Everyone loves bread, right? You would be hard-pressed to find someone who says they don’t like it. But for many people in the 21st century, living without wheat has become a reality.
In their desperate quest to keep eating bread and bread products, they have found their savior – gluten-free foods.
But 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 people who consume 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 people 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-insoluable component in wheat, spelt, kamut, oats, rye, and barley that allows flour to rise during baking. Many other products contain gluten as well such soups, sauces, artificial cheeses, soy sauce, candy, pharmaceutical drugs and over-the counter medications. It can even be found in the glue used on envelopes and stamps.
Gluten makes bread wonderfully soft and pliable, but it also is difficult to digest 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, the 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 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 you are eating something healthy – 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 with wheat in them. They are so pervasive in our food stores you practically cannot go down an aisle where there is not some type of wheat product sold. And if you do find 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, millet, quinoa, teff, potato, coconut, and the list goes on. Most of these products are some kind of flour product as well.
The human body is not designed to digest the volumnous amounts of grains and carbohydrates we constantly feed ourselves – crackers, bagels, 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 foods – because they are readily available most everywhere, they are convenient, and they taste good. However, the ultimate cost of consuming these foods – these processed foods – 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 old, 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 and failing health – plain and simple.
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, the new craze
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 were guilty of causing.
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. And it is being touted as a miracle-fix for those who are allergic to wheat or stricken with 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 labeled gluten-free foods.
So basically, the 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 suffer the ill-effects of consuming gluten since you are eating alternative grains, you will 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 we should be eating 6 – 11 servings of grains a day. Are you kidding me? No wonder so many people are obese and have diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and other degenerative disorders.
The Food Pyramid has since morphed into My Plate, which still includes grains and 4 other food categories. The explanation given about the changes to the My Plate plan is that it is supposed to simplify the principles of The Food Pyramid. In reality the recommendations have become even more complicated and murky than ever before. My Plate recommendations for grains state to “make at least half of your grains whole”.
As an unpopular dissenter, I completely disagree with the Food Pyramid and a lot of the general rhetoric about nutrition given out by dietitians, doctors, and government agencies. Why? Because much of their information is incorrect and they are actually advising us to eat in such a way that is harmful to our health – the Food Pyramid being one of the worst offenders of all.
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 pyramid is one of the most misrepresented segments of this chart and does a huge disservice to both the people who teach and and those who are forced to learn and believe it as a 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 eat them, 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 throw away the wheat, do yourself a favor and remove all processed foods from your diet – gluten-free or not – and go from unhealthy to truly healthy.
Read The Truth About Wheat and Grains for an explanation about why grains may not be so healthy for us to consume
Interested in reducing even more of your food-related allergies? Read Time and Money Saving Tips – The Real Health and Financial Implications of Food Allergies.