So we continue with our real food series… Granted, we are just scratching the surface of each of these topics, but I’ve been doing my best to give you links to more information. We have now come down to the last topic in this series- grains. Oh the controversy!
If you haven’t noticed, I lean towards the Paleo lifestyle which, in its strictest form, doesn’t include any grains at all. I prefer to use the Paleo diet as a template for a real food lifestyle. It’s not that I’m a Paleo die-hard, but I like it so much because since it is so popular, we have amazing real food recipes and support available all over the internet.
But, grain free isn’t as important to me as gluten free. Gluten is wreaking havoc on everyone and I’m a Registered Dietitian who will unashamedly say that more whole grains are not better.
What is Gluten?
Gluten is the protein in wheat, rye, barley, spelt, kamut and commercial oats. Gluten is highly inflammatory to the GI system and also produces substances (like Zonulin) that break down the integrity of the gut lining making way for even more inflammation!
Children with Autism often have a compromised gut and the symptoms are not always (or ever) gastrointestinal (gas, diarrhea, constipation, etc). If the protein in gluten is not properly broken down during digestion, it can form opioids (opiate- or morphine-like compounds). This means our children (and adults) can quite literally be addicted to wheat in a way that they feel withdrawals when they don’t have it every couple of hours. This prevents the brain from being able to work properly. What we feed our children will enhance or inhibit their brain function.
I have seen so many adults with chronic conditions needing multiple medications to control symptoms whose issues resolve with just taking out gluten. This is everything from joint pain to anxiety to heartburn to fatty liver disease and so much in between. Taking Gluten out won’t fix everything but it’s the place to start if you think you should be feeling better than you are.
The same is true for children. The effect of gluten on children is even more scary to me because of all the digestive and behavioral issues our kids are dealing with on a daily basis. I’m finding it more and more rare to meet kids who actually feel good, behave well and learn without complications. What we eat is part of the problem and must be part of the solution.
Is Gluten Free a Fad?
Questions always come up about why all of a sudden no one tolerates gluten. Well, in reality we haven’t been tolerating it since they started changing the wheat in the 1960’s, but it’s taken this long for it us to really get a handle on that reality. Yes, more people have Celiac disease and even more people have gluten intolerance. I would argue that everyone will feel better when they get the gluten out even if there are not overt or noticeable symptoms.
Some would argue it’s all a fad/hype. Admittedly, there is a lot of hype and buzz around gluten free living, gluten intolerance, etc. BUT, the hype and the fad lies only in the wide acceptance of gluten free junk foods as suitable substitutes for our usual junk foods. Neither are helpful and people are making billions of $$ off of processed gluten free foods. The reality is people DO feel better when they take gluten out, but the real power in healing the gut and the brain is in trading processed foods for real foods.
(Yes, it is sometimes necessary and helpful when transitioning children to use some gluten free waffles, cereals, etc. In fact, I recommend trading out 3 usual gluten products for its gluten free substitute when transitioning more finicky eaters. Over time – work towards less grains and processed foods.)
What about all the other gluten free grains?
I think they are a helpful substitute in many scenarios, but they are absolutely not necessary. There are plenty of ways to get enough fiber, vitamins and minerals from all the other real foods we’ve discussed in this series. The minerals from any grain (gluten or not) are poorly digested and absorbed so in the end, grains are still not a powerful food. If you just can’t imagine giving up grains completely, or need to take it slower to get/keep kids on board, go for rice cooked with lots of butter and/or in real homemade bone broth instead of using a lot of corn. This doesn’t mean you don’t make gluten free cookies for special occasions or gluten free cake for birthdays or have gluten free pancakes on Sunday morning. Believe me- I plan on having gluten free cake on my birthday and loving it! I’m just saying these are not our staples.
There is so much out there about gluten free so I wanted to give you some resources for more reading. Dr. Davis book “Wheat Belly” is always a good starting point especially for someone who is hard to convince. He does a great job of being funny, practical and scientific. Also, I love the Hartwigs who wrote “It Starts with Food.” Below are links to two of their articles on gluten. Also they have The Grain Manifesto which is succinct and helpful.
The author of Practical Paleo has a printable PDF at her website that is also helpful to just put in the fridge as you get used to recognizing gluten containing foods. Here is her Guide to Gluten- scroll down to “guide to gluten.”
So ya’ll, that’s the deal. We just don’t need grains, but when you do eat them- GO GLUTEN FREE. It’s honestly never been easier to eat gluten free than right now. Restaurants are more and more understanding. Lastly, if you’ve got a child with special needs and you’re going to see if gluten will help things, be sure to give it at least a month as the first 2 weeks can be like detox where behaviors/moods can get worse (same for adults), but keep going! And, go for it with the whole family if possible- often kids/teenagers/husband get on board when they realize how much better they feel!!