Tag Archives: gluten

The Gluten(free) Myth – Are you really gluten intolerant? Should you live gluten free?

In the first two parts of this series, we spoke about whether going gluten-free is worth all the hype it is getting and if you will benefit by purely going gluten-free. In this 3rd part, I’ll answer the most important questions of today’s affluent society…

Are breads and rotis and parathas and pastas out of my list of ‘foods I can eat and not feel like I’ve sinned’? Should I always eat that burger without the bun? Should I eat my pizza crust-free, base-free and taste-free? Should I forever call food induced happiness a “cheat”?

Should I live gluten-free?

The short answer is… NO. A big freakin NO. Paleo/primal/real food/gluten-free advocates, read before you let steam out of your ears. Food lovers who want to have their cake and eat it too, continue to sport that wide grin, but do listen to the why.

Let’s talk anti-nutrients

Before we talk about gluten, let me clarify the concept of anti-nutrient. The truth is that all foods contain anti-nutrients. From wheat to spinach to fruits to eggs to seafood to meat. But before we get into any of that nonsense… what is an anti-nutrient?

Antinutrients are natural or synthetic compounds that interfere with the absorption of nutrients.

So basically anything (and everything) that interferes with the absorption of nutrients is an anti-nutrient. So then, as far as real food goes, are anti-nutrients a list of foods everyone should avoid? Or is it a list of food YOU should avoid based on what effects these foods have on YOUR body? Say for example you’re allergic to shellfish.

All food allergies are caused by an immune system problem. Your immune system identifies certain shellfish proteins as harmful, triggering the production of antibodies to the shellfish protein (allergen). The next time you come in contact with proteins in shellfish, these antibodies recognize them and signal your immune system to release histamine and other chemicals that cause allergy symptoms.

Histamine and other body chemicals cause a range of allergic signs and symptoms. Histamine is partly responsible for most allergic responses, including runny nose, itchy eyes, dry throat, rashes and hives, nausea, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, and in some cases, anaphylactic shock.

So in this case, shellfish contains an anti-nutrient that harms your body. Sure it is real food and sure it is loaded with nutrients and sure it is superfood and sure the paleo/primal/real food folks love it, but if you are allergic to it, it is poison to you.

Now on to gluten madness

That said, gluten and especially the gluten from wheat that is cultivated today, is an anti-nutrient to “most” folks. I believe that everyone is allergic to gluten at some level. But this belief is similar to my believing that alcohol and sugar affect everyone at some level. This could be so minute that the person may not be able to ever identify it or so large that the person might actually die from an exposure or anywhere in between. You know, kind of like what alcohol does to a person – maybe just a buzz or maybe complete liver failure. Or like what sugar does to a person – maybe just empty calories or maybe fatal due to uncontrolled diabetes.

So then, this bring us to three questions…

  • Does gluten actually affect you?
  • How badly does gluten affect you?
  • How does this severity influence how much or how frequently you can consume gluten?

Without answers to these questions, any, and I repeat, ANY recommendation means nothing to you and is in all probability not optimal for you. So how do you get answers to these questions?

Method to the madness

Step 1: The Elimination Protocol

If it isn’t clear from the term “Step 1”, this is the first thing you need to do and this step cannot be skipped. Without this step, everything else is null. Let me repeat, if you don’t do this initial first step, anything and everything you say about whether or not you are allergic to gluten (or any food for that matter) is nothing more than bullshit you tell yourself. So suck it up and do the following.

– For a period of 6 (ideally 12) weeks, remove any and all potential allergens from your diet.

  • Remove all grains except cooked white rice.
  • Replace all industrial seed and vegetable oils with coconut oil, ghee and butter.
  • Pre-soak all your lentils/beans/legumes before cooking.
  • Remove all boxed and junk foods.
  • Stay away from sugars and sweeteners.
  • Eat only whole foods – whole eggs, farm fresh whole milk and other dairy, raw nuts, organic vegetables and fruits, high quality meat

– In other words, eat RealFood and be very true to yourself. Don’t cut any corners. Don’t cheat. Don’t obsess. Just do it right.

Step 2: The Monitoring

Though this is step 2, it happens simultaneously with step 1. During your 6 (or 12) week phase monitor how you look, feel and function.

– Weigh yourself every week (first thing in the morning, before eating/drinking anything but after clearing your bowels and with little to no clothes on or wear the exact same clothes each time) and record it.

– Measure yourself every week and records the results. I recommend measuring neck, chest, bicep, waist, belly button, hip/butt, thigh and calf circumferences.

– If you are diabetic, test your fasting blood sugar, post pranadial (15 min and 120 min) blood sugar and random blood sugar once a week using any home test apparatus.

– If possible, do a complete blood count (CBC) test on day 1 and on day 42 (or 84).

– Listen to your body and make notes of how you feel.

  • How good/bad are your energy levels?
  • How good/bad is your appetite?
  • How regular are your bowel movements?
  • How good/bad is your sleep quality?
  • Do you have any mood swings? If you had them earlier, are they better or worse?
  • Has your skin cleared up?
  • Do you see any improvements wrt digestion? If you had acid reflux, is it getting any better? If bloating was a frequent occurrence earlier, is that getting any better? What about gas?

– Track your performance in life and on the field.

  • How good/bad is your libido and/or menstrual cycles? If you suffer from menstrual cramps, is there an improvement in either severity or frequency?
  • If you workout or play a sport, is your performance improving?
  • Are you more/less productive at work? Do you tend to handle stress better/worse?

I understand this is a huge list of stuff to keep track off, but the better you monitor yourself, the more solid your experiment and the better the learning. So, even if you can’t do all these things, make a sincere effort to monitor as many aspects of your life as possible.

Step 3: The Re-introduction

This step happens at the end of the 6 (or 12) week phase and, is a very interesting phase because most people are looking forward to this day like none other. Here is what you do.

– At the completion of your 6 (or 12) week experiment…

  • Gradually, start including grains (wheat included) into your diet. Now, don’t go crazy but slowly add in foods that you have stayed away from.
  • Hold on to the grain included diet for 2-3 weeks. This is very critical. I’ve had enough of folks going gluten-free and then after a significant period of time of not exposing their gut to gluten, they eat a whole damn pizza, feel like a drum of crap and blame it all on the pizza. Sudden (re)introduction of any grain (especially in large quantities) will definitely result in some form of reaction and this is falsely assumed as the true effect of that grain. Effects of reintroduction of any food needs to be assessed gradually over a period of a few weeks.
  • Monitor how you look, feel and function i.e. as laid out in step 2.

Step 4: The Learning

So, what did you learn?

  • Are you allergic to wheat (or any of the foods you briefly eliminated) at some level?
  • What benefits did you see when you stopped eating certain foods?
  • And did those benefits disappear once you reintroduced those foods?

This is of course, the most important step but the effectiveness of this step is dictated by how well you did the first 3 steps.  If you did this brief experiment sincerely, you’d have the answer to the question…

Am I intolerant to gluten?

And more importantly, you’ll have answers to the question…

What foods are good for ME?

And the results are out!

So let’s see how you did.

– Firstly, if you are celiac or have a condition wherein even a whiff of gluten could potentially kill you, then you shouldn’t be here doing funky experiments. You need medical assistance. This article (and this entire series) is more suitable for people who are either controllably allergic to gluten or are unsure if they are truly allergic to gluten.

– If your health and life changed drastically (complete reversal of an autoimmune condition, disappearance of chronic fatigue, relief from frequent chronic migraines etc.) once you eliminated gluten (or any other food), clearly you are pretty darn allergic to that food and, obviously, you need to stay away from it like the devil.

– If benefits included better skin, controlled mood swings, increased fat loss and other not-so-scary results, then while you are allergic to gluten (or whatever anti-nutrient you avoided), consuming it infrequently can be tolerated.

– If you noticed no improvements then you probably aren’t allergic to that anti-nutrient or you’re intolerant at a small level that it doesn’t really affect you visibly. But honestly, chances are you didn’t do the experiment properly!

Now depending on how much or how little an effect gluten (or any other anti-nutrient) has on you, you can decide to include it that (in)frequently. But do remember, anti-nutrients are not the only reason to stay away from wheat (and other grains). Grains, when compared to real foods, are empty calories and building your diet with them as the foundation will almost surely result in undernourishment.

But… there’s always a but!

If you are intolerant/sensitive to gluten at some level, small or big, does that mean you need to stay away from gluten forever? Is it acceptable that you feel like someone dropped a cannon ball in tummy after you eat a meal that contains gluten? Is it OK to experience fatigue crashes after eating gluten? In short, is it OK to suffer after eating gluten? Is staying away from gluten the only solution to that?

Drawing parallels, if you are unable to run/trek/workout due to respiratory issues, do you live your entire life without any running/trekking/training? Or do you find a way to fix it and start living life? If you are unable to squat/climb stairs/dance because you have knee problems, do you modify your life such that you never squat/never climb stairs/never dance? Or do you work on the knee problem, fix it and get back to living a normal life?

So, if you are indeed gluten intolerant, would you obsessively avoid and uncontrollably crave foods you love? Wouldn’t you rather find a way to (at least partially) fix the intolerance and enjoy what the 21st century has to offer while still staying healthy?

How? We’ll find out in part 4.

Adios!

The Gluten(free) Myth – Is gluten-free the solution?

So, with the last post, looks like I’ve gotten a bunch of people confused, a bunch concerned and another bunch plain curious. To recap, for anyone even remotely aware of where health, fitness and nutrition has been heading towards in the last few years, answers to the following questions are very significant.

Will going gluten-free help me? Should I try a gluten-free diet? Should I stay away from gluten forever?

Firstly, let’s go against the grain

If you haven’t read my take on grains yet, I recommend that you read it right now. No, it isn’t a random monologue on how grains wreak havoc in your body and neither is it a love letter to the beautiful wheat. Trivialities and special cases aside, I don’t think grain consumption causes any problems. Grain dominance, on the other hand, does wreak havoc.

Grains, in general, have two major nutritional issues.

1. They are, for the most part, empty calories. Nutritionally, they don’t offer much of anything other than calories. And since now we live in an age of calorie abundance (I’m talking about the affluent society we are all a part of), we don’t really foods that are dense in calories. Many years ago when agriculture flourished and a grain dominated diet was the norm in every part of the world, our activity levels were extremely high due to the lack of machines, cars, microwaves, storage facilities, PS2s, cushy chairs covering every inch of the floor etc. and more important than micronutrients (and even macronutrients) was… calories. And hence, a diet that provided the consumer with plenty of calories and, especially, from a food that was easily storable and portable was the solution. Today, we are, as a society, rich in calories (read: overweight) and deficient in multiple vitamins and minerals. So the grain dominated diet is a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist anymore. Instead, we have other problems and for that we need to be consuming, mostly, foods that are not dense in calories but filled with micronutrients.

2. They contain anti-nutrients. Like gluten in wheat and avenin in oats, all (whole) grains contain anti-nutrients that have various deleterious effects on the gut which in turn affects the entire human body.

Now, while I understand and embrace the anti-nutrient part of the argument, my biggest reason for not letting grains dominate one’s diet is the fact that they are empty and have nothing to provide other than calories (from starch).

Having gotten this out of the way, let’s get back to the question…

Should I go gluten free?

Good bad gluten

And from what we know about grains and gluten, here is my answer…

Yes and no.

Yes, you need to remove anti-nutrients like gluten from your diet in order to strengthen your gut. And no, you should not purely focus on going gluten free and as a result use other grains to dominate your diet or turn to gluten-free boxed foods.

The goal is to not remove only gluten but to remove any and all anti-nutrients, like gluten, from your diet.

Anti-nutrients from grains and legumes can cause a host of issues in the human body from irritable bowel syndrome to bloating to gas to other major autoimmune diseases and this has been proven and well documented. Depending on the person, the kind of food he/she ate while growing up, genetics, deficiencies, quality of food consumed and other lifestyle factors, the effect of these anti-nutrients vary from non-existent to mild to pronounced to severe.  For the purpose of this post, it is important to know that anti-nutrients affect your gut and that in turn affects health. Nothing more, nothing less.

So then, does it make sense to remove wheat (and hence gluten) and fill that space with another grain (and hence another anti-nutrient)? Clearly, no. Drawing a parallel, if your liver is bust due to excessive whisky consumption, would you remove the alcohol or would you just dump the whisky and move to vodka? You see my point?

Sorry, but pulling wheat out and replacing that with an equivalent amount of millet or corn or magic-grain-number-332 will NOT help.

So the problem is gluten, but not only gluten. The problem is anti-nutrients. But is that all?

Escaping the devil so you can chill in the deep blue sea

Shonali, after writing that amazing article about gluten sensitivity and intolerance on Metro Plus, decided to go gluten-free and it looked like she was pretty committed to staying away from all forms of gluten. She had taken the time to find out what foods contain gluten and did a nice job of staying away from them all. But then she told me something very interesting.

“…I went bonkers the first week. Cut gluten and ate stuff I normally wouldn’t eat – murukku, adhirasam, ice cream. also felt super energetic and doubled my gym and yoga. Which made me hungrier… so I ate more…”

Though interesting, this is a very common occurrence. The problem arises when you start to see one particular food (or component of food) as the devil (as in gluten) or as the panacea (as in superfoods). While your intention is good health, a good dose of food marketing makes you choose the (what seems like) route to health.

Since gluten is a part of pretty much all ‘junk’ foods and many many easily available, quickly cookable and efficiently storable foods, once gluten is off the table, too many foods that you would normally eat are also off the table. But that’s when the horns start growing and you start to ‘think’…

“Oh wait! Ice cream doesn’t have gluten! And holy sheeeeet! Milkshake doesn’t either! And wait for it… waittt for itttt! Chocolate!”.

And what happens? Wheat and gluten are replaced by other possibly anti-nutrient rich but definitely nutrient-less foods and (gluten-free) junk foods, and hence sugar, start featuring in your diet much more frequently than before.

That’s a lot of rice!

Even if you don’t give in to junk, you will now need to replace all those gluten containing foods with something else and chances are you will choose something that seems to be a lot more benign but still fills your plate and tummy like wheat did. So rotis are replaced with ragi rotis, bread is now gluten-free bread and mountains of rice fill the space that chapathis used to.

What if you ate a diet dominated by something that doesn’t contain anti-nutrients? Say, white rice? Something like the typical south Indian diet – idly/dosa/puttu/pongal/aapam for breakfast, 2-4 cups of rice with some vegetables on the side for lunch and breakfast or lunch for dinner. That should be fine right?

Well, no.

Sure, you’ve removed the anti-nutrients and that is definitely a good first step, but where are the nutrients? By making rice as the biggest component of your diet, you are filling yourself up with empty calories (from starch) and this, in the long term, will probably result in a bunch of micro-nutrients deficiencies because the diet is rich in calories but poor in micronutrients which are found in other real foods like vegetables, fruits, meat, eggs and dairy.

The real deal

So to summarize the goal is…

  • to remove anti-nutrients containing foods from your diet,
  • reduce or optimize empty calories based on your activity level (no activity = very little empty calories etc.)
  • replace these with nutrient rich foods like organic vegetables and fruit, high quality dairy, grass fed/free range meat, wild caught fish and country eggs.

Or in short… eat RealFood for the most part! While a gluten-free diet is a part of the solution, it is not THE solution.

Now, I’m sure most of you are going ‘Well, of course! What else did I expect Raj to say? This guy asks me to stay away from all grains! Crap! Where the hell is that unsubscribe button?!’, but the more important question is…

Should you stay away from gluten and grains forever if you want to live a long healthy life and/or sport a hot body?

Should you? Is it truly that bad? Are you stuck with RealFood till your doctor says you have 30 days to live and you decide to finally eat that cheeseburger with fries and gravy? Or can you actually eat your pizza and cake regularly and not end up a fat diabetic slob with plaque filled arteries?

My thoughts, we’ll find out in part 3. But what are your thoughts? Is RealFood sustainable? Can you stay away from wheat? Should you stay away from wheat? Let’s talk in the comments section.

Adios!

The Gluten(free) Myth – Part 1

I haven’t blogged in a while and a whole bunch of interesting things have been happening. Some funny and some not so much.

  • I’m trying to complete a little study I’ve been doing on myself and for that I’ve been eating more gluten and sugar than ever. Eating pizza and subs and ice cream at will is harder than I thought! Oh well. I suffer so you can smile 😉
  • Folks seems to be pulling my leg plenty with the whole no gluten no sugar thing. I’m talking to you Orange Ice Candy and Sin-A-Mon! 😉
  • We, The Quad, had a think RealFood event during which Arvind & I spoke about sustainable nutrition as a whole and that inspired plenty of folks to starting eating RealFood and go gluten-free.
  • I was at Subway ordering the awesome chicken, bacon, ranch foot long (with extra jalapenos of course) and this dude, who was on his phone, walks up to me and goes “Are you Raj Ganpath? The Quad”?. Great place to meet someone, who I’m eventually going to keep away from that very place! And no I didn’t go “Yes. And why did the guy make me a footlong?! I asked him for a damn salad!”. Always fun when self-experiments go against the grain (or in this case, the opposite).
  • I’ve been working with a bunch of folks helping them get back to eating gluten. Yep, you read that right. And guess what? These folks are happier than when they went off gluten. Who’d have thunk?!
  • And finally, I’ve been experimenting (on myself and some unsuspecting guinea pigs) a way of eating that involves eating dessert (or anything you’d normally call cheat food) everyday or at least 2-4 times a week. Sounds like BS? Wait for it!

But before I get into the practical application of all this, I want to talk about gluten, gluten sensitivity, gluten intolerance and gluten love.

I am, of course, not going to go into detail about what gluten is and why it is bad for you, but I am going to address the most important questions…

Will going gluten free help me?

Should I stay away from gluten forever?

If you spend a little time dicking around at pubmed you’ll see that there are reams and reams of peer reviewed published literature talking about gluten and how it is bad for you and gluten intolerance and celiac etc etc. So clearly the argument that gluten is bad for you, is valid.

But if you change some key words and look for studies that look at wheat as a health food, you’ll, again, find reams and reams of peer reviewed published literature talking about how wheat (and other grains) helped (and will help) humanity walk towards a healthier future.

Well, this is typical isn’t it? If you are half way into nutritional research, you’ll notice that pretty much anything has evidence on this side and the other. But if you go past half way, you’ll notice that some of these studies aren’t as well conducted as you think they are. And if you read the entire study, you’ll notice that most of these studies have some major holes. Funnily, this applies to both sides of any issue. Studies that say wheat is awesome and studies that say gluten kills, both have these biases and unfortunately, anyone quoting studies, consciously or subconsciously, cherry picks studies to prove their point. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not calling anyone a fraud. I’m only talking about the human tendency to find what you look for, especially in complicated matters which don’t have a black and white answer (like this issue). It is extremely easy to get carried away.

So then, what is the real deal? What studies should I rely on? What is a myth? Gluten or gluten-free? Will going gluten free help me? Should I stay away from gluten forever?

Answers to this and more in the next article. No need to comment or anything but keep your eyes peeled ‘cos this is going to be good… RealGood!

Adios!

Let’s talk numbers

You know what… forget gluten, forget lectins… let’s assume that grains and beans have no detrimental effects. With this assumption let us compare the nutritional content of grains, beans, vegetables, fruits and sugars. There’s actually very little I want to write in this post because I did a fair bit of research or data collection or whatever you want to call it and  have gathered some numbers which I’m sure will be very useful to you. So without further ado let’s just jump right in.

Note:

1. 200 calories of each food item is taken into account.

2. Carbohydrates, fiber and protein are in grams.

3. Vitamins are present as %DV i.e. Percentage Daily Value = Recommended Daily Amount. Find more information here.

Data:

Cereals and Grains:

– About 1 cup of grains/cereals will result in a calorie in take of ~ 200.

– All grains and cereals have a high carb load and contain little to no fiber and protein.

– Vitamins are available… but in trace amounts.

Beans and Legumes:

– About 1 cup of beans/legumes will result in a calorie in take of ~ 200.

– Beans and legumes have a high carb load but contain decent amount of fiber and protein.

– Moderate quantities of vitamins are available.

Starchy Vegetables:

– Each medium sized potato/yam will provide you about a 100 calories.

– Starchy vegetables are carb heavy and contain less fiber and protein (similar to grains)

– Moderate quantities of vitamins are available.

Fibrous Vegetables:

– Each cup of fibrous vegetable will result in a calorie intake of only 40 calories!

– Fibrous vegetables are not carb heavy and contain enormous amounts of fiber and protein!

Monstrous quantities of vitamins are available!

Fruits:

– Fruits could be calorie dense or not depending on their type. Berries are generally super low calorie.

– Fruits can be carb heavy, again depending on choice, and can have insane amount of fiber (berries) or not.

– Protein content of fruit is generally very low.

– Moderate quantities of vitamins are available (mostly vitamin C).

Sugar:

– 1/4 cup (or less) of sugar will result in 200 calories!

– They have a very high carb load, no fiber and no protein.

– Sugars have little to no vitamins to offer.

– Honey and sugar ain’t too different.

Discussion:

Now that you have seen the data let’s throw in some graphs, pictorially represent them and put things in perspective.

1. All these foods offer pretty similar amount of total carbohydrates to provide a total of 200 calories.

So no big deal here. Let’s chill.

2. While we are looking at the carbs offered by these foods let’s see how much fiber each of these offer.

Oh wow! Now here’s something worthwhile.

– While sugars offer zero fiber and grains offer just about 4 grams/200 calories, fibrous vegetables offer a whopping 21 grams/200 calories!! That is 85% of your DV for fiber!

– Fruits offer a significant amount of fiber too and if all your fruits are berries… my oh my… you’re getting ~ 30 grams of fiber/200 calories! That is 120% of your DV of fiber!

Clearly from a fiber perspective (which is important for all this)… fibrous vegetables and berries kick some serious ass! So brown rice eaters… please quit being proud! The 2 grams of fiber/200 calories ain’t no thang!

Net carbs in any food = Total carbs – Fiber and this is the number of carbs that actually count and the lower the better. So net carbs for these dudes?

Seriously… check it out! Fibrous vegetables have more fiber than net carbs! Wicked! Show me one product in the market today that does this! Fruits don’t compare too badly either and if I make a column for just berries… that would be very similar to the fibrous vegetable column.

3. What about protein now? These things should come with some protein too right?

Hells yeah! Once again… fibrous vegetables top the charts with an average of ~ 17 grams of protein/200 calorie! Compare this to the 6 grams from grains and 0 grams from sugar (obviously!) Now let’s compare the amount of carbs to the amount of protein these foods offer.

Well… of course sugars have no protein and grains have a meager 4 grams of protein for every 40 grams of net carbs. But our awesome fibrous vegetables have 17 grams of protein for every 16 grams of carbs! Did you read that? Yes? Now read that again! Fibrous vegetables provide you with more protein than carbs.

4. Last but not least… satiety.

200 calories = 1 cup of grains/beans Or 6.5 cups of fibrous vegetables Or 3.5 cups of fruits Or 1/5th a cup of sugar. You can get all your calories from just one chocolate bar and stay hungry for the rest of the day or you can throw in a bunch of vegetables and fruits… eat till your full and realize you’ve eaten only 1/4th of your calories for the day.

Summary:

Calorie for calorie…

– Fibrous vegetables provide more fiber and protein than sugar, grains, starchy vegetables and even beans.

– Much higher quantities of fibrous vegetables can be eaten without piling on the calories (as opposed to sugar and grains). This helps in satiety when on a diet especially.

– Fruits (especially berries) provide crazy amounts of fiber and vitamin C compared to grains and sugars.

– Starchy vegetables offer a high carb load with minimal fiber and moderate vitamins which make it an awesome candidate for post-workout meals.

– Fibrous vegetables offer insane amount of vitamins compared to any other food source that exists.

– Sugars have zero nutrition. Period. Honey is no better than sugar.

– I haven’t even discussed the gluten issue. You can read here about the havoc they wreck.

– If this is not enough information and analysis for you to base the bulk of your diet around vegetables and fruits… then you’re just an idiot (and will be a fat idiot  soon and will most probably be a fat diabetic idiot soon after.)

Once again… you don’t have to change your diet to eating just fruit and vegetables and nuts and lean meats all the time. Base the bulk of your diet on these things and have the occasional dessert or grain based meal.

Peace.

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