue used on envelopes and stamps.
Gluten makes bread soft and pliable. But, it is difficult to process 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 – 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, inflammation 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 what you are eating is health-giving; 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”, “low-fat”, “no cholesterol”, 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 containing wheat. These products so pervasive in food stores you practically cannot walk down an aisle where there is not some type of wheat product available. If you do come across 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, tapioca, millet, teff, quinoa, potato coconut and on the list goes. Most of these products are some kind of flour product as well.
The human body is not designed to digest the voluminous amounts of grains and carbohydrates we constantly feed on – bread, bagels, crackers 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 a whopping 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 products: they are readily available most everywhere, they are convenient and they taste good. However, there is a cost to consuming these products – processed foods – and that is: 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 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, inflammation, disease and failing health.
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, a dietary fad
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 have been associated.
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. Gluten-free has been touted as a miracle-fix for those who are allergic to wheat or who experience 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 it is common to see labeled gluten-free foods.
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 experience ill-effects of consuming gluten since you are eating alternative grains, you can 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?
For years, The Food Pyramid, as recommended by the USDA, told us to consume 6 – 11 servings of grains daily. It’s no wonder so many experience obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and other degenerative disorders.
The Food Pyramid has since transformed into 2015 – 2020 USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Recommendations still call for grains and 4 other food categories. The explanation provided is intended to simplify the principles of The Food Pyramid. However, these recommendations have become even more complicated and murky than previously. The current recommendations for grains state to “make at least half of your grains whole”.
As an unpopular dissenter, I completely disagree with the Dietary Guidelines and general directives on nutrition from dietitians, doctors, and government agencies. The reason is because much of their information is inaccurate. They advise that we eat in such a way that is harmful to our health – the USDA Dietary Guidelines being one of the most egregious offenders.
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 USDA Dietary Guidelines is one of the most inaccurate segments of this chart and does a huge disservice to both those who teach and and those who are forced to learn and believe it as 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, consider the following:
- Detoxify and heal yourself with nutritious, whole, traditional foods and heal your digestive system properly.
- Use grains, even sprouted/soaked and fermented varieties sparingly.
- If you do consume grains, buy real, whole grains and prepare them yourself as our ancestors did – soaked and sprouted, and/or fermented.
And remember, if you are eating a truly traditional, whole-foods based diet, you should not encounter 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 discard wheat, do yourself a favor and remove all processed foods from your diet – gluten-free or not – and go from unhealthy to truly healthy.