This article appeared for Paleo on the Go
Do you spring out of bed each day? For most of us the answer is, no.
Most of us have started feeling the effects of age and disease and are wondering where the magic button is to reverse it is. We’re looking for more, and in doing so choosing foods with less – fat free, salt free, sugar free, gluten free. The truth is going ‘food-free’, namely gluten-free, is the answer we’re looking for which confirms the diagnosis: we’re gluten intolerant.
The truth is that we have a long history of vilifying certain foods. But what if the real culprit isn’t the food, like our difficulty digesting gluten, but that our digestion itself is compromised. The quality and strength of our digestion governs the ability of our body to properly absorb nutrients from the food we’re eating. Looking at the nutrition facts label listing what various vitamins and minerals are in the food we’re eating, it is tempting to think that you simply absorb it all when you consume that food. Without a healthy, well-functioning digestive tract even the best food choices will do you little good. Your body will struggle to process essential nutrients contained in the food you’re consuming. This can lead to unnecessary dis-ease because your body will not be getting the basics for proper function.
Using a very simple outline of how digestion works, we can also see how when it dysfunctions.
HOW DIGESTION WORKS
Digestion begins in the mouth. Actually it’s before that: our cephalic response begins when we see, smell and think about food, releasing saliva and beginning pancreatic enzyme release further down. The act of chewing food mixes it with our saliva, which, rich in digestive enzymes, begins to break down the food even before it reaches our stomach. So, the first step in improving your digestive problems is tochew your foods thoroughly.
Once food is swallowed it enters the stomach, which then secretes hydrochloric acid and various enzymes to further digest and break down the food. A lot of us are lacking enough of this acidity, which is another article entirely, but we also eat and drink simultaneously. While a few sips of liquid with meals is harmless, larger amounts begin to dilute the concentration and effectiveness of the hydrochloric acid-enzyme mix causing food to enter the intestines without being properly broken down. We call this indigestion showing itself as gas and shooting pains, and sub-clinical nutrient deficiencies can result as the body struggles to release the vitamins and minerals still locked away.
As food leaves the stomach and enters the intestines, the pancreas enzymes, along with the beneficial bacteria and microorganisms in the bowels, break it down even further. These beneficial bacteria (also known as probiotics or intestinal flora) are in a delicate balance but are rather resilient if we eat well: aka little sugar, no unprocessed foods, and a good balance of each macronutrient, in turn abiding by the best digestive practices.
IS GLUTEN REALLY THE PROBLEM?
Gluten is particularly difficult to digest. In fact, like the grains it comes with, it’s made to germinate a new plant, not to be digested. The worse part is that gluten takes other nutrients we the body needs away. Properly preparing, soaking and activating processes can help with some of this.
Then gluten requires a strong stomach acid to process it. If not enough of this acid is produced or is diluted with too many liquids at mealtime, the gluten passes through to the small intestine, undigested. If eaten in excess, it can irritate the intestinal villi on the gut wall and affect our digestion and absorption.
Which brings us to coeliacs disease: only about one in 100 people give up gluten because they have Celiac disease. Celiacs are allergic to gliadin, one of the proteins in gluten. Upon exposure to this protein, their bodies initiate an auto-immune response which severely damages the intestinal villi. Inflammation, shortening and flattening of the villi result in less surface area available for absorption of nutrients, leading to malabsorption, malnourishment, weight-loss and fatigue.
WHAT IF THE WIDER PREVALENCE OF GLUTEN INTOLERANCE IS SLIGHTLY MORE COMPLICATED?
Modern wheat is a cross-bred super high-yielding crop, which not only contains more gluten, the amino-acid chains within the glutenin and gliadin proteins have undergone significant changes, particularly relating to appetite stimulation. Research is also beginning to reveal that modern wheat’s biological code is wrecking havoc with the hormones related to obesity and diabetes. It seems that modern wheat is bad news for our health.
Remember that there are other glutinous grains, like spelt, which have remained virtually untouched by science and agriculturalists for hundreds of years. Spelt is much easier to digest than modern wheat and much better for you, if you can tolerate it.
Factories and major processed food companies start with a high-gluten, modern wheat frankin-grain, then food processors add more gluten to it when making breads, pastas and cereals – so it is easier to produce and a better looking product. On top of that, ‘hidden’ gluten is added to a vast array of other food products, totally topping out our gluten load.
If gluten affects you, you should also stop using these highly processed products and start eating real food home cooked meals or pre-made paleo meals again.
NOT ENOUGH DIVERSITY.
People eating a ‘normal’ modern western diet eat way too much deranged-wheat-based products and, therefore, too much gluten!
Gluten is found in food products made from grains naturally containing it but is also used as a protein additive to many products low in protein. Gluten is also used in products requiring its specific textural properties: imitation meats, beer, soy sauce, dressings, gravy, ketchup, canned soup, stock cubes, frozen or canned vegetables in sauce and even ice cream! Extra gluten is also generally added to commercially produced bread (it makes the dough rise and improves the uniformity, structure and texture of the bread). It is also found in a variety of cosmetics, hair and skin products.
We eat bread, pasta, biscuits, cakes and pizza all the time. This list of glutinous products are, more often than not, found in every single meal of the day, all year round. We’ve lost all genuine diversity in our diets! We were not designed to eat this much gluten, or this amount of the same food. We’re wired to seek difference in our foods to ensure our micronutrient diversity.
The bad guys are processed foods made from deranged modern wheat and processed foods with added gluten. We need to give THEM up as well as gluten.
Compromised digestion is probably the biggest reason we’re having difficulty digesting gluten. We’re not producing enough acid, or secreting the amount required to break down this protein. We’re also not chewing our foods, drinking too much liquid diluting it as we eat.
Simply, an inability to digest gluten is a sign of our digestion not working properly. If we’re not digesting gluten properly, we’re not digesting anything properly. But this doesn’t mean we have to give up gluten. We simply need to learn how to eat and live in ways that promote strong, balanced digestion and the appropriate elimination of toxins. Paleo real food values offer a great template for reclaiming our health through taking on our own health responsibility. Then we’re on our own. Scary, but maybe the diet we’re best suited for is the one we can digest.