Since we’re talking wheat again, here’s more on gluten-free pros and cons

After two nasty reminders that wheat just doesn’t seem to do a body good, I’m cutting it back out of the diet. And so this New York Times piece on the growing anti-gluten “fad” is timely.

You can count us among those, embarrassingly along with Miley Cyrus, who have found anecdotally that we feel better with wheat out of our diet. Here is a key part to the Times piece:

For celiac experts, the anti-gluten zeal is a dramatic turnaround; not many years ago, they were struggling to raise awareness among doctors that bread and pasta can make some people very sick. Now they are voicing caution, tamping down the wilder claims about gluten-free diets.

“It is not a healthier diet for those who don’t need it,” Dr. Guandalini said. These people “are following a fad, essentially.” He added, “And that’s my biased opinion.”

Nonetheless, Dr. Guandalini agrees that some people who do not have celiac receive a genuine health boost from a gluten-free diet. He just cannot say how many.

As with most nutrition controversies, most everyone agrees on the underlying facts. Wheat entered the human diet only about 10,000 years ago, with the advent of agriculture.

“For the previous 250,000 years, man had evolved without having this very strange protein in his gut,” Dr. Guandalini said. “And as a result, this is a really strange, different protein which the human intestine cannot fully digest. Many people did not adapt to these great environmental changes, so some adverse effects related to gluten ingestion developed around that time.”

Now, keep in mind that we aren’t saying here that we have celiac’s disease. We instead are part of what I guess, judging from this story, is a fringe group who believe there is solid evidence that we shouldn’t be looking 10,000 years back when we think about our wheat consumption. We should look back less than 100, when hybridization altered wheat’s amino acids.

And here’s where I think we veer away from the gluten-free fad. We aren’t replacing muffins with gluten-free ones. We aren’t eating that stuff at all. From the Times:

Anecdotally, people like Ms. Golden Testa say that gluten-free diets have improved their health. Some people with diseases like irritable bowel syndrome and arthritis also report alleviation of their symptoms, and others are grasping at gluten as a source of a host of other conditions, though there is no scientific evidence to back most of the claims. Experts have been skeptical. It does not make obvious sense, for example, that someone would lose weight on a gluten-free diet. In fact, the opposite often happens for celiac patients as their malfunctioning intestines recover.

They also worried that people could end up eating less healthfully. A gluten-free muffin generally contains less fiber than a wheat-based one and still offers the same nutritional dangers — fat and sugar. Gluten-free foods are also less likely to be fortified with vitamins.

Our replacement of all these goodies are, mostly, vegetables. And I think a key is that we’ve cut processed foods out, including processed sugar.

So we aren’t urging a gluten-free diet — the fad one. It sounds a lot like when everything went “fat free.” It was still a lot of processed, awful stuff — just without the fat. That’s not the solution.

The answer for us has been: tons of vegetables (I figure like 20 servings a day); a little fruit; nuts and other grains; maybe some raw milk cheese occasionally as a treat; once or twice a month, maybe, homemade bread from heritage grains that pre-date the hybridization. And then, every now and then, a fun meal — one that doesn’t include wheat.

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

14 thoughts on “Since we’re talking wheat again, here’s more on gluten-free pros and cons”

  1. I love how you make the distinction that just because it says gluten-free does not mean unprocessed or healthy!
    I found it interesting that I could eat copious amounts of gluten in Africa, however upon returning to the US I ended up cutting it out of my diet and my hair, nails and skin have gotten healthy once again, back to the glory I used to attribute to the African sun, however now believe it was from clean food.

    1. We have a friend who took us up on our “don’t eat wheat” challenge and he’s a believer: he talked about his skin getting better, sleeping better, etc. I know it’s all anecdotal, but when YOU’RE the anecdote, it kind of sticks.

      Which is why my falling off the wagon shows how dumb I am.


  2. could you elaborate on what ingredients go into “homemade bread from heritage grains that pre-date the hybridization.” Moreover, what kind of grains do you mean when you say “heritage grains that pre-date the hybridization.” interested to learn more. 🙂

    1. I was going to give the same link as Bobbie did above. Einkorn is the main one. Farrow (I think) works, too. But check the growseed link for more than you could ever want to know!

      Other than the grains, we use a Vita-a-Mix to first make the flour from the grains, then just water, some salt and yeast. It comes out very brown, nutty, much heavier than bread as we think of it.


      1. thanks, Steve!. In fact, I have been making farro chapati’s and they are delicious. i grind a 1/4 cup of farro in my coffee blender, add some himalayan salt, a pink of cane sugar, and some warm water. i then knead it, let it rest and roll out 3-4 small chapatis, which i lightly coat with ghee and cook in a pan. i find the farro much easier to work withthan the red winter wheat berries. it tastes better too.

  3. What did you think about breads in India? I didn’t feel like I reacted to plain naan in Mysore the way I do to most bread products here (bloating and fatigue, both of which are quite subjective but there’s no doubt in my mind that wheat is the culprit). Could it be a different grain? Less processed?

      1. Oh no! If I thought you were preachy I wouldn’t be a regular reader. I have lots of self improvement things going now too, and diet certainly should be a part of that. Right now it’s not. I want my 4-pack back! You’ve gotta pick your battles though, you know?

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