Be Healthy. Be Happy. Naturally.
Gluten is a term for the proteins gliadin and glutenin that are most commonly found in wheat but also found in rye and barley. Although humans have been eating gluten for over 10,000 years, today’s engineered wheat now contain up to 40 times the amount of gluten than the wheat from just a few decades ago.
Modern wheat has been hybridized, stripped of essential nutrients when processed and has artificial replicas added back in to increase shelf life. These factors coupled with modern fertilizers and farming practices have created grains that bear little resemblance to even the wheat of 40 years ago.
When we eat gluten, it breaks down in the stomach into polypeptides which can cross the blood-brain barrier where they bind to the brain’s morphine receptors. This produces addicting morphine like compounds. The gluten makes us feel full and relaxed. Extra gluten is often added to breads increasing this effect. Yeast is also difficult to digest and we often eat breads with other heavy, dense foods such as cheese and meats compounding its heaviness in our gut.
Another issue with wheat is that it has a higher glycemic index than sugar. When we eat wheat, we experience a surge in blood sugar. This is not a problem if it happens occasionally; however gluten containing wheat is the carbohydrate of choice in the American diet. The typical American eats gluten containing wheat products three or more times a day year round. Combine this habit with our overconsumption of other carbohydrates especially in the form of sugar, and we end up with a variety of “modern” diseases such as metabolic syndrome, diabetes, obesity, heart disease and cancer.
Celiac disease occurs when gluten triggers an immune response that damages the inside of the small intestine. As the intestines become damaged, the body is less able to absorb the nutrients it needs often resulting in gas, bloating, vomiting, weight loss, fatigue and weakness, and left untreated can lead to other autoimmune disorders like Type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, dermatitis, respiratory problems, anemia, osteoporosis, multiple sclerosis, infertility, intestinal cancers and neurological conditions like epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, migraines and Parkinson’s. Celiac disease can be confirmed with a blood test which identifies certain antibodies. However, sometimes a person does not test positive for celiac but is gluten intolerant none the less. This is now called Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity or NCGS. Gluten intolerance can affect nearly every tissue in the body, sometimes not affecting the digestive system at all. What is so difficult is that we do not have a way to test for gluten sensitivity, and the vast range of symptoms and diseases that can occur from gluten sensitivity is bewildering. Often people do not even suspect they are sensitive to gluten.
Ayurveda is an ancient holistic system of healthcare that focuses on prevention and on the body’s capacity to heal itself. By eliminating the source of any current imbalance or disease we can live a long and healthy life. We each have a unique body type and a unique way that we interact with nature around us. What we eat, drink, think, where we live, how we exercise, how we work, all have an effect on our health. When we understand our original body type, we can intelligently make choices to keep us vibrant and disease free.
So, is gluten friend or foe? Well, it can be neither or both, depending on your body and the quality of your digestion. According to Ayurveda, wheat, barley and rye are grounding grains that help build endurance and muscle if it is properly digested. However, wheat is a hard to digest grain that traditionally was only eaten in the winter when our digestion is at its strongest. If our digestion is not strong enough, eating heavy, difficult to digest food contributes to the build-up of ama. Ama is translated as “undigested food” and is the root cause of many types of diseases. Modern science also now recognizes that undigested food leads to autoimmune responses in the body. Ayurveda teaches us that our ability to digest foods is the major key for good health. Sometimes just improving our digestive strength will be enough to be able to eat and enjoy wheat again in small amounts.
If you think that gluten might be the culprit for your problems you might consider eliminating gluten from your diet for a month to see if your symptoms improve. If you choose to eat a gluten free diet, you must check all labels and educate yourself to all of gluten’s alternative names such as maltodextrin, yeast extract, natural flavoring and modified food starch just to name a few. Gluten is found in products such as ketchup, soup, ice cream, cosmetics, toothpaste and supplements. Be sure not to blindly replace wheat breads and crackers with gluten free versions without looking at the ingredients. Often gluten free processed foods are just as bad for you but in a different way as they contain dense amounts of processed starches and carbohydrates that will make your blood sugar soar. Usually they are just as heavy and difficult to digest as wheat. I think the easiest way to try to eliminate wheat is to eat a very simple diet consisting of fresh vegetables, gluten free grains, fruits and clean protein sources. There are so many other grains to experiment with; have fun exploring new tastes. For starters try quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth, millet, corn, tapioca, flax, teff and the many varieties of rice. Many of these grains are lighter and easier to digest which will improve your energy level. Eat from the perimeter of the grocery store. Eliminate processed, packaged or frozen foods. Use this healing diet to create stronger digestion and eliminate built up ama or toxins from your body. You can improve your digestion by eating foods that are vital, fresh and organic. If you know your constitution, choose foods that support your body type. Some additional things you can do are to give your food your complete attention as you prepare your meals and while you eat them. Avoid eating cold and iced foods. Most importantly eat only when you are hungry and eat less than you think you need.
When I make suggestions about a client’s food choices, I recommend they follow their new protocol closely for a month and observe how they feel. Then if they want to, they eat whatever they want for a day and see how they feel. Usually after the month there is no desire to eat the foods that were not beneficial to them, and if they do eat these foods, the change in their energy and health is substantial enough they no longer desire the things that are not good for them. Your innate wisdom will guide you in how to care for yourself if you know how to listen to it.
Ayurveda embraces our uniqueness and offers ways to balance our natural constitution based on that uniqueness. So how do you balance and strengthen your digestion? There is not a one size fits all answer, it depends on you. A visit with an Ayurvedic Practitioner can provide you with the information and treatment you need to restore health to your digestive tract, eliminate ama and restore balance so you can live a vibrant and productive life.
Be well and Happy,
I'm Shivani Chase. I love to help people learn how to live the best life they can using Ayurveda, yoga, compassion and common sense.