If you can eat gluten, I’m happy for you. I really am.
If you don’t have any reactions to food, your life is easier. Believe me. Your. Life. Is. Easier. What I don’t understand is why it’s all the rage to make fun of people who, for whatever reason, choose not to eat gluten. Google the words “gluten-free” and “fad diet” or “gluten-free jokes” and see for yourself.
If people feel better on a gluten-free diet, then why aren’t you happy for them?
I recently read an article appearing in The Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics questioning the “medically necessity” of the gluten-free diet. I rarely care much about what people think of my dietary choices, but when I hear so-called experts in the field of nutrition lump me into the land of the “crazies” that follow the “fad diet,” I get fired up. I stand up a little taller to defend my right to make what I believe to be healthy choices.
The last straw was seeing several of my good friends recently post satires on social media making fun of the gluten-free lifestyle. I don’t think it’s funny. For many, it’s actually rather serious, especially if you have celiac disease. For bloggers like Gluten-Free Girl, celiac disease and gluten intolerance is not at all comical. She has experienced heart-wrenching physical and emotional pain trying to discover a celiac diagnosis for her daughter. Read her touching post, No Laughing Matter.
It’s time I write an open letter to all who believe I’m too radical and have taken innocent bystanders captive with my position on gluten. They say I’m too extreme. I could be missing out on essential vitamins and minerals by not eating my daily slice of “whole-grain goodness.” They say I’m contributing to a growing chorus of food phobics that question the modern food system and it’s technological advances. Why don’t I just keep my beliefs about wheat, GMO foods, industrial vegetable oils, and CAFOs (confined animal feed operations) to myself?
Because there is too much at stake – my heath, your health, even our nation’s future. I will not be silenced. The gluten-free trend is not just a fad. It’s part of a larger movement questioning the status quo of our food economy.
Why should you examine the wheat you eat and the bread you consume? This letter is for you. After you read it, pass it on.
(I realize my letter could be construed as too fiery for some readers. For a different take on the gluten-free lifestyle, read Should Everyone Go Gluten-Free or Grain-Free? by The Nourishing Home. I appreciate her reflective spiritual perspective.)
To People Who Think I’m On a Fad Diet
You might think that my gluten-free diet is unnecessary and silly.
- Trust me, I did not choose my life of food sensitivities because it’s fun or easy. When faced with the choice to change my diet OR take anxiety drugs and antacids for the rest of my life, I chose diet modification. Wheat was the first thing to go. It worked. Within three weeks of starting a gluten-free diet, I saw improvements, including increased energy and better digestion. In the following months, I experienced even more positive changes. For more details, see My Health Story. Read another inspiring personal journey about overcoming depression and chronic intestinal pain from Natural Living Mama.
You might think it’s all in my mind.
- Do you really know what it’s like to have daily reactions to food? I suspect not. You can eat anything you want, and not feel a thing. I know that my food sensitivities are not in my mind. Whether its belching, bloating, shortness of breath, headaches, or itchy skin that I cannot keep from scratching, they are physical reactions. I hope one day to heal my gut lining, so that I can eat more foods, but for now I have sensitive, permeable intestines and an over-active immune system. See my post, My Gut is Leaking!
You might think the gluten-free diet lacks important nutrients.
No, I’m not deficient because I don’t eat wheat (or grains). My diet is actually far more diverse than it used to be in my wheat-eating days. Do you know what a rutabaga is? How about kohlrabi? I do. I added far more vegetables to my diet when I went gluten free. I also eat a variety of pastured meats, eggs, and healthy fats. I would argue that a more extreme and detrimental diet is veganism. I don’t see many major medical journal articles about the dangers of eliminating all meat, dairy, and eggs. Is that because it’s not politically correct to pick on vegans? (No offense to my vegan friends.)
You might think gluten is safe for everyone, except celiacs.
- That’s just not true. Yes, certain people can tolerate wheat better than others. But you can’t dismiss the fact that our modern wheat strain is NOT the same as its ancient ancestors. It doesn’t look the same; it doesn’t act the same. It’s been hybridized so much, that it has far more gluten and chromosomes than it used to. Dr. Alessio Fasano, one of the leading researchers in the world on celiac disease and gluten sensitivity, says that no human can properly digest gluten. Gluten proteins cannot be fully broken down and assimilated for usefulness in the body.
- I challenge you to read the book, Wheat Belly, by cardiologist, Dr. William Davis. You may disagree with his conclusions, but you cannot disagree with his thorough summation of the history of wheat. Modern wheat is not all that it’s cracked up to be. (Pun intended.) Millions have been helped by the gluten-free diet, even if they don’t have celiac disease. In my case, I have both gene markers for celiac (HLA-DQ2 and HLA-DQ8) from my parents. When I was tested for the disease several years ago, it was inconclusive, since I had already been on a gluten-free diet for a year. I may have celiac disease. I may not have celiac disease. I don’t wish to go back on gluten to get re-tested. By eating gluten again, I may inadvertently turn on those genes, if they haven’t been turned on already! It no longer matters to me that I don’t have the “disease” label. The only thing that matters to my body is that I feel better on a gluten-free diet, period. I know there are hundreds, if not thousands upon thousands of people, that feel the same way.
- There is also research emerging that gluten can cause inflammatory flare-ups in people with auto-immune conditions, such as Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism (which I have), lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis.
You might think gluten sensitivity is primarily a digestive condition.
- Once again, not true. Dr. Tom O’Bryan, a specialist in celiac and non-celiac gluten sensitivity, quotes from the Journal of Gastroenterology. “…for every symptomatic patient with celiac disease, there are eight patients with celiac disease and no gastrointestinal symptoms.” That means that a huge number of people with gluten intolerance have NO presenting digestive problems. Celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity can manifest itself in dozens of non-digestive-related symptoms, some including skin rash, hair loss, low thyroid, seizures, and even dementia. The sad part is studies show that 97 percent of people with celiac go undiagnosed for years because doctors don’t recognize the connection the between their symptoms and the disease.
- My husband is a great example. For years, he suffered from debilitating knee pain. His doctors had no clue what was causing the inflammation. They said he was getting old! He attempted a gluten-free diet for my sake when we were dating. It had unexpected and amazing results! His knee pain faded and today it’s almost non-existent, unless he eats gluten or rice (yes, a non-gluten grain!). We were both rather surprised, especially since he did not experience digestive problems. For another blogger’s family story about improving non-digestive conditions with a gluten-free diet, read Whole New Mom’s post, Gluten: No Big Deal or Silent Killer?
You might think I’m obsessed with food.
- Despite the fact that I have a complex relationship with food and blog about it, I do not think about food all the time. I’m a fairly balanced person with many interests, including music, reading, organizing, hiking, scrapbooking, gardening, and church activities.
You might think that the USDA food pyramid offers the best diet for all Americans.
- For decades, the food pyramid has had grains at its core. Not vegetables, not healthy fats – grains! People were told to eat more bread, pasta, bagels, and cereal. We were told these foods were fortified with vitamins and minerals. Grains were good and fat was fatal! Now we are discovering that obesity and diabetes are being fueled by over consumption of processed grains. Properly prepared grains in moderation are fine for most people. A LOT of grains are not. The body interprets wheat as sugar, especially when eaten alone. The average slice of wheat bread has a higher glycemic index than table sugar! You can see why I’m not going to blindly follow government recommendations on food; that’s precisely why we are in a health crisis as a nation. For far too long, people have believed the FDA and USDA, and now we are suffering for it.
You might think that many people who switch to a gluten-free diet eat unhealthy gluten-free products.
- Yes, finally we agree. It’s true that many people swap unhealthy gluten-containing foods for unhealthy gluten-free foods. However, that doesn’t negate the positive effects of a naturally gluten-free diet. That’s one of the reasons why I blog, to demonstrate what a healthy gluten-free diet looks like. Foods like vegetables, fruits, pastured meats and dairy, and eggs are naturally gluten free. We should be educating the masses about what REAL food looks like. Unprocessed whole foods are gluten free. The real problem here is NOT the gluten-free diet; it’s the processing!
You might think that we shouldn’t be promoting restricted diets until we have more convincing proof on gluten-related disorders.
- Yes, we are just beginning to understand the tip of the iceberg in nutrition science. We don’t fully grasp how food interacts with every major organ. We will be learning for decades and centuries how the amazing human body works! And yes, there are emotional and relational difficulties when dealing with a restricted diet. However, if people feel better on a gluten-free diet, then the hardships are worth it! It has been for me. Living gluten free gives me the opportunity to respect other people’s food choices, as I hope they do the same for me. Living gluten free also gives me the chance to tell people about the wonders and joys of real food!
- The reality of living in our modern world is that we MUST promote restricted diets for people to be healthy! We are healthier, when we limit processed food, refined sugar, high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, MSG, chemical additives, and synthetic food dyes. Even the USDA cannot argue with that!
You might think I’m uninformed and base my diet on feelings, not research.
- I’m don’t call myself an expert, but I have spent countless hours researching the efficacy of the gluten-free lifestyle. Don’t take my word for it. Read what the professionals have to say. The following links will give you more food for thought.
- A Gluten For Punishment: The Whole Grain Assault on Health (Green Med Info)
- The Gluten-Free Diet Deserves Respect (Allergic Living)
- Four Ways Gluten is Making Us Fat and Sick (Natural News)
- Gluten-Free: Not a Fad, But a Neccesity (Huffington Post)
- How Common is Gluten Sensitivity? (Mark’s Daily Apple)
- Articles about Gluten-Related Disorders (The Dr. Com)
The bottom line: the gluten-free diet changed my life. It gave me the confidence to take control of my health. Step by step, I’ve become my own best advocate, not my doctors, and not the pharmaceutical companies. My journey to renewed health began with removing gluten.
The gluten-free diet is not a magic pill, but it is a positive step for many people. If someone you know wants to try a gluten or grain-free diet to help their fibromyalgia or reverse infertility or improve their child’s autism or allergies, let them have their opportunity. Encourage them for attempting a drug-free approach to wellness. Please stop teasing them with gluten-free jokes. Please stop echoing the loud chorus that the gluten-free diet is only a passing trend. If it didn’t work for you, maybe it will work for them. Each body is different. Maybe for your mother or brother or co-worker, a naturally gluten-free whole foods diet is just what they need to reclaim their health!
If you still believe I’m on a fad diet, well, you have the right to think whatever you wish. Your position on gluten will not change my path. I’m going to continue my gluten-free diet. I’m also going to continue to grow my own food, shop at farmers markets, and support my vegetable CSA…
…because the local food movement is creating responsible citizens who don’t need society’s approval or government intervention for their health and well-being.
Eating real gluten-free food six years and counting,