You may have heard of gluten. It seems everyone is sensitive to gluten these days. I’ve heard some people question the legitimacy of gluten intolerance and have suggested it’s just a fad. Maybe. But what if I told you that gluten and its cousins, other grains (which are abundant in “gluten-free” products), might be harming you—whether you feel the consequences or not.
That’s part of the basis of the growing paleo movement. What I like about paleo are the dozens of paleo bloggers that share their personal stories of overcoming illness and weight issues by switching to paleo (check out slimpalate, thepaleomom, or thedomesticman to name a few). While they are truly inspiring, I find that people get totally overwhelmed by the topic, don’t know what to eat or not eat, and just give up. This post is an attempt to simplify the issue so that you can decide whether you want to eat grains or not.
First, here are a few definitions…
- Gluten—a protein in grains that gives dough its elastic texture. You may have seen gluten in a bag next to the flour at the grocery store. It’s used for binding and enhancing elasticity in doughs. And gluten can be found in more than just wheat. It is in other cereal grains. Gluten is widely used and in some medications, vitamins, soy sauce, and other condiments, so it’s a stealthy ingredient that can cause a lot of distress for people trying to avoid it.
- Celiac and other diseases that cannot tolerate gluten—people with celiac have an autoimmune disease in their small intestine and it flares up with the introduction of gluten. Other people with digestive disorders like IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), leaky gut syndrome, Crohn’s disease, endometriosis, and other diseases and digestive disorders can have similar indigestive allergic type reactions to gluten.
- Grains—while there are grains of sand, the grains for this topic are cereal grains such as wheat, rice, corn, millet, oats, rye, barley…and yes, legumes (beans, pulses)…and soy.
Paleo stays away from all grains. Knowing that gluten can be in other grains may seem like the reason, but it’s not. Paleo stays away from grains because of the phytic acid contained in grains. Here’s why—phytic acid competes with mineral absorption in the body. Let me explain that in a different way. Ladies, you might be taking fancy calcium supplements to avoid osteoporosis. Men, same thing. Perhaps you’re taking magnesium (a post to come on this essential mineral!) or you’re just taking a plain old multivitamin/mineral supplement. Well, you can just throw those away when you’re ingesting grains because that’s what your body is doing. Yep, like a magnet it attracts that phytic acid to the mineral and flushes those healthy and much needed minerals right out of your body.
Some doctors point to research that vitamin & mineral supplementation passes directly into our urine, so they claim supplements are a waste of money. In fact, it’s a common joke that middle class have the most expensive urine on the planet. I believe that supplementation works and can does get absorbed—when its not competing with other elements in the body like toxins, metals, and phytic acid in grains.
What can you do? Well, the good news is that you have two options. Or three…(the third being that you just keep doing what you’re already doing.)
In my last post, I recommended the book, The Metabolic Typing Diet. The test reveals if your personal metabolism needs a low-carb/high purine protein diet or a high carb/low protein diet or a balanced mix of both. If you are a low-carb/high purine protein type, the paleo no grains approach will work for you. More meats and veggies.
BUT if you are the high carb/low protein type, your solution requires a little bit of work and may explain why all the sage advice in the leading vegan books urge you to soak your grains. Soaking depletes the phytic acid in grains. Eating sprouted foods does the same. See, you can have your cake and eat it too—as long as you soak.
If you’re not still sure what to do, try limiting grains for a couple of weeks and then see how you feel after you reintroduce them. I discovered all kinds of problems when I tried to eat even sprouted grains (I’m also a low carb/high purine protein type though). The pain I experienced keeps me from craving it as much. I have also found a lot of great healthy substitutes. You can check out those paleo sites for ideas.
I hope this helps explain the controversy of gluten and grains. It’s a daily process of discovery. Good wishes and happy healthy eating. You can share any questions or comments in the comments section.