Debating going gluten-free or wheat-free? Expert Nutritional Therapist Amelia Freer is on the case...
Going back to basics, grains are wheat, cereals, corn, rice, rye, barley and couscous. They are found in bread, cereal, pasta, bagels, rolls, muffins, crackers, biscuits, pastries, corn, tortilla chips, lager, soy sauce, some canned soups, lots of ready meals – start to read the ingredients labels!
Firstly, if eating the processed or white versions of the above foods, it means that they have been through a chemical process to bleach them, which naturally removes the goodness, all of the vitamins and minerals. But what about wholegrains I hear you cry? Confusion over grains being healthy comes from the Department of Health’s insistence that wholegrains are essential to a healthy diet. They are one of the few foods that are allowed to make health claims on their labels, relating wholegrains with a reduced risk of heart disease and certain cancers.
Grains didn’t enter our diets until agriculture began some 10,000 years ago. Which in the evolutionary scale of things is very recently and the grains eaten back then were half the size of the whoppers grown today with modern agricultural practice.
Unfortunately however, the wide consumption of grains today tends to replace some of the more nutrition rich foods available such as eggs, fish, fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds. We are all unique and while some may say they feel fine eating grains, there is a wide body of evidence to show that today’s grains don’t agree with many of us and in fact are playing a role in autoimmune diseases such as hashimotos, arthritis, type 1 diabetes as well as depression, skin disorders, IBS, IBD and joint pain. It is predominantly gluten, a protein found in grains that is causing the problem.
And did I mention weight? I often see a substantial weight loss when clients remove grains from their diet – I do only encourage this with an increase in plant foods (fruit and vegetables). In the past, I've explained about sugar and its impact on insulin management and the implications that has for weight . Well, grains act in much the same way. Especially if you are eating the white, processed varieties – they get converted swiftly into glucose, a fancy name for sugar and that sugar enters the bloodstream, triggering insulin to be produced and take that sugar straight to your hips.
But there is more to it than this. Gluten and wheat sensitivities, different to allergies, are prevalent. Sensitivity to any food can hugely inhibit weight loss due to the inflammatory process activated by consuming a food to which your immune system treats as a foreign invader. The process inhibits glucose from entering cells and instead glucose gets converted straight into fat, visceral fat, belly fat. And food sensitivities can also lead to cravings – it’s common to crave the foods that are actually keeping your body in an inflamed state.
The subject of grains always creates conflict for many. So, just to be clear, I’m not saying that everyone must completely eliminate them all immediately but I encourage you to experiment a little and monitor how your body responds. If you notice weight loss, improved mood, clearer skin, less bloating, less aches and pains then perhaps grains aren’t so important right? Certainly the processed grains and sugary cereal grains don’t have a place in a health conscious diet. But try the gluten free ones such as millet, buckwheat or brown rice if you can’t quite go cold turkey.
If you want to know if you are sensitive to foods then you can do a blood test with a health practitioner; otherwise, try removing the gluten and wheat from your diet for two weeks and just see. Ideally, work with a qualified nutritional therapist on the removal of grains and get help with meal plans and healthy substitutes.
Some Dos and Don’ts:
DO: Eat nuts and seeds.
DON'T: Be afraid of fat – fat isn’t making us fat. Avocados, nuts, seeds and oily fish are all safe fats to consume.
DO: Increase your intake of vegetables and root vegetables to get enough fibre.
DON’T: Eat gluten-free substitutes. These are usually highly processed and are made by replacing wheat flour with corn starch, rice starch, potato starch or tapioca starch which hike up blood sugar even more.
DO: Try the gluten free options: buckwheat (not a grain), quinoa (a seed), flax and chia (both seeds) and millet (a seed).
DO: Eat a variety of vegetables, fruits, animal and vegan proteins (lean poultry and meat, nuts and seeds).