Gluten intolerance and Celiac disease have exploded on the scene in the past 20 years. It’s spawned a global insanity that sees people spend twice as much for a gluten-free product. You’ll even find food that couldn’t conceivably have gluten in it slapped with a “gluten-free” sticker.
A gluten-free Porterhouse? Just what I needed!
It’s THE food fad lately, and the trendy housewives and celebrities are jumping on it. If you have a reason to look good, you’ve probably gone gluten-free at some point. It’s the new boogie man behind feeling crappy: “I’ve got a headache – it’s gotta be that croissant I ate earlier!”
You might know “gluten-free” by another name – the Paleo Diet. Their credo is that modern foods aren’t healthy and we should revert back to eat what cavemen did.
I agree that modern marketing and food creation processes are destroying our food – but the Paleo Diet’s idea of “modern” is 12,000 years. That’s when our ancestors discovered agriculture and began producing wheat.
But, the Ancient Egyptians weren’t concerned about gluten. In fact, wheat comprised a significant portion of many ancient civilizations’ diets – including the Egyptians, Indians, Romans, and Chinese. For thousands of years, cultures ate gluten-rich foods just fine.
I’m not arguing that people complaining of gluten issues are making it up. On the other hand, they truly suffer from something ranging from uncomfortable to downright dangerous. It’s just that people didn’t have these problems until recently.
In fact, celiac disease has become 4 times more common just since 1950.
Meaning that in the past 50 years, something changed. People ate wheat for 11,950 years without complaint.
Did our genetics radically shift to begin rejecting gluten? Unless we were all exposed to massive radiation at the same time, I’d say no.
So why does wheat hurt so many people now?
Understanding Gluten Allergy Symptoms
Mother Nature is pretty cool, and most plants and animals have survival mechanisms to ensure their existence (and of their offspring). For example, wheat (along with nuts, legumes, and seeds) contains anti-nutrients, such as enzyme inhibitors and phytates. When an animal comes along and chomps a bunch of tasty wheat, these anti-nutrients cause discomfort – keeping hungry animals from eating entire crops.
When we eat improperly prepared wheat, nuts, legumes, and seeds, these anti-nutrients not only keep us from absorbing nutrients, but they actually damage and inflame our intestinal lining. This affects everyone, not just the gluten intolerant or sufferers of Celiac.
But not everyone notices intestinal issues upon eating gluten – only the ones that got shafted by the genetic lottery and are genetically predisposed to be more sensitive to gluten see the immediate crap it does to their body.
In that sense, celiac disease and gluten intolerance are inherited, the same way that some people are prone to obesity or alcoholism. Those people aren’t guaranteed to be alcoholic or obese, but they are more likely to become those things.
And the gluten itself is damaging. The modern gluten molecule is massive – like the Jupiter among food molecules. When you’ve got an inflamed, sensitive, and damaged gut, this huge gluten molecule comes along and punches holes in your intestinal lining. This lining is supposed to be semi-permeable to allow nutrients to pass through, but not have seams big enough to allow partially digested food to enter.
These unwanted molecules cause you to develop new allergies to foods such as dairy, peanuts, and shellfish. Disease-causing toxins can also enter through these gluten-created holes, causing diabetes, cancer, and mental disorders.
However, our ancestors were pretty clever. They knew the proper way to prepare wheat.
Why I Still Eat Wheat
When it comes to gluten, almost everyone is taking the wrong approach.
Instead of asking “Hmmmm, why did my body develop this random sensitivity to gluten and how can I fix it?” most people slap a mental “DO NOT EAT” label on wheat. In researching this post, most resources I check said disheartening things like “A 100% gluten-free diet is the only existing treatment.” I find that sad, because they imply you can’t eat wheat ever again, meaning you’ll be worried and paranoid about every single meal that you don’t prepare yourself.
Cutting out ALL wheat is like slamming your hand in a door and saying “I’m never using doors again! They’re dangerous!” You can absolutely still eat wheat as a nutritious part of your diet.
For me, wheat makes up some of the most delicious meals I eat. I can’t imagine cutting it out forever. I think food is an experience we’re meant to enjoy, savor, and look forward to. With proper preparation, you can still enjoy your delicious wheat-filled meals (Pizza! French toast!) and not worry about the potentially debilitating side effects of gluten.
If you ate raw rice and it hurt your stomach, you might think “Man, this rice stuff really hurts me, I better give it up.” Someone else could give you the simple solution: cook it, and it magically becomes healthy. Prepare your wheat the right way, and it turns from something harmful into a food that’s healthy for everyone, even those with gluten sensitivities.
Healing Your Gluten Sensitivity
That’s right, I said healing. It’s time we shifted our mindset from “which pill will best manage my symptoms?” to “can I actually heal the root problem?”
As my naturopath is fond of saying:
Those are some far-reaching implications (cancer? diabetes?), and in this case, he means that with a simple protocol you can heal the root issue and enjoy eating wheat again.
And while avoiding gluten is a good start to healing, it’s just not enough. You’ve damaged your intestinal lining and you’ll continue to see digestive and other issues arise (such as allergy development). Many other types of foods will still cause you discomfort and stress, even if you kick out the gluten. Widespread healing is what you need, not an overboard measure that won’t even fix you.
#1. Stop eating all forms of gluten and any other foods causing you distress – For this first step, you’re going to eliminate most foods from your diet. Yes, that’s annoying, but we’re healing you so you can go back to enjoying rich and delicious foods again without worry. It’s worth it.
Honestly, for this step, I’d cut out EVERYTHING from your diet and just focus on the foods I’m going to mention in the next few steps.
#2. Drink 5 cups of bone broth per day – This isn’t broth that you can buy at the store – it’s bone broth the way your grandparents made it. It’s rich, delicious, and full of seriously healthy things like gelatin and minerals. It’s famously good for sealing up and healing the intestinal tract.
You can make bone broths out of virtually any bones you can find – chicken, beef, lamb, goat, fish, etc. If you can find bones from grass-fed or pastured animals, even better. We like to buy rotisserie chickens and save the bones.
Simply chuck the bones into a crock pot, add veggies (whatever you have on hand), a little apple cider vinegar (to help draw out the minerals), and fill the rest of the way with water. Cooking times vary from 1-3 days based on the size of the bones. If the bones are getting soft, that’s a good indication it’s done. If water levels get low, fill it back up.
I recommend taking in this amount for at least a week, longer if you can. You’ll begin noticing a difference within 1-2 days. It’s a good idea to get in the habit of drinking nourishing bone broths every single day.
#3. Start eating congee – Probably the easiest semi-solid to digest. It’s used in Oriental medicine to help with imbalanced digestion. It’s a thin porridge (I know, not terribly appetizing) that won’t give you any problems.
Congee is usually about 1 part brown rice, millet, quinoa, or buckwheat (or any combo) added to about 5 parts water. Cook on low for several hours, or overnight in a crockpot. Season with ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, raisins, chopped carrots, and apples (they add some flavor and will be soft for digestion once cooked).
#4. Start adding easy-to-digest warm foods – once you begin feeling better, you can add cooked potato, sweet potato, winter squash (butternut, spaghetti), summer squash (yellow squash, zucchini), and root veggies (carrots, radishes, beets)– especially added to your bone broths. Nothing raw yet.
Foods to Avoid While Healing Your Gluten Sensitivity:
If you have more severe symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, stomachache, or diarrhea, stick to only cooked foods. Even foods like raw veggies can be a bit tough on digestion. Avoid cruciferous veggies also, like cabbage, cauliflower, radish, and broccoli. Of course, these are NORMALLY awesome foods for you to pig out on, but not with a sensitive stomach.
Also avoid veggies with high levels of oxalic acid, like beet tops, rhubarb, spinach, and Swiss chard – your body can normally neutralize oxalic acid, but it requires calcium and you want your system working at max capacity to heal you up.
Avoid dairy (the large casein molecules can be harmful while healing, just like gluten), wheat, meat, sugar, artificial sweeteners, fast foods, and anything processed, greasy, or oily.
Finally, stay away from beans, nuts, and seeds. Like mentioned earlier, you can prepare these to neutralize the anti-nutrients, but they’re still not the easiest on digestion. During this time when you’re digestion is especially vulnerable, a single poor food choice could set back your progress weeks.
In all, you should experience several weeks free of digestive issues before you begin adding things like sourdough bread, soaked and sprouted flours, beans, nuts, raw veggies, and most other healthy things you’d normally eat.
I know. It’s not the easiest thing, but cutting out some foods you love for several weeks will pay much bigger dividends than simply ditching wheat, taking pills for years, or visiting doctors frequently. It’s worth it to avoid cramping up any time you eat something remotely disturbing to your digestion.
Instead of acting like your digestion “is just that way,” and instead of living with something as debilitating as bad digestive health, why not take a few weeks and improve your quality of life?
You can be right back to enjoying tasty, healthy foods that promote health – as opposed to cutting out half your diet because you think your gluten intolerance or Celiac disease is here to stay.
How to Manage Gluten Intolerance Symptoms Forever
So, you’ve healed that irritated gut of yours, and you probably feel a million times better (and more confident that what you eat won’t hurt you).
However, you’ve already developed a gluten sensitivity once – meaning that you’re more likely than the average bear to have it happen again.
Foods Everyone Should Stay Away From to Avoid Gluten Issues:
BTW, this isn’t just for people with gluten intolerance or Celiac disease – these are guidelines for everyone. In fact, if you don’t think you have gluten intolerance, I can virtually guarantee you still experience symptoms that don’t seem like they should be related to eating gluten (headaches, anxiety, low energy, etc.). Improperly prepared wheat is bad for everyone, not just the extra sensitive.
Assuming you’ve taken care of your gluten intolerance symptoms, you might wonder when you can back to eating store-bought white bread.
The answer is:
Consistently eating that stuff in the first place is what most likely caused your issues! While your now healthy gut can better handle a bit of gluten here and there, deliberately overloading with process white bread aint the smartest.
Don’t worry, there are still delicious alternatives and you’ll still be able to eat pancakes, bread, pizza, hamburger buns, tortillas, and all that goodness… you’ll just need some different ways to prepare it.
The easiest rule of thumb is to stay away from processed foods. Especially avoid:
- White/wheat flour
- Vegetable oil
- Boxed/canned/packaged foods
- Fast food
- Pasteurized, low-fat dairy (drink raw milk, ideally)
- Added flavors, dyes, preservatives, chemicals, or enhancers
In addition, toxins in your diet and household are your gut’s kryptonite. Read about how we remove toxins HERE and the best eBooks we ever bought for making our own cleaners and personal care stuff at home.
How to Prepare Your Wheat, Nuts, Seeds, and Legumes Properly
These are foods you should be eating over the long haul, but not necessarily WHILE you’re healing. Whether you’ve had issues in the past or not, these foods and preparation methods will keep your gut going strong!
Bone Broths – We make beef stew or chicken noodle soup practically every single week, and we always cook our rice with ½ water and ½ bone broth. Drink a warm glass or two daily to get in a few cups a day.
Probiotics – We make kombucha, kefir, and yogurt at our house, and eat at least 2 of those every single day. These probiotics help regrow and fortify the helpful bacteria in your gut.
Soaked Oatmeal – For each cup of oats, add 1 cup of water, and 1 tablespoon acidic medium, like yogurt, buttermilk, lemon juice, or apple cider vinegar. Let soak for at least 7 hours on your counter.
We’ll leave ours in a pot, and then the next morning add another cup of water and cook!
Soaking Beans – you know the saying about “the more you eat” beans, right? That’s because you don’t prepare them right. You’ll be amazed how well they settle when prepared correctly.
Cover beans with water and add 1 Tablespoon of an acidic medium (we use apple cider vinegar or lemon juice) for every cup of beans. Let the beans soak for 12-24 hours.
Ideally, rinse and refresh water and acidic medium 1-2 times during the soaking period. There will be an accumlation of some nasty scum on top of your water after a while. That is all the nasty stuff coming off and out of your beans.
When you are ready to cook you drain, rinse, and refresh the water. Simmer 4-8 hours and add a pinch of baking soda towards the end to make them soft. Now add it to your dish and serve!
Bread/Grains – At home, our bread is always homemade sourdough made with fresh starter. The overall process is simple, but it requires time. In our day and age, everyone wants stuff quick and convenient – plus the food companies want to produce a simple product. They’re not interested in taking 2-3 days to make true sourdough bread.
For that reason, most sourdough bread you buy at the store is merely sourdough “flavored.” That means they added something fake to resemble the flavor, but isn’t fermented. True sourdough bread has 4 ingredients: sourdough starter, flour, salt, water.
No fast-rising yeast, no dough enhancers, no artificial flavors.
We have a complete guide to preparing sourdough, but the quickie science is pretty cool. You have this live sourdough starter that you mix with regular ol’ flour. You leave it on the counter for about half a day, and that live sourdough works its way through the flour, neutralizing the anti-nutrients and breaking down the gluten.
Studies have shown that sourdough fermentation of wheat brings the gluten count down from 80,000 PPM (parts per million) down to 8 PPM – which is within the safe range for Celiac sufferers.
Another option is sprouted flour. In nature, I’ve mentioned that grains carry anti-nutrients to discourage predators and preserve the seed. When it falls off the plant and onto the ground, water and sun come along and encourage it to grow. When the plant sprouts, the anti-nutrients break down, allowing the plant to grow. The gluten also begins breaking down into a friendlier form.
We buy bags of sprouted flour which we mostly use for baking. It’s a bit thicker than normal flour, and can taste a bit nuttier. For that reason, it’s better to have a recipe catered to sprouted flour as opposed to just substituting it in 1:1 for regular flour.
Or, you can soak your flour with an acidic medium. We rarely do this anymore because it requires more work than sprouted flour and isn’t probiotic like sourdough. However, if you want cookies and other baked goods that taste the most like the real thing, this is probably the way to go.
We’ve made cookies where we mixed the liquid ingredients from the recipe into the (preferably wheat) flour and added a tablespoon or so of apple cider vinegar and left it overnight. The next day, add the rest of the ingredients and prepare like normal!
I’m not convinced that this is as healthy as sprouted flour or sourdough, so I’d recommend those.
And lastly, we like to use einkorn flour, especially for spaghetti noodles.
Remember at the beginning of the post I showed you a pic of the difference in size of ancient gluten molecules to the ones we currently eat? Well, einkorn is what’s called an heirloom grain, meaning that it hasn’t been modified by recent food tinkerers.
You can buy it in bulk and grind it up without having to worry about the large gluten molecules. We typically buy einkorn spaghetti noodles at our local Real Food Market – but that’s our only einkorn experience. We have access to a grain grinder, and we’re planning on trying out some sourdough Einkorn here in the future.
Studies are beginning to show that einkorn can be much safer for celiac patients. Pretty cool stuff!
The main points here to take away are this:
- If you have gluten intolerance or celiac disease, quit rolling over and giving up! There is hope, and it’s not a pill you have to get addicted to or some expensive medical treatment. All it requires is good ol’ fashioned healthy eating and the simple routine outlined above
- Don’t give up all forms of wheat because you’ve had sensitivities in the past. This is the most drastic reaction to take, and isn’t necessary. Ancient people found ways to prepare and eat it safely for thousands of years. Food manufacturers cut more corners in the past 20 years, leading to widespread consumption of improperly prepared grains. Preparing them correctly can be safe and healthy, and bring joy back to eating.
What do you think about all this? I’d love for you to chime in!
As always, I’m not a doctor, just a food researcher and avid studier of all things nutrition related. This blog isn’t intended to diagnose or treat any conditions, but merely to convey my experiences and research I’ve found. Talk to your healthcare practitioner (I’d recommend a naturopath) if you’re considering undergoing treatment for gluten intolerance or celiac disease.