Friday, March 14, 2014

Eating Against The Grain

I used to be convinced that I couldn't do all of my groceries at a natural food store. I needed things they didn't carry. I would travel to one health food store for my favorite protein powder, another for body products and another for yogurt and cheese. The bulk of my groceries would come from your run of the mill neighborhood grocery store where most of what I would buy was processed and packaged foods. Would it surprise you that since the beginning of this year I've only been shopping at a natural food store?

After years of convincing myself that I needed “food” from the middle aisles of my local grocery store, I broke away and started eating more whole (unprocessed) food. How was I able to pull it off? It is actually pretty simple. I broke up with wheat. That’s right, no bread, cake, cookies, donuts or even licking envelopes. Envelopes? Yes, envelopes, because when you break up with wheat you are really breaking up with gluten, which happens to be in almost everything. Don’t believe me? Check your condiments. Your BBQ sauce doesn't resemble a loaf of bread but when gluten is used as an emulsifier to thicken sauces, you start to notice that gluten is truly in a lot of what we eat.

The first month without gluten was an experiment. The first thing I noticed within a week of being gluten free is that I felt (and continue to feel) amazing. I used to have achy knees after running and that’s almost completely gone away. Sometimes I would wake up around 3 AM with heartburn. It has happened just once this year when I accidentally had gluten in (you guessed it) BBQ sauce. I've lost inches and 8 pounds without much rigorous exercise. After 2 months of my “experiment”, it has become a lifestyle.

Homemade gluten free blueberry scones
When I started my wheat free journey I also started reading Wheat Belly by Dr. William Davis. He describes many health issues associated with gluten and cites plenty of research to back it up. For example, when gluten breaks down it can cross the blood/brain barrier and can act as an opiate. That’s why many people experience withdrawals when they stop eating wheat products. The fact our body reacts to it like a drug is pretty scary! Gluten is the ingredient that causes things like bread and pizza dough to rise, but it also causes some of the highest spikes in glycemic index. As a cardiologist, Dr. Davis has prescribed a gluten free diet to many patients with diet related health problems. As a result they have experienced decreased symptoms of IBS, acid reflux, rashes and a variety of other and more severe diseases including diabetes and heart disease.

So why did I decide to cut out gluten and all of the delicious things made of wheat? I knew I wasn't treating my body well. I would eat dinner at 6 PM and wake up around 3 AM with terrible heart burn that would lead to tossing and turning for hours before falling back asleep. I wasn't hydrating like I used to and needed to add more water to my daily diet. I would look at my plate and see bland colors because I was not eating enough vegetables.

I knew breaking up with wheat would take planning and mean that I would have to cook more – something I don’t always like to do. The light bulb moment came around Christmas when I baked a couple of desserts from scratch. It wasn't difficult or time consuming to make desserts with wholesome ingredients, and they happened to turn out delicious. I cooked using real food and real food tastes great.

Toast and jelly at Snooze 
The good news is that eating gluten free is becoming more common which means more restaurants are including gluten free options on their menus. I spent a few days in San Diego recently and was excited about the gluten free menu options. I am especially fond of breakfast so was just over the moon for the blueberry French toast at The Mission CafĂ©. It totally made my day when I got to have toast and jelly with my eggs at Snooze in Hillcrest.

May I point out that eating gluten free isn't just for those with celiac disease? I am eating gluten free by choice, and in that process recognized that my body is sensitive to it. If I can’t convince you to give gluten free a try, and you are worried about the possible backlash (you know, the weird looks or roll of the eyes) check out this article that defends all gluten free eaters.


Beware the middle chapters of Wheat Belly. Dr. Davis advises on some extreme dieting choices such as cutting out all carbs with the intent to stabilize the glycemic index. This portion of the book made me realize that with health options, everyone draws the line somewhere. It can be the difference between a diet and dieting. For me, I've drawn the line at removing gluten from my diet. Without eating rice, quinoa or potatoes I may not have made it this far. Finding substitutes that are healthier choices but similar to what resembles food I like, and am used to, has made this journey much easier.

1 comment:

  1. I love the "Wheat Belly" books. I try for low carb as well as no gluten to help stabilize blood sugar. I find I am always jumping on and off the gluten free carousel ;D


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