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We’ve had several people ask us over the last few weeks about something that’s become a staple of the modern American diet: gluten. This tricky substance has been under more intense scrutiny over the last few decades, particularly because of the dramatic rise of a number of nutrition-related diseases. So let’s get into it, shall we?

So THAT’S Why “Paste” and “Pasta” Sound So Similar…

That kid that ate paste (not glue) in kindergarten wasn’t so off the mark; the word “gluten” in Latin quite literally means “glue”, and since the key ingredient in paste is starch, coming from wheat or rice sources, the name is rather appropriate. Gluten (in foods) is a protein composite that acts like a bonding agent, which is how breads and pastas can have their elastic/chewy texture. In many processed foods (foods that are prepackaged), gluten is added either for the texture, or to slightly boost an otherwise low protein content.

What’s The Big Deal?

Because gluten can be difficult (if not impossible) to digest when it’s a huge part of a diet, it can clog up the body, making it difficult for the body to work correctly. When a body cannot perform to its best, that is the very definition of “dis-ease”. Gluten intolerance is known as Celiac Disease, with symptoms that closely resemble malnutrition because the body is not able to absorb nutrients from other food sources when there is any gluten present; in this disease, gluten acts like a really strict bouncer, blocking the nerdy-looking good foods from entering the club because it’s too busy paying attention to its rebellious friends, therefore mucking it up for everybody. Aside from Celiac, a diet heavy in gluten causes cumulative digestive problems and may contribute to several diseases like some cancers, diabetes, heart disease, depression, hypothyroidism, autoimmune diseases like MS and Lupus, arthritis, and others. Because of this research, there’s some debate as to whether gluten products should be eliminated completely from our diets.

How Do I Eat Now?

You may be tempted now to start working gluten products completely out of your diet, since really all you’re doing is eating an adhesive. In our modern society, gluten has become similar to high fructose corn syrup: it’s in everything! (At least, the things that get processed and packaged– hard to find gluten in fresh vegetables…) True, in moderate portions, it won’t have the same overwhelming effect on you, especially if you’re eating gluten in foods that are abundant in other nutrients and are processed as little as possible. (That can include organic varieties of oatmeal, brown rice, granola, and more… just keep the portions limited if you can’t give up grains 100%.) It may seem impossible to eat anything now, wondering if that sneaky little gluten ninja worked its way into your meal. Let’s start with the simple things first:

  1. Skip the trips to McDonalds: fast food restaurants are bad for a number of reasons, but we’ll leave that aside for now. Pretty much every item on a “value” menu will have gluten in it at some point- sandwiches, burgers, fried foods that have been battered in flour, even some drinks will have some gluten product in them to give them their texture- so skip those places outright. In an emergency, your safest bet is to order a salad and skip the dressing.
  2. Stick to the real deal: those ingredient lists exists for a reason! Read ’em! If you can’t pronounce it, chances are you shouldn’t be eating it. Like we mentioned, fresh fruits and vegetables are already packed with nutrients and flavor, so they don’t need to have gluten added to them for any purpose. Avoid getting those foods canned, because they’ll have to have preservatives added to keep them fresh, which means gluten can hide itself in there like the one blue sock in a load of whites in the laundry. Purchase either fresh or frozen, depending on your cooking needs.
  3. Buy only what you need and prepare it yourself: convenience is usually the biggest obstacle to overcome when trying to change any behavior. If it doesn’t fit into your schedule, no matter how healthy it is, it won’t work for you. So give yourself time to adjust to new behaviors, like buying the essentials when you’re grocery shopping and preparing your snacks and even some meals ahead of time (that’s why we have things like ovens). This way, when you’re looking for quick, healthy, and gluten-free snacks to munch on during a long work day, or an easy and tasty dinner you can reheat quickly when you’re tired, you’ll have plenty to choose from; it’s still “prepackaged”, but it’s you that did the prepackaging!
  4. Pay attention to those hidden sources of gluten: if you took any sciences classes in elementary school, you should remember the Food Chain– plants absorb nutrients from their surroundings, animals eat those plants and absorb their nutrients, other animals eat those animals and absorb it all, and so on. Because that chain could get interrupted and hijacked by gluten products, maybe even more than once, it’s important to consider the source of your foods, including and especially meats. It may cost a little extra, but try to purchase organic foods as often as possible… or, you know, what your grandparents and great-grandparents would have called food. Look for meats that were grass fed rather than grain fed– what they’ve eaten is just as important as what you’re eating!
  5. Substitutions are your friends: there are plenty of gluten-free alternatives for your cooking and baking needs- almond meal, gluten-free flour, coconut flour- and they all play similar roles in thickening foods, supplying additional nutrition, and making a yummy chewy texture… without using gluten at all. You’ll want to check recipes, though, because you may need to alter the quantity of other bonding agents, like milk and/or eggs.
  6. Give yourself time: yeah, we said that already, but it’s worth repeating. To clean out your system, try going a solid 30 days without any gluten products at all. At first, it might seem like we’re asking you to cut off your arm and see how that goes, but believe us when we tell you that you’ll have plenty of delicious meals to try, not all of which will require you to have been a contestant on Iron Chef America or have an unlimited food budget. (Type “gluten free recipes” into a Google search, and you’ll get about 7+ million sites.) After 30 days, if you haven’t fallen in love with this new lifestyle, try introducing gluten sources back into your diet and see how that goes. Our own Front Desk Extraordinaire Lindsay has been doing just that over the summer: after a couple decades of regular grain intake, she eliminated grains for a while, then tried having a couple bagels over a weekend. There exists neither word nor sound to accurately describe how icky everything felt.

Remember, too, that Dr. Ranae is available for free nutrition consultations to help you with any questions you may have, and can always refer you to our homeopathic doctors that share our office if you need any more specialized care (care extending beyond our focus of Gonstead chiropractic).


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