An Apple A Day: Will a gluten-free diet improve your health?
Gluten-free eating is a hot topic in the current food industry that nearly everyone has heard of.
Gluten has gained a bad rap in recent years and increasing numbers of people are choosing to eliminate it from their diets in search of promised benefits from weight loss to decreased joint pain and better mental clarity. New research is shedding light on why gluten has become such a nuisance to so many, but before we get into that, let's first look at the history of the grains.
Gluten is the protein found in barley, rye and wheat. It is the part of the grain that provides elasticity and density to breads and pastas. Grains have only been a part of the human diet for a few thousand years, which is a short time in the world's lengthy history.
Paleolithic man ate a gluten-free diet of easily harvested nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables and meats. It has been speculated that grains were not a part of their diet because the effort and time to harvest the grain far outweighed the caloric benefits they would gain from it.
The Egyptians were the first people to undertake the consuming process of cultivating wheat. Ancient methods of wheat harvesting allowed for a fully grown wheat shock to remain in the weather where it would ferment and dry before it was cut and gathered. The whole wheat kernels were then soaked and sprouted which increased vitamin and mineral content, before being slowly ground into a flour using a heavy stone mill that didn't generate much heat and allowed the nutrients to stay intact.
The industrial revolution introduced machinery to speed up the harvest and hybrid crops of wheat reduced the growing time. In the 1960s, a new crop of "dwarf wheat" was developed, which permitted more wheat to be grown in a smaller space. This is the variety of wheat that we use today.
It's ironic that we have more wheat now than ever in history while the number of people avoiding it continues to grow. It is estimated that 1 in 100 people have Celiac Disease, which makes it impossible for them to digest gluten. A far higher number of people suffer from "gluten intolerance," which means the grain is irritating to digestion and can lead to damage to the intestinal wall. A damaged intestinal lining allows for undigested food to leak from the gut and can result in symptoms including bloating, gas, stomach pain, brain fog, joint pain, skin problems, hyperactivity and inflammation.
In an article entitled, "The Problems with Modern Wheat," biologist Mark Sisson points out that modern dwarf wheat contains a concentrated gluten peptide that didn't exist in ancient wheat, and reacts in people who are sensitive to the grain.
The article also points out that modern wheat is grown quickly, harvested rapidly and processed at high heats. This results in decreased vitamins and minerals, and destruction of the grain including damage to the delicate vitamin E in the wheat germ. It's no wonder our guts don't like it.
Gluten-free diets have taken the industry by storm as people are hoping to find relief from a laundry list of ailments. Research has shown that eliminating gluten in a person who is intolerant can reduce intestinal inflammation, which can result in weight loss, relief from joint pain, improved mental performance, clear skin, and better energy. Gluten-free products are very accessible and can easily be substituted for their gluten-contained counterparts.
If you are curious about how your health could improve without the sneaky damage from modern wheat then why not give gluten-free eating a try? After all, there is nothing but health to gain.
Missy Beavers is a certified health and wellness consultant as well as a weight loss consultant. She and her husband own the Health Habit in Willows. Her column appears on the second Wednesday of each month.