Everywhere and not a grain to eat!
Or Overcoming Gluten Intolerance
By Dr. Kyle Christensen
So you’ve been dutifully prepping and have amassed a nice stash of wheat, only to discover that you or a family member has become gluten intolerant. So now what?! As you settle into the world of gluten intolerance, you discover that this growing problem has made wheat more of a foe than a friend. Way back in the early 1980’s when I was in chiropractic college, we were never taught about this exponentially growing malady known today as Gluten Intolerance. Of course we studied Celiac Disease – as a genetic inability to breakdown or digest gluten, but that was rare – afflicting maybe 1/3 of a percent of the population. Understand that gluten intolerance is real and it is growing and afflicting more and more of us. But also understand that the vast majority suffering from gluten intolerance do not have the genetic disorder known as Celiac disease. It seems that many patients are more satisfied with a disease title than just being intolerant of something. And doctors are giving them what they want, a diagnostic title that for many gives them an out or excuse from personal responsibility. So now many wear the badge of Celiac Disease, assured it is no fault of their own. You see, there are two rules of thought regarding disease. The first (and more ascribed to) is that disease or illness descends upon the innocent and unsuspecting and gets you. The other is that there is a rational cause – usually the result of lifestyle choices. It is my opinion that gluten intolerance stems from the latter of these.
The problem of Gluten Intolerance and Celiac Disease is growing exponentially. And as a result, the gluten-free market is booming. Doctors, celebrities and the mom with kids next door are disavowing grains while preaching its evils with religious fervor. If you hint or suggest that wheat may not be quite the villain portrayed in the media you can bring upon yourself quick and harsh judgment.
As is so common in our culture, we are so quick to come to conclusions and often not even asking the right questions to the issue at hand. The first question that should always be asked is WHY? Or what the heck is going on here?! Even the most ardent foe of grains today must admit that the issue of gluten intolerance did not exist in past decades like it does today. So, in my thinking, we must ask: What is going on here?
I am not questioning the reality that people suffer and indeed suffer greatly from eating wheat or other grains that contain gluten. What I am suggesting is that there is more to the picture of gluten intolerance than simply wheat (or rye or barley) being bad. Certainly, there is an individual genetic component in some people, but that is not the only factor to consider. GMO’s, while not a good thing, was not around (as far as wheat) when the gluten intolerance crisis began. Modern hybrids are also blamed, but even the ancient grains have gluten (as well as gliadin and glutenin which are contributing factors). What I suggest is that wheat or grain is not so much the problem as the way it is prepared.
Modern methods of food manufacturing have changed the way, I believe, grains are prepared as compared how they have been prepared over the past millennia. Your typical manufacturer is interested primarily in profits. To insure profitability, they focus on getting the product out as quickly and economically (for them) as possible. They are also interested in shelf life of the product once it gets to market. There are other factors of course, but these are the main two that have effected the digestibility of your bread.
Bread in times past, was not made with quick rising yeast. In fact, Fleishman’s introduced rapid rise yeast in 1984. Which coincides with the advent gluten intolerance. Being able to use a yeast which would allow bakers to make make twice the amount of bread in half of the time was just too good to be true. It seems, as we will discuss later, that there is more to the rising processes than just rising. Bread and grains in times past were not laden with preservatives and chemicals to lengthen the shelf life, to enhance the texture, color or whatever else they do to increase sales. Modern convenience dictates that we don't make "daily bread", but we buy our bread once a week and expect it to stay fresh (and not mold ever!). Which, with chemicals and additives it does.
Grains, as well as legumes, nuts and seeds, naturally contain chemicals known as anti-nutrients. The purpose of these anti-nutrients (such as phytates, enzyme inhibitors, saponins), that are genetically built into many plants, are there to insure their grains survival. If, for example, cattle begin to eat too much of a bean or grain growing in the field, the antinutrients cause a mild digestive irritation prompting the cow to move on to something else. Without these anti-nutrients, the tasty grain or bean would be entirely consumed and its survival could be in jeopardy. Additionally, phytic acid acts as a protective coating (kind of like cellophane) on the grain, nut or seed which prevents germination. This is why we can store wheat and plant it successfully many years later. In some cases, such as with kamut, thousands of years later. It turns out that it takes at least 6 to 8 hours for this protective phytic acid shealth to dissolve or break down once exposed to moisture. Which is why we water or soak our seeds before planting them.
Ancient man was pretty cleaver. Through trial and error (and without refrigeration), they discovered ways to preserve seeds as well as make their food more digestible as well as more nutritious.
If we ask the question, "What are we doing to the grains we eat today that people back in the day did differently?" We know as historical fact that people have been eating bread and grains for thousands of years without it causing problems. In Christianity, we pray for our daily bread and Christ even refers to himself as the Bread of Life - each example having very positive connotations.
Every culture prior to ours would soak or ferment their grains and bread dough prior to cooking. Bread was not made with added yeast, but with a culture or sourdough starter. This natural leavening (typically a strain of lactobacillus bacteria) was acidic and would break down the phytic acid, deactivate the enzyme inhibitors as well as cause the bread to rise. The resulting product was a fresh aromatic easy to digest and healthy bread. Genuine sourdough bread is made today as it was anciently with three primary ingredients – Grain (flour), Water and Salt. If done properly, this combination delivers a light nutritious loaf with exquisite taste. This bread is not made in a day, but traditionally takes 2 to 3 days to make. This is why the Hebrew people in their exodus from Egypt were instructed to make unleavened bread - bread that didn't require the time to culture, ferment and rise.
Because bread and grains (this includes pasta, pastry and anything else made from flour), prepared improperly, have been eaten as a dominate part of the diet in more recent history, these anti-nutritents cause irritation, inflammation and deplete minerals in the digestive tract. Coupled with a genetic predisposition that many have inherited, the result can range from mild discomfort of gluten intolerance to the ravaging inflammation of Celiac Disease.
As a result of years of eating bread and grains that are milled too finely, risen too quickly and eaten too abundantly, chronic and sometimes disabling digestive conditions are spreading as an epidemic across modern cultures. The consequence of gluten intolerance and celiac disease with their attendant inflamed and damage digestive tract.
Let me share an analogy. As we are hiking through the forest, we come across a beautiful idealic meadow. Grasses and wildflowers in abundance. A small babbling brook meanders and of course, Bambi is skirting the perimeter munching the wide variety of foliage. Imagine, to our dismay, a crop duster flies overhead dumping his load of herbicide resulting in the destruction of the grasses, flowers and wild growth. Then it begins to rain and rain. Without the healthy root structure of the plants to hold the soil intact, the rich fertile soil begins to be washed away. Over time, what was once a gloriously diverse healthy meadow has become a barren eroded waste land.
In our attempt to restore the meadow, we purchase seeds (we are smart enough to know we need a variety of species – cause if we just plant kentucky blue grass seeds, we could end up with a lawn not the meadow we desire). But sadly, few of the seeds take hold because of the depleted soil. Patches of growth occur which certainly helps but we end up with a compromised meadow. Determined to succeed, we bring in tons and tons of compost – rich fertile nutrient rich compost. Now the planted seeds take hold, sink their roots deep and with time even Bambi returns to our restored meadow.
Compare this now to our digestive tract. The grasses and wildflowers are the probiotic that grow in the gut and the rich soil is the lining of the intestinal tract. The herbicide that kills the growth can be antibiotics (which kill both the good and bad bacteria in the system) or chlorinated water (designed to kill pathogens to protect our water supply, but once in the body continues its sterilization). Additionally, food additives, preservatives and a vast array of chemicals can compromise the healthy complexion of our digestive tract. Couple that with a diet that is dominated by sugar and processed foods. The wiped out probiotics which are an important part of digestion are not there to do their job such as converting the nutrients we eat into a form that can be used. Combine this now with quickly made bread and pasta which do not have the phytic acid broken down, which results in the robbing or bind up of minerals from the lining of the intestines. What was once strong intact intestinal walls, now becomes a much looser matrix of tissue or what we would call a “Leaky Gut”.
To heal the digestive tract, we must take the same approach as healing the meadow. First we need to eliminate what is causing the problems. Next bring in compost, for the gut it is in the form of bone broth and gelatin – providing the richly diverse minerals and nutrients to heal the connective tissue lining of the gut. Then we need seeds – wildflowers and grasses for the meadow, but for our gut, we need an equally diverse supply of probiotics. Sorry taking only acidophilus is akin to planting only kentucky blue grass. Then with time and eating healthy – whole natural foods – you can even begin to eat wheat again – of course – properly made with wheat in a sourdough form rather than quickly made through modern yeasts.
The solution will not be found in simply eliminating gluten from the diet (although this is necessary and it does help with the symptoms). Honestly, people suffering from gluten intolerance, even though they have completely eliminated gluten in all forms from the diet, still have digestive problems and are oh so sensitive to so many foods and magnified by stress. Remember, the digestive tract needs to be healed.
There is hope.
Food and eating should be a wonderful experience that is discussed, planned, anticipated and savored. Unfortunately, those suffering with digestive distress too often view mealtime with anxiety, frustration and trepidation.
Processed foods, and I include in this wheat/gluten containing products (even homemade) made from rapid rise yeasts, when eaten too abundantly act as irritants, resulting in inflammation, diminished absorption of minerals and nutrients and ultimately damage of the intestinal tissue. Compound the naturally occurring “anti-nutrients” with chemicals added by the manufacturer such as preservatives, artificial colors/flavors/enhancers, etc. and we end up with inhospitable foods. The knee jerk reaction, (exhibited by many popular doctors – usually pushing a diet plan), is to eliminate all grain from the diet. However, our ancestors, were pretty clever, even if they didn’t drive cars, fly planes and entertain themselves with electronic gadgetry. By soaking grains, seeds, nuts and beans, something magical happens. Gluten is broken down, phytic acid is neutralized and enzyme inhibitors are deactivated. The inhospitable food is now not only easily digestible but has transformed into something quite healthy and nutritious.
As we’ve discussed, grains are not so much of the problems, but how they are prepared. Breads made from wheat or other gluten containing grains must be soaked or fermented with an acid (such as sourdough starter or apple cider vinegar) for a minimum of 6 - 8 hours before proceeding to cook. An Italian study has shown that with proper sourdough fermentation of wheat, gluten counts have gone from 75,000 ppm (parts per million) down to 12 ppm – which is well below the reaction threshold making it safe for those even with Celiac Disease. This is how every indigenous culture prepared their grain (and nearly all of them ate grains – wheat, oats, corn, barley, etc.).
By the way genuine sourdough bread is not made with yeast – read the labels. I once mistakenly bought Apple Cider “flavored” vinegar. You don’t want sourdough “flavored” bread as is sold in many markets. When bread is introduced back into your diet, it should be sourdough of your own making or a reliable baker. Once you understand a few basic techniques, sourdough baking is fun and easy.
But I must repeat, before you get into sourdough bread, you must heal your gut (“the gut” is the scientific term for the entire digest tract). First and Foremost – YOU MUST NOT EAT ANY FOODS CONTAINING GLUTEN or other foods that cause you digestive upset or other symptoms.
In order to overcome gluten intolerance, we must heal the damaged gut or digestive tract.
This is done by observing 4 basic principles namely:
1. Stop eating those foods that cause irritation
2. Bone broth to heal the intestinal lining (healing the leaky gut)
3. Probiotics – necessary to convert nutrients eaten to nutrients that can be used as well as assisting in the digestive process
4. Digestive Enzymes – to assist a tired or compromised digestive tract
Stop eating Foods that Irritate: Most people with Gluten Intolerance end up with what is known as a leaky gut. The intestinal villi are damaged and the channels in the intestine for absorbing foods are larger than they should be. The gut is too porous allowing food particles that are not broken down sufficiently to be absorbed into the blood stream. The result is often the development of food allergies. So, compounded with the inflammation and irritation caused by gluten, you now are allergic to corn, dairy, sugar, nuts and many other non-gluten foods. It is important to avoid all foods that act as irritants until the digestive tract is healed. Only then should you begin to introduce other foods. The raw vegan diet will most certainly tear you up. Gas, Bloating, pain! Eat soothing foods such as roasted vegetable.
Bone Broth: Once the gut has become a problem, we need the nutritional building blocks to restore the connective tissue lining of the intestines. This is where grandma comes to the rescue. Soup made with a soup bone. Of course, it makes the soup taste better but unbeknownst to grandma the bone and cartilage provide the perfect building blocks the stomach, small intestine and large intestine needs to knit itself into strong healthy tissue. Tissue that welcomes the growth of the good bacteria (probiotics). Bone broth is also very soothing for an irritated digestive tract. Healing the gut may require you to consume from 2 to 8 cups of bone broth each day depending on the severity of your condition. You have to make bone broth at home on your own. You cannot buy broth at the store – all you will get is chemically flavored water.
I know that we are not all going to eat soup each day and so on the days you don’t have soup with a nutrient-rich bone broth, take a tablespoon on bovine gelatin. This is what jello used to be made from (literally the ground up cartilage, ligaments and tendons of cows). Great Lakes is a good brand of gelatin.
Probiotics: These “good bacteria” that have become so popular are necessary in converting nutrients that we eat into nutrients that the body can use. 85% of the bacteria in your gut should be the healthy ones. Too many of the unhealthy flora (like candida and so many others) will result in cravings for unhealthy foods – sugars, carbs, junk food. This is why so many children are picky eaters – an unhealthy digestive tract. By eating a healthy amount of probiotics, found in yogurt, kefir, kombucha, kvass, sauerkraut (homemade, not canned), sourdough bread and quality supplements, digestive health can be restored. Cravings for junky foods will diminish and your kids will actually begin eating things that are recognized as healthy foods. As parents, you may need to be sneaky to get probiotics into their tummies, but as you do, you will begin to see changes in behavior and pickiness.
Many find it easier to take probiotics in capsule form. You need to be taking a lot of probiotics from as many sources as you can to provide a rich diversity of the good bacteria. Don’t skimp.
Enzymes: You must digest and break down the food that you eat. If the food is not broken down into small enough chunks, it can ferment (causing gas and reflux) or be absorbed as too big of particles creating an immune response (allergies). By taking digestive enzymes, we can insure that the food you eat is broken down. Your digestion needs to be good. Some can get by taking a couple enzymes with each meal, however most will need to take more. Many may need to take up to 5 or 10 enzymes with each meal as well as taking them on an empty stomach. By taking enzymes on empty, they act as powerful anti-inflammatory compounds that scavenge and clean up inflammation in the body. One common side effect of poor digestion is joint and muscle pain. High quality enzymes (we want good proteolytic enzymes) are important. Enzyme therapy has also proven to be effective in helping many severe health conditions. When eating, slow down and chew your food thoroughly.
And so what to do with all of that wheat. As I see it, you’ve got two options. Either heal your digestive tract or give your wheat to the neighbor (the one who tells you “I’m coming to your house when the economy crashes”) and buy a bunch of rice.
I have personally assisted hundreds back into the realm of eating delicious bread through the means outlined in this article. This article is a brief (unscientific) overview to this topic, and yes the science supports this. We only have time and space here to teach the general concepts. Understand that while gluten is vital for the delicious crumb of our bread, the sourdough process deactivates it rendering it harmless to your digestion. Yes, gluten intolerance is a problem and yes, gluten is not a nutrient you want to consume too much of, but you can be healed and dining can again become a pleasurable and eagerly anticipated experience.
Dr. Kyle Christensen