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What really is gluten? Is it really that bad?

What really is gluten? Is it really that bad?

Answer: Gluten, Twerking, Selfies.

Question: Name three things people are getting sick of hearing about.

Gluten is everywhere right now, literally and figuratively. More and more people are adopting a gluten-free lifestyle and probably are not even sure why they are. It sounds trendy so they are going with it. What really is gluten though? This article is going to break it down and allow you to decide if it is something you want to keep or remove from your diet.

WHEAT DOMINANCE

Gluten is found in the seeds of grass. We call these seeds grains and 50% of calories consumed worldwide now come from grains. The big three are wheat, barley and rye. There are many others but at the moment roughly 17 plants are providing 90% of mankind’s food supply. These three, primarily wheat, dominate consumption by the average person and according the The United Nations wheat makes up 20% of the calories consumed by humans.

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THE NITTY GRITTY OF GLUTEN

All of these grains contain gluten which is a sticky protein. The name gluten itself comes from the Latin word for glue. Gluten is what makes dough stretchy and breads chewy.

How have things become so out of hand that now we see an explosion in the rate of gluten sensitivity and the rate of celiac disease? With a 400% increase in the diagnosis of celiac diesease in the last 50-60 years something has obviously changed.

Many people ask how wheat and gluten can be so bad if we have been eating it for thousands of years. When you look back at the timeline of gluten you will realize what you are consuming today is very different than earlier forms.

FROM EINKORN TO TODAY

Around 10,000-12,000 years ago, or roughly the time when Larry King graduated high school, tall grasses where left over from glacier retreat at the end of the ice age started to appear. This scraggly grass was called einkorn and this simple plant contained 14 chromosomes.

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Unlike plants, these have the ability to multiply and increase their amount of chromosomes. During the biblical age emmer wheat was the dominant form and had increased its chromosome count to 28. Emmer wheat would last up until the middle ages when triticum aestivum would be the dominant variety.

POPULATION EXPLOSION

By the 1960’s there became a growing concern with overpopulation on the earth and the effect that would have on the food supply. Feeding hungry nations was a pursuit undertaken by Norman Borlaug. The emerging field of genetics allowed for variations to be adopted in plants and the end product was the high-yield semi dwarf variant of wheat. The old 4 to 5 foot high amber waves of grain were replaced by this 2 to 2.5 foot high stocky plant that could now take up less room and be planted at a faster rate.

This was all done out of noble intentions and quickly used by most farmers who used to getting roughly eight bushels an acre were now able to get up to 80. Today a majority of all wheat available is this high-yield variant.

IS IT SAFE?

As it was done out of noble intentions and still resembled a plant the question was never raised – is this safe for human consumption? As the years have gone by genetic modification has created a plant with 42 chromosomes and gluten levels through the roof.

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So how does gluten cause health issues?

Your small intestine is where a majority of your food absorption happens. Inside the small intestine are tiny, finger-like projections called villi and microvilli. Think of these like shag on a shag carpet. All of them are involved with the absorption of various nutrients and minerals. What gluten does is slowly break down these ‘shags’ until what was once a shag carpet now becomes a flat sub-floor. Without an adequate way to digest and open to exposure gluten can cause tremendous pain in digestion and lead to autoimmunity.

Autoimmunity is when a foreign substance (gluten) enters the body causing the immune system to bring all hands on deck to attack the foreign invader. The problem is since gluten is a protein it resembles some other proteins in the body. Now familiar with attacking this type of protein the body essentially turns on itself leading to autoimmunity and conditions such as:

  • diabetes
  • celiac disease itself
  • hashimoto (a disease which causes the thyroid not to make enough thyroid hormone)
  • multiple sclerosis
  • rheumatoid arthritis

GLUTEN SENSITIVITY VS. GLUTEN INTOLERANCE

You will hear of these two definitions often and to define each it is important to remember gluten intolerance is known as celiac disease. The shag has been worn down to that sub-floor and celiac disease is a full-on condition causing a wide range of very painful symptoms. With 1 in 100 people now being affected it is becoming a growing problem. Effects can vary from person to person but usually include:

  • anemia – usually resulting from iron deficiency
  • loss of bone density (osteoporosis) and bone softening
  • itchy blistering skin rash (dermatitis herpetiformis)
  • headaches and fatigue
  • joint pain
  • acid reflux and heartburn
  • reduced functioning of the spleen (hyposplenism)

Gluten sensitivity is when it has not reached the stage of full deterioration but still causes similar symptoms, discomfort and concern and can include:

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  • digestion issues
  • cramping
  • bloating
  • diarrhea
  • nausea

There are many nutritionists, doctors and health experts who will argue all people are allergic to gluten in some form but it can take years for symptoms to appear.

WHAT TO TAKE AWAY

At the very least there is no need in anyone’s diet for white bread and white flour. You are consuming a refined, fast-absorbing carbohydrate that can spike blood sugar along with a high-gluten content that you can be pretty sure came from an unnatural, genetically-modified plant. If you can find more simplistic forms of wheat from local farms or markets grown organically you know you are consuming a more natural product.

People still love their cakes, cookies and treats and there is promise in using some alternative flours like almond and coconut flour. They will be gluten-free and also contain beneficial nutrients, are higher in protein and low on the glycemic index. Everyone will always want their treats and it seems smart to try and make it something that can benefit your craving short-term but not hurt you in the long run.

Featured photo credit: Kevin Lallier via flic.kr

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Jamie Logie

Jamie is a personal trainer and health coach with a degree in Kinesiology and Food and Nutrition.

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Last Updated on July 5, 2019

5 Reasons Why You Should Always Be Yourself

5 Reasons Why You Should Always Be Yourself

When it comes to being yourself, there can be a lot of pressure from the outside world as it tries to influence who you are. Living in a society that is constantly developing, it’s important for you to always be yourself from the inside out. When you deeply know yourself and the boundaries that you have set, you are more likely to experience a fulfilling and rewarding life. Without knowing yourself and establishing those boundaries, you can easily be pushed around and end up on a dirt path.

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” – Matthew 7:13-14

You have the option of taking the path that is broad or taking the path that is narrow. You can either conform to what life wants you to be, or have the courage to remain true to yourself throughout the years. It’s definitely a challenge to have a strong sense of self when we are constantly getting distracted and being influenced by the media and society’s way of life. But if you want to reach your fullest potential in life, it all starts with being yourself.

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Why should you always be yourself?

Because you will:

  1. Live in alignment with your values and beliefs. Being yourself is all about knowing what you believe in and the values that you live by. When you are not yourself, you will take on the values and beliefs of others. This is when you start conforming to other people’s expectations and way of thinking. When you know your values and why you do what you do, you will live according to your own values and beliefs.
  2. Establish your own identity. When you are able to have a solid foundation of being you, you are establishing your own sense of identity. No matter what happens in your life, you will always know who you are. There will be times where you may feel lost or distracted, but if you have your own identity you’ll be able to get back on the right path. Without establishing your own identity, you may easily conform and lose yourself.
  3. Build courage. It takes a great amount of courage when you decide to take the path that goes against the crowd. The reason why the majority of people take the broad path is because it’s easy. It’s easy to just follow the crowd. It’s more of a challenge when you stay true to yourself and establish your own identity. This challenge of always being yourself takes courage and inner strength. No matter what comes your way, you’ll know how to handle it.
  4. Establish boundaries. When you are always yourself, you know what your limits are and the boundaries that you have set for yourself. When people cross your boundaries, you will know. But if you don’t establish boundaries, people may very well walk all over you and take advantage of you. If you are always yourself and you establish boundaries, you are more likely to be aware when people start taking advantage of you. Create and establish your boundaries.
  5. Find focus and direction. When you are always yourself, you are more likely to have focus and direction in your life. Imagine someone who is constantly conforming to other people’s expectations. Do you think this person has focus and direction? I don’t think so. When you stay true to who you are, you are more likely to know the goals you want to accomplish and how to go about accomplishing them. You are able to stay focused and know which direction to take in order for you to accomplish your goals.

No matter what you experience in life, the only person that will always remain constant is you.

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Featured photo credit: María Victoria Heredia Reyes via unsplash.com

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