You feel awful most of the time. You’re tired, achy, and it seems like you’ve either got diarrhea or constipation almost constantly. Maybe your skin itches and flakes, or you get unexplained rashes or hives. You may even throw up occasionally, for no obvious reason.
If you’ve sought medical help for your problems, you might have left the doctor’s office frustrated– feeling as if you weren’t being taken seriously. Perhaps the doctor threw out terms like irritable bowel syndrome or chronic fatigue syndrome, leaving you just as confused as when you came in. So you started looking online, and you found something interesting. Is it possible that you suffer from a food allergy or intolerance?
In short– yes. It’s very possible.
There are many types of food intolerance and allergies, and wheat intolerance is one of the most common. But all wheat sensitivity is not created equal. Broadly speaking, health problems related to wheat consumption fall into three categories:
1) Celiac (or Coeliac) Disease
Celiac disease is an immunological (allergic) response in the intestinal tract to a very specific protein contained in wheat and several other grains, called gliadin– a gluten protein. It has many other names, including gluten allergy, gluten enteropathy, gluten intolerance, and coeliac sprue. Over time, it can cause damage to the intestinal tract, but it can be effectively treated with a gluten-free diet. The bad news is, people with celiac disease have it for life. There’s no cure, and they don’t “grow out of it”. The good news is that much of the damage done to the body can repair itself after gluten is removed from the diet.
2) Wheat Allergy
Wheat allergy is also an immunological response to wheat. Unlike celiac disease, however, it includes allergic reactions to many different proteins found in wheat and related cereal grains. It can be gastrointestinal, but it can also be similar to hay fever, causing asthma-like respiratory symptoms, hives, rashes, contact dermatitis, cough, runny nose, and itchy eyes. Sometimes called “baker’s allergy”, wheat allergy may be exacerbated by exercising or taking aspirin, causing a very violent and dangerous– even life-threatening– allergic condition called anaphylaxis. Once again, avoidance is the key, though some wheat allergy sufferers are able to tolerate alternative gluten-containing grains such as barley and rye.
3) Wheat Intolerance
Confusingly, celiac disease is sometimes called “gluten intolerance”. However, wheat intolerance generally refers to a non-allergic negative reaction to eating wheat. Wheat intolerance is not usually as violent or acute as wheat allergy, and can be a lot harder to diagnose because the symptoms may manifest many hours after the consumption of wheat; even up to a couple of days later. Though poorly understood, it’s still an immune-related response, but one which affects a totally different part of the immune system than that which causes a ragweed sufferer to sneeze or someone with a peanut allergy to go into anaphylactic shock. Avoidance is still the main approach to solving the existing problem in individuals with wheat sensitivity, but there’s good news– with careful management, some people may be able to build up a tolerance for small amounts of wheat over time.
If you think you may have a form of wheat sensitivity, there are a range of testing and treatment options, which we will cover in future articles– along with some great tips and recipes for living gluten-free… with style.
After almost two million years spent as nomadic hunter-gatherers, our ancestors learned about ten thousand years ago that they could grow certain types of plants under cultivation to feed themselves, and agriculture was born. Most schoolchildren know that agriculture allowed humans to congregate in cities, paving the way for the vast civilizations that span the globe today.
What very few lay people know is that the advent of agriculture saw an almost instantaneous decline in human health, as measured by the average height, bone density, and dental health of skeletons from that era. What changed?
The answer is diet. Early farmers replaced the hunter gatherer diet of meat, wild-growing vegetables, fruit and nuts with the agricultural diet of grains, legumes, and later, dairy. Unfortunately, while human culture can change on a dime, historically speaking, human physiology and genetics cannot. The beans, wheat, and dairy produced by farmers all contain chemical components that are difficult for the human digestive tract to process, causing irritation, chronic inflammation, and even allergic reactions in many individuals, which today is familiar to us as IBS, lactose intolerance, and wheat intolerance. In addition, grains are not nutrient dense foods– ever wondered why most bread and flour is “enriched”?– so the intake of several important vitamins and minerals was drastically reduced when people switched from hunting and gathering to sowing and reaping.
Today, there is a movement to improve individual health by returning to a diet that more closely resembles what our paleolithic ancestors ate. Called the Paleo or Primal Diet by various practitioners, it involves cutting out all grain, sugar, dairy, and legumes in a bid to heal the digestive tract and provide a rich variety of nutrients from meat, seafood, vegetables, nuts, and fruits to help the body rebuild itself.
I have been on this diet for about two months now, and I am convinced that, for me, this is the way forward to lifelong health after more than a decade of illness and misery. After starting this diet and stopping the birth control pill, I have completely eliminated all digestive discomfort and now consider myself symptom-free and “normal” after more than ten years of IBS.
If you would like to join me on this journey, here are a few resources to help you get started:
- Wheat Intolerance: Why the Food We Eat Is Ruining Our Health (A quick and easy read that gives an overview of the Paleo Diet and the health problems associated with common food intolerance issues.)
- The Paleo Diet: Lose Weight and Get Healthy by Eating the Foods You Were Designed to Eat by Dr. Loren Cordain (This is the book I read when I started the diet.)
- Mark’s Daily Apple (The blog of Mark Sisson, author of The Primal Blueprint: Reprogram your genes for effortless weight loss, vibrant health, and boundless energy)
I hope that everyone who tries this diet has the same level of success with it that I have had. I can honestly say that right now, I can’t imagine ever eating any other way again.
- 1 large plantain
- coconut oil, lard, or beef tallow
Melt coconut oil, lard, or tallow in a heavy skillet over medium heat. The oil should be about 1/2-inch deep.
Peel and slice a plantain in half. Slice each piece in half lengthwise, to make four quarters. Carefully slide the four pieces of plantain into the hot oil or fat, and fry for four minutes. Use tongs or a spatula to flip the plantain pieces and cook the other side for four minutes, until golden brown. Remove the pieces to a plate lined with paper towels and let cool for a few minutes.
When the plantain pieces are cool enough to handle, smash them between two plates, cookie sheets, or cutting boards to flatten them into ovals about 1/4-inch thick. To prevent sticking and reduce clean-up time, you may wish to line the plates, sheets, or cutting boards with greased aluminum foil or waxed paper first.
Use a spatula to carefully transfer the flattened plantains back into the hot oil. Fry for 2-3 minutes on each side, until the patacones are a deep, uniform golden brown. Remove the patacones to a plate lined with fresh paper towels to drain and cool.
When they are cool enough to handle, use the patacones in place of sandwich bread and enjoy a delicious, exotic gluten-free sandwich. Unlike many nut breads, patacones are tough enough to hold together even with juicy sandwich filling. Because the plantains lend a delicate, banana-like flavor, choose bold sandwich ingredients that won’t be overwhelmed.
- Pork and caramelized onion
- Bacon, lettuce, and tomato
- Citrus-marinated shrimp and avocado
1 can coconut milk
2 Tbsp honey OR 2 Tbsp pure maple syrup OR 1 tsp stevia powder
1 tsp vanilla extract (optional)
1/4 cup high-quality chocolate, grated or in small chunks
Berries or chocolate curls for garnish
Place an inch or two of water in a large pan or the bottom of a double boiler and bring it to a boil. In the top of the double boiler, or in a heat-proof bowl large enough to sit on top of the pan of water, combine the coconut milk, the sweetener of your choice, and the vanilla extract, if using. Whisk until smooth.
Break the eggs into a separate bowl and whisk until smooth and lemon-colored. Allow the coconut milk mixture to heat over the boiling water for a few minutes until hot. Ladle some of the hot coconut mixture from the bowl or double boiler and drizzle it slowly into the bowl of eggs, whisking the eggs continuously. Repeat two more times. (This tempers the eggs, preventing them from congealing immediately when introduced to the hot coconut milk.)
Slowly pour the tempered egg mixture into the hot coconut milk mixture over the boiling water, whisking continuously. Continue to whisk the pudding mixture until it thickens to the consistency of pancake batter, which may take between two and five minutes.
Stop thinking about pancakes. They’re bad for you. Focus on your pudding.
Once the pudding has thickened, pour roughly half of it into a bowl and set it aside to cool. Return the remainder to the double boiler or the top of the pan of boiling water. Add the chocolate to the pudding on the stove top and whisk until melted and smooth. Remove the chocolate pudding mixture from the heat.
Divide the chocolate pudding between four wine glasses, champagne flutes, or other clear serving containers. Pour the plain coconut pudding on top of the chocolate layer, dividing it evenly between the four glasses. Chill the pudding glasses in the refrigerator for at least a couple of hours, until set.
Garnish with berries or chocolate curls, and serve cold.
Serves four, and by “four”, I mean “me when I’m having a bad chocolate craving”.
How excited am I this morning?
I’ve just found the first recipe for gluten-free pancakes I’ve ever tried that’s actually worth the effort. Even better, it’s not only gluten-free, it’s paleo diet compliant… and it only has three ingredients. Yes, three.
Are you ready? Good– you won’t regret it, I promise.
Go to your kitchen and pull out a banana, an egg, and a handful of unsalted nuts (don’t use peanuts, which are legumes, if you’re following the paleo diet). I personally tested the recipe with almonds, but I don’t see a problem with using any other tree nut that you happen to have on hand.
Now, heat up a griddle or heavy skillet over medium heat and grease it lightly. I used lard. Yes, you read that correctly. Bacon grease, butter, coconut oil, or schmaltz would also be excellent choices. I’m sure plenty of you are going to insist on using vegetable oil no matter what I say, even though it’s really bad for you. But that’s a discussion for another day.
While your griddle or skillet is heating, pour a small handful of nuts into your blender. I didn’t bother to measure, but between two tablespoons and 1/4 cup should be fine. Whiz them around until they’re ground up. Add the egg. Break the banana into a few pieces and add that, too.
Whiz it around some more until it looks like batter (scrape the sides once during the process if necessary to combine everything). When your cooking surface is hot, pour out small, two-inch diameter circles of batter from the blender jar. Don’t crowd them. My batch made eight little pancakes, but of course it will vary depending on how large you make them.
Let the pancakes cook until the bottom edges just start to brown. Flip them carefully with a thin, metal spatula; they’re delicate, but not too bad if you make them tiny, as I have suggested. Continue to cook them until both sides are golden brown and the center just begins to set up. Remove them with the spatula to a warm plate and serve. And if, after trying these, you ever go back to the potato-starch-tapioca-xanthan-gum gluten-free fake pancake mix from the store, email me so that I can tell you you’re crazy, directly.
Want to dress up these gluten-free pancakes even more? Try the following ideas!
- Sprinkle a few chocolate chips on each pancake before flipping it
- Sprinkle a few blueberries on each pancake before flipping it
- Arrange a pineapple ring on top of each pancake before flipping it
- Spoon a dollop of almond butter on each pancake before flipping it
- Place a short strip of cooked bacon on top of each pancake before flipping it
In an era when many mainstream doctors publicly denounce the health benefits of diets free of foods containing gluten except in the case of clinically diagnosed celiac disease, it’s refreshing to hear Dr. Arthur Agatston, creator of the wildly popular South Beach Diet, state publicly that many of the benefits his followers experience come from the elimination of wheat, rye, and barley from their diets.
In a recent interview, Dr. Agatston spoke about a couple of specific cases in which the elimination of gluten on the South Beach Diet led to an almost immediate reduction or elimination of symptoms related to acid reflux and psoriasis. He also spoke at length about tennis player Novak Djokovic, who attributes his recent rash of successes at least partly to a gluten-free diet.
While the South Beach diet does have some drawbacks, it’s still a good sign that major diets are cutting out foods containing gluten. The danger is that, without making gluten a focus of discussion, dieters will attribute their health improvements solely to weight loss or a generic sense of “eating healthy”, and will go back to eating gluten once their weight loss goals are achieved.
Cereal… toast… bagels… Danishes… sometimes it seems as if there are no wheat free recipes available for breakfast. Rather than pulling out your pocketbook to buy expensive gluten-free bread so you can make French toast without also making yourself sick, take a moment to re-imagine breakfast.
Do you frequently find yourself hitting a mid-morning slump? It’s 10am and you ate three hours ago, but suddenly the thought of staying awake– let alone productive– without a shot of caffeine or a candy bar seems like a herculean effort. You’re not alone; the prevalence of carbohydrates and sugar in common breakfast foods almost guarantees a blood sugar roller-coaster ride throughout the rest of the day.
Easily digestible sugars and carbs (even complex carbs like whole grains) cause an insulin spike and subsequent crash within hours. Protein and fat– yes, fat!– yield a more stable energy source for your body that allows you to cruise through to lunchtime almost effortlessly. The almost paranoid mania to avoid fat in western culture is based on faulty research and government policy built on the back of campaign contributions and political pressure groups. The truth is that naturally occurring fats from meat, fish, and minimally processed plants like coconuts, avocados, or olives are not nearly as bad for you as the processed flour and sugar that we shovel into our mouths at almost every meal.
In fact, they’re actually good for you.
So take a fresh look at breakfast and try the wheat free recipes listed below for breakfast for a week. See how you feel after seven days. If you like the results, consider cutting out the processed food from another meal as well. We think you’ll see the benefits to your health almost immediately.
Tropical Tuna Cups
- 3 large, ripe avocados
- 1 6.4oz. pouch of chunk light tuna in water
- 1/4 cup mayonnaise (gluten-free, of course!)
Drain tuna in a bowl and mix with mayonnaise to make a simple tuna salad. Slice around the outside of the avocados and twist to separate the halves. Remove the pits by embedding the blade of a knife in the tops and twisting them loose. Peel the skin from the avocado halves or scoop them free with a spoon.
Heap tuna salad into the holes in the avocados, distributing it evenly among the six halves. Serve with tea or coconut water (available in the Asian section of many large supermarkets, or from specialty markets).
Serves three (two if they’re really hungry).
Smoky Deviled Eggs
- 6 hard-boiled eggs (locally raised, pastured eggs if possible)
- 3 Tbsp mayonnaise
- 1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
- 1/4 tsp dried dill or 1 Tbsp fresh dill
- 2 oz thinly sliced prosciutto or smoked salmon
Shell the hard-boiled eggs and cut them in half lengthwise. Scoop out the yolks and place them in a bowl. Add the mayonnaise, mustard, and dill. Mash the mixture to a paste with a fork. Using scissors, cut the bottom corner off of a plastic sandwich bag to make a hole less than half an inch in diameter. Put the egg yolk mixture in the bag and squeeze it through the hole (pastry bag style) into the 12 hard-boiled egg halves.
Top each deviled egg with a paper-thin slice of prosciutto or smoked salmon and serve with tea or fresh-squeezed juice.
Serves three, or two really hungry people.
What does eating fat have to do with wheat intolerance? The modern western diet is high in fat, but that is not, in itself, a problem. While experts decry cholesterol intake, they ignore the very real and growing problem of omega 3,6 fatty acid imbalance.
These days, it’s trendy to eat foods high in PUFAs (poly unsaturated fatty acids), but PUFAs are only beneficial when the ratio of inflammation-causing omega-6 fatty acids to inflammation-reducing omega-3 fatty acids is about 4:1, or even lower. Unfortunately, the average American’s ratio of these essential fatty acids is close to 10:1, due to high intake of omega-6 rich grain-fed meat, poultry, and grain- or seed-based oils (soybean oil, corn oil), versus a relatively low consumption of omega-3 rich fatty fish, flax, and walnuts.
Even then, not all omega-6 fatty acids are created equal. Because most meat sold and consumed today is factory-farmed, it relies heavily on grain-based, concentrated feeds. Grain-fed ruminants produce lower levels of the beneficial omega-6 variety called conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) than grass-fed ruminants. Cage-raised hens produce eggs with lower CLA levels than pastured hens.
This is particularly important to people with wheat intolerance or celiac disease. A recent Italian study published in the journal Molecular Nutrition & Food Research indicates that CLA protects the small intestine of celiac sufferers from damage subsequent to gluten exposure. The head of the research team noted that both CLA and omega-3 fatty acids are shown to have beneficial effects on inflammation and auto-immune disorders in animal studies.
So what’s the takeaway? If your diet is low in fatty fish and other omega-3 sources, but high in grain-fed meat and grain or seed oils, consider switching to grass-fed meat, pastured eggs, and taking a commercial commercial fish oil supplement to correct your omega-3,6 imbalance. Try it for a month and see if you notice any change in your intestinal health and comfort.
Going gluten-free is still the best way to treat wheat intolerance symptoms, but changing your fat intake can help your body deal more effectively with gluten.
A recent paper published in Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics suggests that middle aged women with celiac disease may have up to 50 times the risk of the general population for also having a condition called microscopic colitis– an inflammatory condition which causes persistent, watery diarrhea.
Because of the difficulty in diagnosing microscopic colitis during regular colonoscopies, women in the risk group who also have the symptoms should consider undergoing colonic biopsies, which can be used to detect the condition more reliably. The good news is that microscopic colitis is considered a relatively benign condition, and most sufferers recover with treatment.
I recently had a very interesting and disturbing revelation about my own health and tribulations with food intolerance, including wheat intolerance. I have been on the birth control pill for about thirteen years, and am now pushing forty years old. For much of that thirteen years, I’ve struggled with numerous health problems, the most notable being clinical depression and multiple food allergies and intolerances.
Two months ago, I realized that my scariest and most painful, debilitating digestive episodes, while they did not occur every month, always occurred on a multiple of twenty-eight days apart, plus or minus one day. We’re talking episodes that, on one memorable occasion, caused me to pass out on the bathroom floor from the pain in my gut. Episodes where, a couple of different times, I would totally have called for an ambulance (something I’ve never done in my life) if I could only have gotten to the phone… but I couldn’t, and I was alone in the house, and when it finally subsided some half hour or forty-five minutes later, I was okay again– for a given definition of “okay”.
Every twenty-eight, or fifty-six, or eighty-four days (plus or minus one day), this would happen. I only noticed the coincidence because it always hit me in the morning, and there were always three active birth control pills left in my monthly pack when I would eventually stumble out into the kitchen and try to drink and eat something. It probably wouldn’t have taken me years to make the connection if it had happened every month, but it didn’t. However, make the connection, I eventually did, and I went off the pill three days later, at the end of a pack.
Want to waste an hour or two online? Do a Google search for “birth control pill” IBS. The disheartening part is that the pages and pages of material that you’ll find are all anecdotal. Apparently, there’s no incentive for medical research into possible links between oral contraceptives and digestive disorders– and plenty of doctors out there who pooh-pooh women who come to them asking if their birth control might be making them sick.
Nonetheless, dig deeper and you’ll find plenty of information about the side effects of the pill that no one warned you about: massive dietary vitamin and mineral depletion, especially of vitamins B and C, magnesium and zinc. B-2, in particular, is vital for carbohydrate metabolism. Is this the cause of your wheat intolerance? What about your aching joints, depression, anemia, and lethargy? These are all symptoms of deficiencies in the vitamins and minerals blocked by the pill. Except for the joint problems (in my case, much of the joint damage already appears to be done), every one of these symptoms has eased dramatically in the thirty-one days since I stopped taking the birth control pill.
I am now starting the the paleolithic diet — which is totally free of all grains and dairy– in hopes of further improving my health, but my non-celiac wheat intolerance was markedly improved during the couple of weeks between stopping the pill and starting the new diet. So, does this article constitute medical advice for women with non-celiac, non-allergic wheat intolerance who also happen to be on the pill? Hardly. But it certainly is food for thought.