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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 March 13, 2019

How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

Have you gotten into a rut before? Or are you in a rut right now?

You know you’re in a rut when you run out of ideas and inspiration. I personally see a rut as a productivity vacuum. It might very well be a reason why you aren’t getting results. Even as you spend more time on your work, you can’t seem to get anything constructive done. While I’m normally productive, I get into occasional ruts (especially when I’ve been working back-to-back without rest). During those times, I can spend an entire day in front of the computer and get nothing done. It can be quite frustrating.

Over time, I have tried and found several methods that are helpful to pull me out of a rut. If you experience ruts too, whether as a working professional, a writer, a blogger, a student or other work, you will find these useful. Here are 12 of my personal tips to get out of ruts:

1. Work on the small tasks.

When you are in a rut, tackle it by starting small. Clear away your smaller tasks which have been piling up. Reply to your emails, organize your documents, declutter your work space, and reply to private messages.

Whenever I finish doing that, I generate a positive momentum which I bring forward to my work.

2. Take a break from your work desk.

Get yourself away from your desk and go take a walk. Go to the washroom, walk around the office, go out and get a snack.

Your mind is too bogged down and needs some airing. Sometimes I get new ideas right after I walk away from my computer.

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3. Upgrade yourself

Take the down time to upgrade yourself. Go to a seminar. Read up on new materials (#7). Pick up a new language. Or any of the 42 ways here to improve yourself.

The modern computer uses different typefaces because Steve Jobs dropped in on a calligraphy class back in college. How’s that for inspiration?

4. Talk to a friend.

Talk to someone and get your mind off work for a while.

Talk about anything, from casual chatting to a deep conversation about something you really care about. You will be surprised at how the short encounter can be rejuvenating in its own way.

5. Forget about trying to be perfect.

If you are in a rut, the last thing you want to do is step on your own toes with perfectionist tendencies.

Just start small. Do what you can, at your own pace. Let yourself make mistakes.

Soon, a little trickle of inspiration will come. And then it’ll build up with more trickles. Before you know it, you have a whole stream of ideas.

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6. Paint a vision to work towards.

If you are continuously getting in a rut with your work, maybe there’s no vision inspiring you to move forward.

Think about why you are doing this, and what you are doing it for. What is the end vision in mind?

Make it as vivid as possible. Make sure it’s a vision that inspires you and use that to trigger you to action.

7. Read a book (or blog).

The things we read are like food to our brain. If you are out of ideas, it’s time to feed your brain with great materials.

Here’s a list of 40 books you can start off with. Stock your browser with only the feeds of high quality blogs, such as Lifehack.org, DumbLittleMan, Seth Godin’s Blog, Tim Ferris’ Blog, Zen Habits or The Personal Excellence Blog.

Check out the best selling books; those are generally packed with great wisdom.

8. Have a quick nap.

If you are at home, take a quick nap for about 20-30 minutes. This clears up your mind and gives you a quick boost. Nothing quite like starting off on a fresh start after catching up on sleep.

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9. Remember why you are doing this.

Sometimes we lose sight of why we do what we do, and after a while we become jaded. A quick refresher on why you even started on this project will help.

What were you thinking when you thought of doing this? Retrace your thoughts back to that moment. Recall why you are doing this. Then reconnect with your muse.

10. Find some competition.

Nothing quite like healthy competition to spur us forward. If you are out of ideas, then check up on what people are doing in your space.

Colleagues at work, competitors in the industry, competitors’ products and websites, networking conventions.. you get the drill.

11. Go exercise.

Since you are not making headway at work, might as well spend the time shaping yourself up.

Sometimes we work so much that we neglect our health and fitness. Go jog, swim, cycle, whichever exercise you prefer.

As you improve your physical health, your mental health will improve, too. The different facets of ourselves are all interlinked.

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Here’re 15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It).

12. Take a good break.

Ruts are usually signs that you have been working too long and too hard. It’s time to get a break.

Beyond the quick tips above, arrange for a 1-day or 2-days of break from your work. Don’t check your (work) emails or do anything work-related. Relax and do your favorite activities. You will return to your work recharged and ready to start.

Contrary to popular belief, the world will not end from taking a break from your work. In fact, you will be much more ready to make an impact after proper rest. My best ideas and inspiration always hit me whenever I’m away from my work.

Take a look at this to learn the importance of rest: The Importance of Scheduling Downtime

More Resources About Getting out of a Rut

Featured photo credit: Joshua Earle via unsplash.com

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