Hi hi hi you guys! So, I know it’s been a looooong time, but if you follow me on Instagram (caitlins_cupboard), you’ve at least seen a little bit about what I’ve been cooking, along with a promise to jump start this blog again.
I decided today was the day, as it’s National Gluten Free Day. And my friend Lauren, the lady behind Baked True North, a local neighbor and gluten free baker, asked me to help her with her BTN bit for today on Instagram. We obviously didn’t have time to film everything I feel about gluten free living and its implications for our health, so I wanted to take a few minutes to dive a little deeper here. If you’d rather watch a really interesting video about gluten and health (a conversation between two MDs) than read what I have to say…this one is great.
First, I will tell you why I personally, decided to go gluten-free. This was almost 13 years ago now at this point. During my early 20’s I developed eczema on my hands that slowly began taking over my life. Then after a bout of strong antibiotics for a throat infection, I started getting hives on my legs and my eyes started swelling up and getting itchy too. I didn’t want to leave the house when these events flared up. I looked like I had weeping tomatoes for eyes. The only option a dermatologist offered me was steroid cream, and my regular doc didn’t really know what to tell me except to send me to the dermatologist. When the dermatologist said the phrase “it’s eczema, it just happens”, my life was forever changed. Because in the deepest part of me, I just could not believe our bodies, in all their wisdom and insanely well engineered design would do that for no other reason than “it just happens”. At this point in my life, I had already gone to the Institute for Integrative Nutrition to become a health coach. The IIN program drives home the message that there are many paths to wellness through healthy eating and lifestyles, and that there’s no magic bullet in any one dietary theory. They all might work for different people at different times, and they may not work for others. It’s about using nutritional wisdom, and cutting out the crap of processed foods, getting back to real, whole, unprocessed diets, and then tweaking from there.
Armed with the belief that real food heals, and that our bodies will find a way to communicate with us when something isn’t right one way or the other, I knew that this eczema was my body’s battle cry. Now, this was right around the time that alternative health practitioners were talking about gut health. Conventional medicine is slow to catch up to what alternative health circles are talking about, but it usually gets there, even if it’s 20 years later. I began the long journey towards healing my gut in my mid 20’s. This began with an on and off again trial of going gluten-free. Gluten was all abuzz back then, even though it seems like it’s only on trend in the last couple years. I would go a couple weeks, then fall off the wagon, not really ever able to pinpoint direct correlation with its consumption with my tomato eyes. Until, while eating oysters one night with my then-boyfriend, now husband. I could feel my eyes start to twitch while I was eating oysters and sushi. So I became convinced I had a shellfish allergy. But I had eaten shellfish many times before without reaction. And then I found the study I needed. Thanks to the University of Texas for publishing a study on celiac disease and IODINE. There is a type of eczema called Dermatitis Herpetiformis. It is known as “celiac disease of the skin”. And it is exacerbated by iodine. Which is rich in shellfish and sea weed. And when I read this, 1,000 lightbulbs went off in my head. I realized that during this time, my eyes had swelled up when I’d had both bread and seafood in close proximity to each other. If I had a sandwich on Thursday and sushi on Friday, my eyes would swell up. But nothing would happen if I was gluten free for a couple weeks and then ate my weight in sushi. I have been gluten-free ever since. I’ve also been eczema free, hive free, and tomato-eye free.
Now, I did other things to heal my gut in this process. I took probiotics, and ate fermented foods, severely limited my sugar intake, and took some known supplements like glutamine that are helpful in healing intestinal lining. And the stress of wedding planning a couple years into being gluten-free did flare up the eczema on the palms of my hands a bit, but that was 10 years ago, and I haven’t had an episode since.
What I have had, is a tiny alert system from my body when I do something it doesn’t like. If I have too much sugar over the course of a few days, or dairy products 3 days in a row (I’m also about 95% dairy free for similar reasons), I will get a tiny pin prick sized dot of eczema on my palm. There have been times where I’ve insisted I’ve healed my body of gluten intolerance and throw caution into the wind and eat a croissant…and then I get an ulcer in my gums. A problem that plagued me in childhood, but hasn’t happened in the last 15 years except for within a day of eating gluten. Sometimes the warning sign is a zit right on the side of my face. Also something that literally only happens after I’ve had gluten. Hormonal breakouts are a thing of the past for me, unless I’ve had either too much sugar or…you got it…gluten. So I’m done. I’m done with the gluten. When Deven, my older son was 3, my husband and I finally decided we wanted him to have a sibling. This was also during a time of me flying by the seat of my pants, getting cocky and sneaking biscotti here and there of the non-GF kind (a healthy gut delays the warning signs, so that I can eat a cookie here and there, but with increasing exposure the symptoms will return). But I had not one, but two miscarriages, in that time. I cleaned house, worked with a naturopath to get my hormones on track and then had our darling little Bodhi.
This is my story. But there are tens of thousands of similar ones out there. It’s hearing these stories that are making people ask questions of themselves and their eating habits. And the best part is that the science can no longer push this notion under the rug. It exists. Functional medicine is basically what I was using to heal 13 years ago, but without the moniker. In October, the Journal of American Medical Association published a report on health outcomes in the FM model of care. Dr. Mark Hyman, one of the biggest faces of functional MDs is a director at the Cleveland Clinic and runs the Ultra Wellness Center in Lenox, MA. (He’s one of the docs in the linked video) Here’s a brief note on why he encourages a gluten free diet.
Gluten is of course, not a silver bullet in healing. It can be an important puzzle piece, though. Celiac disease is much more prevalent than we realize. And non-celiac gluten sensitivity, which many doctors used to scoff at, is now accepted in an increasing number of conventional circles. It is estimated that 80% of those with celiac disease are walking around out there, eating gluten left and right, completely unknowing of what they have. I strongly encourage everyone to visit celiac.org to see just how widespread and vague these symptoms are, and why gluten may be the missing link in many of your own discomforts or even the reason behind your may have a more serious diagnosis of an autoimmune condition.
Now there is a right and wrong way to go gluten free. The first is to get tested for celiac disease before going gluten-free. The sad part is that a negative result doesn’t actually mean you don’t react to gluten. Many people don’t have celiac who still notice a big difference when they cut it out. And seriously, double check the symptoms in the link above, because they may surprise you! It’s not all belly aches and diarrhea, at all. I have zero digestive reactions to gluten. Mine are skin and emotional. If you have it, your direct relatives have a 1 in 10 chance of also having it. But where I went wrong was never getting tested while still consuming gluten. I would still like to do the genetic testing to see if I carry the gene for celiac, which I strongly suspect I do. It’s prevalent in descendants of northern and Central European ancestry.
If you decide to eliminate gluten from your diet, you have to stick with it to see if it works. For months and months. Not just a few days here, then eat a bagel. A week or two here, then have some pizza. This requires commitment.
And the absolute worst thing you can do is load your grocery cart with a bunch of pre-made gluten free swaps for bagels and muffins and cupcakes and bread and… you get the idea. Gluten-free needs to be looked at through the greater lens of all processed flours and their negative impact on health. And sadly, in order to get comparable taste and texture, a lot of gluten free products are more caloric and higher in sugar than their wheat counterparts. So if you eat a lot of these, you may actually worsen your health.
Instead of replacing wheat with rice flour and cornstarch, you want to replace it with more fruit and vegetables and whole grains like millet and quinoa. You want biodiversity in your food choices in order to get biodiversity in your gut microbiome. Like the ecosystem of a rainforest, our guts need a rich and diverse community of organisms, and different foods feed different healthy gut bugs. As Dr. Hyman talks about in the link above, a protein called zonulin has been seen to be released after gluten consumption. Zonulin makes the intestinal walls more lax, allowing undigested food particles and bacteria to pass through into the bloodstream, which alarms your immune system, and exhausts it over time leading to chronic health issues. But the wheat to zonulin path isn’t the only thing that weakens these walls. Sugar, starches, alcohol and many medications like NSAIDs, and even stress has a similar effect on the integrity of intestinal lining. Which is why that trying a gluten-free life needs to be coupled with a sobering look at what other areas might be impacting the way you feel. Do I think everyone should be gluten-free? No, not really. There are many people living vibrant lives with gluten in them. But they likely do not have celiac disease or NCGS, and they are likely the types of people who truly walk the talk of healthy living. They work out, have a positive outlook on life, a close circle of loved ones in a community, and they eat tons of fruits and veggies and avoid industry created products. This…to me…is the most important thing everyone should be doing. When pesky things or diagnoses occur in light of getting all the other stuff right…a gluten-free diet can be a helpful tweaking tool.
And last but not least, wheat itself, is soaked in herbicides and pesticides. If anything, by avoiding wheat, you are aiding your body by reducing its toxic load. I’ve had clients say they get sick when eating wheat in America, but don’t have reactions in Europe (where most countries have a ban on glyphosate, Round Up’s infamous ingredient.) Hmmm…
If you’ve made it this far, I congratulate you. I will get back to recipes in the near future, that are of course…gluten free 🙂
For more information on how a gluten-free diet is being implemented in modern medicine, please watch this video with Drs Mark Hyman and Alessio Fasano. It is soooo informative and fascinating! And it’s the same one linked above, ;-).
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