Against the Grain: Why I Went Gluten-Free

I am not a nutritionist or official authority (yet!) All the following information is info I have gathered and learnt over lots and lots of time from what I deem to be reliable, authoritative, informed sources. But educate yourselves and be autonomous in your approach to your own health. Knowledge is power, after all :)

Ah, the pervasive grain. Wheat is predominant in the Western diet, we’re conditioned from an early age to fill up on whole grain for our health, and indulge daily in wheat-based junk food.

The truth is that wheat is so overly modified in order to increase yield per ache that it now bears little resemblance to the natural grain it originated from. In other words, humans have ruined it for everybody.

Our modern wheat is just that, a beast!  It is Frankenstein wheat, plastic wheat, chemical wheat, or any other name you want to give it, but it is not wheat as we knew it.   It cannot reproduce itself in wild and cannot sustain life without the aid of man.  It has been altered to grow 2 -3 feet high, making it perfect for harvesting, it has more kernels, it can resist dry weather, it takes less time to grow – all in the name of higher yields and a longer shelf life.                                                                                     

Wheat (and all farmed products) are valuable commodities, as soon as you realise this you realise why we have it drummed into us to wolf down grains and dairy all day everyday – because people are making money from it. And then more people are making money as a result of us becoming sick from it… ‘You are what you eat’, they say; do you want to be Frankenstein? Anyway, I digress…

Wheat Belly was the book that finally convinced me that wheat may be responsible for my own health issues and to follow suit and try cutting it out for a while. If I didn’t notice any change I would go back to my pre-run peanut butter bagels and poached eggs on doorstep toast and nothing would be lost. But I did notice a change, and although it took me a long time to fully commit and to stop sneaking bites of sandwich and pasta out of convenience, I straight away noticed I had more energy and felt less sluggish and over time the benefits only increased.

Then just over a year ago, I became great friends with two Crossfitting, American girls while at University in Amsterdam. We bonded over our shared obsessions with the gym and Nikes and barbells and they convinced me to try the Paleo style of eating, which meant taking away all grains entirely. Giving up my morning bowl of porridge, which I’d been excited to wake up to every single morning for the 5 years prior, was heartbreaking but as I’d read up so much on the benefits of not eating grains so I knew exactly why (or why not) it was a good thing to be doing, I knew it could be worth it. Now when I do let loose a little and make myself a big nostalgic bowl of oats they feel so heavy and sluggish that I realise there’s no wonder they were contributing to depleting me of energy and irking my digestion.

Reasons to remove grains from your diet

  • Wheat, rice, and corn are high GI foods which spike your blood sugar levels. This instigates a major increase in insulin production which can be a precursor to diabetes. It also sends our hormones going haywire. Cortisol is raised, and, in short, high cortisol levels lead to stress, abdominal weight gain.
  • Grains contain Phytic Acid, a mineral blocker that prevents absorption of calcium, magnesium, iron, copper and zinc.
  • Wheat contains gliadin, a protein that stimulates appetite. I.e. Grains make you hungrier, making you more likely to overeat and satisfy the h-anger with convenience food.
  • Wheat related weight gain, which comes as a result of gliadin release and insulin spikes, is mainly in the belly, which is the most dangerous area in which to store fat.
  • All of the above create inflammation within the body, which is the root of all disease. Nobody wants inflammation.
  • Gluten contributes to Leaky Gut Syndrome. Just the name of that was enough to send me running away from the Hovis. These diagrams explain what it means to have a gluten-induced leaky gut:.

    Yeah… No thanks…

Cutting out wheat can lead to improvements in/healing of IBS, emotional and mood disorders, acid reflux, arthritis, obesity, skin irritation and acne, chronic fatigue and sleep disorders – if you’re having trouble with any of these, try going grain/wheat-free for a week or two and see if you notice any improvements!

What a wheat-free diet should NOT be is one that simply replaces conventional wheat product with packaged alternatives. Eliminating wheat from your diet only to replace it with processed imitations – cakes made from spelt flour, rice based cookies, rye bread et al. does NOT a healthy diet make. Whilst these grains are probably not quite as evil as wheat when it comes to the above bullet points, they behave in very similar ways inside our bodies and are simply another conduit for shoveling sugar, saturated fats, and artificial ingredients into our bodies. For example, take a look at the ingredients of these Tesco Free From Cupcakes:

cupcakesTherefore, cutting out grains entirely can be another good way of automatically removing processed food from your diet.

My point here isn’t that you should never ever eat things things, it’s that you shouldn’t assume that if something is labelled with the buzz-term ‘gluten-free’, it is suddenly good for you. This is yet another falsity that the food industry is successfully having us believe. Gluten-free doesn’t automatically equal health food.


So how DO you replace wheat/grains in your diet?

Firstly, by eating whole foods in their natural states:

  • I use a lot if squash and sweet potato to add slow release carbs to my meals.
  • Quinoa, flax and chia seeds are bones of contention within the Paleo world as they’re believed by some to behave very similarly to grains during digestion. I tend to err on the side of caution given my gut troubles and only eat them on occasion, but they are worth experimenting with.
  • Protein powders – ie. Clean, unprocessed protein powders are excellent flour replacers in recipes and help keep you satiated between meals too.
  • Beans and chickpeas – again, I don’t eat these often at all but I hear there are some pretty legitimate recipes for chickpea blondies floating about out there. Sadly, peanuts fall within the beans and legumes category… this is where I slip up. Peanut butter is lyf.
  • Cauliflower pizza bases – I will be trying this very soon
The most delicious grain-free pancakes.
The most delicious grain-free pancakes.

Myths surrounding giving up wheat:

  • You wont get any fibre: If you are not getting fibre in your diet you need to take a look at your intake of vegetables, nuts and seeds. THESE food sources contain an abundance of fibre.
  • You wont get enough carbohydrates. Um, there are natural food sources out there that contain much better quality carbs than bread and which wont send your insulin levels to ridiculous heights. Fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and beans all contain important slow release carbs which wont mess with your blood sugar.

This is what I ate for breakfast this morning:

breakWas I left wanting and feeling like I’d been deprived? Heck no! On the contrary, this was well rounded and full of unsaturated fats, slow release carbs (I eat most of my carbs post-workout, fyi) and lean protein that it kept me full of good stuff that my body could actually use, meaning I wasn’t craving unnecessary starchy carbs again 30 minutes after breakfast, as I used to when I started my days with porridge.

So this was my rather lengthy (yet still huuuugely trimmed down) reasoning for going against the grain. If you want to know more, I recommend taking a look at Yuri Elkaim, Grain Brain and Wheat Belly Next up, let’s discuss DAIRY :D

Do you have experience with eliminating wheat? Are you intolerant like me?





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