To gluten or not to gluten?

 Gluten free grains and seeds :)

Gluten free grains and seeds :)

The term "gluten free" is starting to pop up everywhere, from baked goods, condiments, and even take out pizza. may be wondering if going gluten free is right for you, or if it is just a "fad". 

May is Mental Health month and since gluten has been shown to be a silent cause of MANY mental health conditions (Dr. David Perlmutter's Grain Brain goes into much detail), I thought this was the right time to take you through why I believe this "fad" is more that just a fad. It may be your solution. 

Many diets have come and gone. So unlike fads in fashion, which I admit to caving to on numerous occasions, I am cautious when it comes to nutrition and tend to not waver on my recommendations. One of these recommendations however, for many of my patients, IS a gluten-free diet. This diet isn't necessary for everyone but new research is showing that around 1 in 10 people are sensitive to gluten (1 in 300 are celiac - inflammation on overdrive creating an autoimmune reaction to gluten). 

Are you gluten sensitive?

Are you suffering from any of the following?

  • feeling sluggish
  • brain fog
  • headaches
  • depression/moodiness
  • ADHD
  • memory loss
  • anxiety
  • let's not forget symptoms not associated with mental health - skin rashes, allergies, joint pain or any form of digestive issues

If you answered yes to any (or many!) of these symptoms, gluten may be the culprit. In Naturopathic Medicine, the terms leaky gut and food sensitivities are frequently used. When we frequently experience stress, we spend more time in the "fight or flight" portion of our nervous system and not the important "rest and digest" portion. This prevents proper digestion of food causing inflammation in the gut, which then leaks into our blood stream causing systemic issues. While symptoms could be triggered by a variety of foods because of this process, gluten can cause more issues due to over-exposure, over-processing and its effect on blood sugar.

Let's talk about blood sugar. When digested (if at all), these grains are broken down into glucose very quickly. The glycemic index (or surge of blood sugar) of whole grain bread is higher than a snickers bar or a banana (!), stressing our pancreas to produce more insulin in order to transport glucose into our cells. High blood glucose leads to inflammation - in our gut, joints, skin or the silent organ - the brain! There are no pain receptors in our brain and high glucose (and low dietary fat - but more on good fats later) can wreak havoc without any concrete indication. Inflammation will decrease neurotransmitter levels, which are responsible for keeping us happy and healthy, and affect our neurons and the signals they send for memory and so on. 

Gluten being over-processed, genetically modified and over-consumed is a whole different segway but I won't bore you with that today. Instead let's explore some basics. 

What exactly is gluten?

Gluten is a mixture of proteins, gliadin being one, in many grains. It is responsible for the chewiness of many bread products that we eat every day. It can be found in:

  • wheat (most breads, pastas, cakes, cookies, get the picture)
  • barley
  • farro
  • kamut
  • rye
  • spelt
  • many pre-packaged foods and condiments (eg. ketchup, soy sauce, salad dressings)

So what can I eat?

If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms I suggest cutting out gluten for a month and keeping tabs on your symptoms. If you feel better, thats fantastic - keep it up. If not, more exploration with your ND is necessary. The gluten free trend makes it much easier to replace your bread for bread, pasta for pasta, cookie for cookie etc, but pre-packaged gluten free foods and some flours tend to spike your blood sugar even more. Therefore focus on healthy whole grains and legumes (think quinoa, buckwheat, sweet potato, rice). You'd be surprised what foods are out there when you open your eyes and experiment! The following foods are gluten-free:

  • amaranth
  • arrowroot
  • buckwheat/kasha
  • corn
  • flax
  • millet
  • oats
  • quinoa
  • rice
  • tapioca
  • potato
  • teff

Follow my food Fridays to learn some new recipes or check out my favourite food blogs for some more ideas. If you enjoy baking like I do, try experimenting with buckwheat, quinoa, and coconut flour! 

Its a lifestyle change and I understand it can be hard at first but trust me, its worth it for some people. You may not need to stick with it forever so check in with your ND. 

So clear your brain and get happy! In the words of Pharrell, - "Clap along if you feel..."


In health & happiness,

Dr. Karen