Category Archives: GMOs/Pesticides

Gluten 1: Gluten is the New Black

Young attractive ladyGluten is the new black. It’s televised, evangelized, tweeted, and hashtagged as the cure-all to every weight, health, and cellulite problem anyone has ever had. Right? Well, not exactly.

“I’m gluten free!” is likely the most polarizing statement in the health community today. Progressive practitioners (and their clients) devoutly stand by the role gluten can play in inflammation and overall immunity, while conventional medicine dismisses its legitimacy and even condemns the “dangers” of a gluten-free diet.

Mainstream media has dutifully played its role by jumping on the topic and constantly feeding us the hype, and then rejoicing in the opportunity to run a follow up feature with the gluten-free tag as the villain. But as with most stories, there are three sides: His, hers, and the truth. And in this case, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

For the most part, gluten’s overexposure – and the awareness it brings – is positive. When every news medium is covering it from CNN to US Weekly, it sheds a much needed spotlight on the physiology and benefits of the gluten-free diet. All press is good press – especially when it brings to light the fact that gluten is linked to over 50 different disease states. Along the way though, the attention from the media has given gluten-free a bit of a bad boy complex. It’s seductive and full of promises, but it doesn’t always deliver in the way one might hope. Depending on your intentions, the gluten-free road can be a convoluted one, and it can result in less-than-optimal eating.

There’s a TON of information out there – some of it skewed towards making sales numbers pop, and some of it downright conflicting. But, it’s essential that we get some clarity on the topic. Quite literally, if we don’t rise above the hype and misinformation, and get to a place of sound, actionable information, it’s an issue of life or death for some.

It is estimated that about 1% of Americans have celiac disease and that for every one person with celiac disease, there are an estimated six or seven people with non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
For this population, it has been shown that there is a 35-72% increased risk of death (primarily due to cancer, heart and respiratory disease, but other causes are at play here as well).

In a later post, we’ll discuss the complex differences between sensitivities to gluten and celiac disease, but for now I want to start a little broader. (It’s always easier for me to learn when I first get some context around the bigger issue at hand.) So before diving into the physiological weeds, let’s back up and look at why we’re talking about gluten in the first place.

Gluten’s Rise to Fame

How did this little protein fraction get itself on the map? And why are everyone and their dog on a gluten-free diet?

Well, there are multiple factors that have led to the awareness around, and increased prevalence of, gluten sensitivities.

1. Celiac Disease Gets its Day in the Sun. Kind of.
Celiac disease is four times more common now than 60 years ago, affecting an estimated 1 in 100 people (that’s three million Americans, people). The gluten-free message is getting more play because the only current treatment for the disease is eliminating gluten from your diet. The disturbing part is that despite this rise in recognition, 83% of people with celiac disease are unaware of their issue. Still work to do, indeed.

2. Progressive Practitioners Get It.
Increasingly, Americans are seeing progressive and functional medicine practitioners who take a more holistic approach to wellness. Overall, a progressive education has a more robust focus on nutrition than conventional medicine. For example, gluten has received a lot of attention in forward-thinking and effective treatments for conditions along the autism spectrum and ADHD. Also, progressive practitioners may more readily implement practice changes based on current research, where conventional medicine can be beholden to standard reimbursement rules and regulations. Case in point: It has been found that it takes seeing – on average – five physicians and 10-11 years to diagnose gluten sensitivity or intolerance when using conventional means.

3. Celebrity Evangelism.
This is where gluten really gets its time in the limelight. The progressive practitioners who impart accurate wisdom around the critical role gluten can play in our health don’t always take insurance. If they do, they can’t bill insurance for the services that can be most effective, like removing food sensitivities. So for the most part, they end up preaching to a pretty exclusive choir – namely the stars that can pay out of pocket each time, for every visit. Not only can celebrities afford these kinds of appointments – it’s their job to learn about anything that will make them look and feel their best, considering how they are scrutinized by the media, and the fact that their health, appearance and weight frequently determines whether they work or not. The more they are on screen, talking about their gluten-free lifestyle, the more they are talked about (and emulated). I am in no way condoning that we should receive health advice from celebrities (quite the contrary), but we can’t deny the buzz around how going gluten free has our favorite A-listers feeling amazing.

4. Big Food Getting into the Game.
This one is a two-sided coin. You can’t ignore the power that food manufacturers have on public awareness – whether their intentions are authentic or they are just trying to grab their piece of the ever-expanding gluten-free pie. Big food has been promoting their gluten-free lineups like it’s their job. Well, technically it is their job, I know – but it still doesn’t make it right to fool customers with their misleading marketing claims. The product might be gluten-free, but at what expense? Do you know what they use instead of wheat and other gluten-containing grains? Cornstarch, white rice, potato flour/starch, added sugars, and a whole bunch of other insulin-spiking, chemical-laden, inflammatory, and otherwise worthless ingredients. Nevertheless, it is still spreading the gluten-free word.

5. Thinking Paleo.
So why would what is promoted as one of the mainstays of our diet be the source of such digestive, immunological grief? To explain this point I need to go a little Paleo on you for a minute. Humans have been on earth for around 2 million years. Grains containing gluten were only introduced about 10,000 years ago. Add to that the fact that 30 percent of people of European descent carry the gene for celiac disease. Therefore, there are theories that this mismatch, or lack of genetic adaptation, has caused an “evolutionary challenge” that created adverse human reactions to gluten.

6. Body Burdened.
Another possibility as to why there is such an increase today in not only gluten sensitivities, but all sensitivities (including allergies) is a general toxic overload of our system or what is known as “body burden.”

There are now over 3000 chemicals added to our food supply, and more than 75,000 chemicals used for other purposes in North America. We are inundated with chemical-based products every day – pesticides on our non-organic foods, artificial fragrances in perfumes, lotions, hair products, room sprays, cleaning supplies, fabric softeners…the list goes on. Even if you are vigilant about insisting upon fragrance-, phthalate- and paraben-free cleaners and cosmetics, VOC-free paint, and organic produce, you are likely inadvertently exposed in the environment. Heavy metals, including lead, are in our water, and chlorine and other volatile organic compounds are used in many products that surround you.

As your body gets older and those exposures accumulate, the health of your digestive system is compromised (i.e. dysfunction within your microbiome – the cornerstone of your immune system) leading to decreased resistance to other foreign bodies (e.g. foods you don’t tolerate), which also helps explain the increase in sensitivities over the years.

I don’t say this to induce an OCD episode that has you searching for a bodysuit made of bubble wrap. These are things we simply can’t control most of the time. But you can control what you eat and make better choices to lower this burden.

And finally…

7. Frankenwheat.
Today, it’s not only the process that’s different, it’s the product.

Back in your granny’s day, dough was mixed in the KitchenAid and left to rise overnight on the counter. This rising process – part of the traditional method of baking – allowed a higher portion of the gluten to be assimilated by the yeast. So home-baked bread was not only delicious, it naturally had less gluten in it. The majority of bread is now made in commercial kitchens designed for maximized efficiency. The quick-producing, industrialized methods allow little time for the yeast to ferment, which means the dough retains more gluten.

Additionally, a powdered, concentrated form of gluten – vital wheat gluten – is commonly used as an additive in the U.S. in place of the naturally occurring gluten formed from kneading the dough to provide better baking properties (read: less waste, higher margins) – heat resistance, elasticity, malleability, longer shelf life.

Making matters [much] worse, instead of naturally allowing the dough to age in the open air, potassium bromate is used to expedite the process. (Of note, potassium bromate has been labeled as a Category 2B carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and it is banned throughout the European Union, Canada, Nigeria, Brazil, Peru and China.)

Farming methods are also a concern. Although genetically modified wheat is not on the market (yet!), conventional wheat is still doused in the glycophosphate herbicide (read: RoundUp, read: Monsanto) just prior to harvest to increase the yield.

Finally, once the bread is baked and packaged, it often has genetically modified ingredients added to it – namely corn and soy – which are hard for our internal systems to tolerate (we’ll school you on GMO’s and pesticides in later posts).

To sum it up, no matter what form the wheat ends up taking – we start with grain that is harvested and processed in a way that leaves it loaded with a toxic herbicide, and manufactured in a way that not only increases the gluten, but introduces a synthetic, concentrated gluten additive. And as consumers, we are supersaturated with this super gluten, as it’s tucked away inside product after product.

So if your body can’t tolerate gluten or wheat, you might feel like you’re sitting under a tree full of birds without an umbrella. The shit is just everywhere.

So. Now you know.

And really, it’s no wonder gluten is all the rage. The gluten-free sermon is being preached far and wide, with a lot of the mainstream messages being clouded with punchy sales pitches and mischievous marketing twists.

But I figure you came here for the truth, so I’m going to keep giving it to you.

You’re going to want to read the next post sitting down, because the ride on the way to learning what gluten actually is – and more importantly, what is does – gets a little bumpy.

See you next time.


References:

  1. Ludvigsson, J. F., S. M. Montgomery, A. Ekbom, L. Brandt, and F. Granath. “Small-Intestinal Histopathology and Mortality Risk in Celiac Disease.” JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association11 (2009): 1171-178.
  2. “Celiac Disease: Fast Facts.”Celiac Disease: Fast Facts. National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, n.d. Web. 03 Feb. 2015.
  3. Farrell, Richard J., and Ciarán P. Kelly. “Celiac Sprue.” New England Journal of Medicine3 (2002): 180-88.
  4. Matthews, Julie. “Food Allergies and Sensitivities and Gluten-Free/Casein-Free Diet.” Bioindividual Nutrition Advanced Training for Practioners. 21 July 2014. Lecture.
  5. Pietzak, M. “Celiac Disease, Wheat Allergy, and Gluten Sensitivity: When Gluten Free Is Not a Fad.” Journal of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition1 Suppl (2012): 68S-75S.
  6. Bizzaro, N., R. Tozzoli, D. Villalta, M. Fabris, and E. Tonutti. “Cutting-Edge Issues in Celiac Disease and in Gluten Intolerance.” Clinical Reviews in Allergy & Immunology3 (2012): 279-87.
  7. Davis, Brenda, RD. “Cutting Edge Nutrition.” Interview by John Robbins. 2014 Food Revolution Summit. 30 Apr. 2014.
  8. “Trade Secrets: A Moyers Report.” Interview by Bill Moyer and Sherry Jones. PBS. N.d. Television. Transcript.
  9. Samsel, Anthony, and Stephanie Seneff. “Glyphosate, Pathways to Modern Diseases II: Celiac Sprue and Gluten Intolerance.” Interdisciplinary Toxicology4 (2013): 159-84.
  10. Kurokawa, Y., A. Maekawa, M. Takahashi, and Y. Hayashi. “Toxicity and Carcinogenicity of Potassium Bromate—a New Renal Carcinogen.” Environmental Health Perspectives 87 (1990): 309-35.
  11. Food Additives Linked to Health Concerns.” Environmental Working Group. Environmental Working Group, 12 Nov. 2014. Web. 04 Feb. 2015
  12. “Last Eval.: Potassium Bromate (IARC Summary & Evaluation, Volume 73, 1999).”INCHEM. International Programme on Chemical Safety, 1999. Web. 04 Feb. 2015.

A Blueprint: 10 Steps to a Clean, Anti-Inflammatory Diet

BlueprintI realize these first few posts have been a bit heavy on theory. Thank you for indulging me.

See, I felt the need to light a fire. To take you to school for a minute, if you will. I’m driven to teach why these clean eating, anti-inflammatory principles are so important. I am called to shift paradigms, even as I realize the challenge it will be, given the misguided mainstream messages we’re fed.

I have – and I will share – a lot more background on what to eat, what not to eat, and why. But I’m sensing many of you are ready for some more applicable insights. Something tangible for those of you who might be thinking, “Great info, now what the hell am I supposed to do with it?!”

So this week I’m channeling my inner architect, and giving you a blueprint that you can use to build your health from the inside out. Think of this as your guide to cleaning up your diet, reducing inflammation, and gaining momentum towards feeling a lot better.

Please note: these are VERY GENERAL recommendations. It’s important to keep in mind that this information – diet and supplementation – does not replace the individualized guidance you should seek out from a qualified practitioner.

1. Eat organic whenever possible.

This will significantly limit your consumption of genetically modified ingredients and  pesticides. Both have been shown to cause systemic damage to your body. At a minimum, use the “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean 15” guides from the Environmental Working Group to shop. Please see my resources page for printable, easy-to-use guides and links to more information.

2. Clean up your water and salt.

Water: Since you drink about eight glasses a day (right?), it makes sense to make sure it is from a good source. Drink filtered water (either purchase a quality water filter or buy outside filtered water). Avoid tap water that can contain arsenic, aluminum or traces of discarded medications. And avoid BPA plastic bottled water (it might just be tap water you’re paying for).

Salt: Switch out your chemical-laden, over-processed, aluminum-containing table salt for sea salt. Unlike table salt, sea salt retains many vital minerals, like magnesium and potassium, which balance the level of sodium. So, when you choose the better, unrefined source, salt is no longer the enemy to run from, it is actually a healthful, essential part of your diet. Make sure you are choosing a Himalayan or Celtic sea salt or choose an iodine-fortified brand if appropriate (iodine plays a big role in thyroid function), like Hain.

3. Eat more dark green veggies.

Steam them, smoothie them up, eat or drink them raw – but get these verdant vitals down the hatch.

This class of vegetables is a nutritional powerhouse, providing many essential vitamins and minerals, including Vitamin E (a potent inflammation-fighter), B-vitamins, disease-fighting phytonutrients, and calcium (a great source, especially if you are dairy-free).

If eating your greens doesn’t come easy for you – logistically or just out of pure distaste – I feel your pain. FULL DISCLOSURE: This self-diagnosed “super taster” had a previous aversion to any green vegetable and didn’t try a tomato until college.

Yeah, I know.

That said, here are a few tried and true ways to sneak the green into your diet:

  • Kale & fruit smoothies (you don’t taste the kale, really). Kids freaked out by the color? Buy some opaque cups, lids and straws.
  • Cold-pressed green juices. If you gag on the taste, try sucking it down with a straw. (I speak from experience.)
  • A supplement you can add to non-dairy milk like Amazing Grass Green Superfood Drink. They also make some kid-specific flavors. This is not an official endorsement, but I’ve tried many and this is one that, ironically (and thankfully), doesn’t taste like grass.

4. Choose wisely when eating off the farm.

If you consume meat and/or dairy, there are some guidelines you can follow to keep it clean. Labeling is a big can of worms (that I will open later), but in the name of simplicity, I’m going to usher everyone on the farm under this umbrella statement:

Choose “organic” and/or “grass-fed”, “pastured” or “pasture-raised” beef, bison, poultry, dairy and eggs.

“Organic” ensures no pesticide or genetically-modified feed is getting into the animal. “Grass-fed” or “pasture-raised” means the animals are eating high Omega-3, inflammation-fighting grass (instead of corn), have the most room to roam, and have higher levels of the important, fat-soluble Vitamins A & D in their system (which means you will, too).

5. Eat organic, cold-pressed, extra-virgin, unprocessed fats (and use them at their correct temperatures).

Yep, I said it. You should eat fat. Listen, you’re ready to give salt a chance…now it’s time to welcome another new friend into your life. You can do this. Here’s how.

Instead of using chemically processed, possibly genetically modified fats (think, canola, corn, soy or vegetable oil and partially hydrogenated margarines), opt for oils and fats that are pesticide- and GMO-free and minimally processed. This eliminates the use of toxic chemicals and helps them retain their vital nutrients and delicate flavors. And remember to pay attention to limits on smoke points (should be listed on the bottle) to avoid free-radical forming oxidation.

Some examples of good choices:

Liquid: Organic, Cold-Pressed Extra Virgin Olive, Macadamia, Flax, and Avocado Oils                   Solid: Coconut Oil, Organic/Grass-Fed Ghee or Butter (only if you can tolerate casein), and pastured sources of animal fats.

If you’re sticking to the above guidelines, you’re doing your body a huge favor. But the better news is that now you can stop freaking out about consuming too much fat.* Because guess what?

Eating the right kind of fat aids in brain and eye development, regulates blood sugar, promotes tissue healing, is critical for Vitamin D synthesis, promotes proper immune function, and carries and delivers to your body fat soluble vitamins (A,D,E,K) and nutrients like phytonutrients (believed to play a role in cancer prevention and serve as anti-inflammatories).

*fat may need to be limited with gallbladder issues or other concerns that would affect fat metabolism

6. Consume fish oil.

In addition to the above recommendations on fats, you also need to make sure you are getting the correct balance of Omega-6 and Omega-3 fats. Historically, American diets used to be close to a ratio of 1:1. But with our current Standard American Diet (SAD), the balance is way off, currently estimated at 15 (Omega 6): 1 (Omega-3).

And this skewed RATIO – not the TOTAL fat – is what is causing the inflammation that can lead to serious conditions such as cancer, heart disease, and autoimmune disease (to name just a few).

Because there is an overage of Omega-6 fats in our food supply (all those processed oils I mentioned in number 5 fall into the category, but they are also found in other, healthier choices like seeds and nuts), the best way to get back in balance is to get adequate amounts of Omega-3 via fish oil (or flax oil if you prefer a vegan option), or through consumption of wild fish (like salmon). Alternatively, and this is what I do, take a high-vitamin (both A & D), fermented, cod liver oil capsule (capsules = no gagging!).

7. Take a good probiotic and/or eat fermented foods.

In the last two posts I mentioned a couple of important things about your digestive system:

  • When your gut bacteria (aka microbiome) is out of balance, i.e. there is more bad bacteria than good (aka dysbiosis), fat storage is promoted.
  • This dysbiosis of your digestive tract can also make it all too easy for undigested food particles or harmful ingredients to enter your system (known as intestinal hyperpermeability, or more commonly, having a “leaky gut”). And this leads to – you guessed it – inflammation.

But here’s some good news. Consuming probiotics can help you re-balance. You can take a probiotic supplement, or eat whole, fermented foods (kimchi, kombucha, homemade fermented vegetables). A general recommendation for a probiotic supplement is to choose one that has at least 25 billion strains (containing at a minimum Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium) and choose one that is refrigerated, unless purchasing a professional grade supplement specifically designed to maintain potency at room temperature.

8. Reduce your processed sugar intake.

I think we should all be “Fed Up” by now, so I won’t expand too much on this one. But just know that refined sugar is one of the most damaging ingredients you can consume, and that it has effects on your entire system.

Ideally, all forms of sugar should be reduced as much as possible – but natural forms are safer: stevia, Lakanto sugar (expensive, but magic), maple syrup and raw agave. Switch to these, then try to reduce the amount you need, gradually.

9. Address food sensitivities.

If you have autoimmune, skin, mood or digestive issues or have unresolved chronic symptoms, this is definitely worth looking into. See a qualified practitioner to healthfully remove gluten from your diet and assess other food sensitivities (and your entire diet plan, ideally). While gluten and dairy are often the biggest culprits, food sensitivities can be from many different food categories (e.g. phenols, oxalates, grains, specific types of carbohydrates) and be a big cause for inflammation.

If you’re ready to take this step, I happen to know a girl…

10. Cook more.

Obvious, I know. But when you are working, traveling, kid wrangling, or otherwise performing in your own personal circus, this can be tough. It takes a conscious effort to plan and make it happen consistently. This is something I am continually working on, because juggling while balancing on a tightrope isn’t always easy to do in front of a hot stove.

But if cooking is your Achilles heel too, let’s break it down into bites you can chew. Try to plan your meals for one week (or one day…I don’t judge). Swap out a couple of your packaged foods for fresh ingredients. Prepare one new recipe per week (and if it goes over well, double it next time and freeze half!).

That’s it, people. You are ready to build.

But before you do, let me acknowledge something: we are all actual humans. By no means would I expect you to incorporate all of the above suggestions in one fell swoop (unless you are extremely motivated, and then absolutely “lean in” my friend). So if you are just dabbling in clean eating, or the current mainstays of your diet are frozen pizza and Big Macs, then a slow start is probably a good idea. Maybe choose one new goal now. And in a couple of weeks, choose another (or two).

Baby steps will get you there.

And speaking of babies, you should know I’ve got a couple. One of them is a 2-year-old boy. I’m confident he has a successful career in the WWF ahead of him. I have about 30 seconds to prep before that guy scales the wall and jumps in the oven, so I get it. Life happens and when it does, sometimes a shortcut is the only way – and that’s okay too.

Don’t let yourself be overwhelmed by your detailed blueprint. (My inner architect is very thorough.) It’s true, developing better health from the inside out is more complicated than organizing your closet, but the rewards are epic.

And besides, I have a feeling you’re capable, driven, and you want to feel good. Sometimes having a plan is just what you need to spring into action. So give it a go, just one choice at a time, and get ready to thrive.


 

References:

  1. Morrell, Sally. “The Salt of the Earth.” Weston A Price. Weston A Price Foundation, 4 Jan. 2011. Web. 19 Jan. 2015.
  2. “Agricultural Marketing Service – Grass Fed Marketing Claim Standards.” Agricultural Marketing Service – Grass Fed Marketing Claim Standards. USDA, 29 Sept. 2008. Web. 20 Jan. 2015.
  3. Enig, Mary G. Know Your Fats: The Complete Primer for Understanding the Nutrition of Fats, Oils and Cholesterol. Silver Spring, MD: Bethesda, 2000. Print.
  4. Fallon, Sally, and Mary G. Enig, PhD. “Cod Liver Oil Basics and Recommendations.” Weston A Price. Weston A Price Foundation, 9 Feb. 2009. Web. 19 Jan. 2015.
  5. Simopoulos, A.p. “The Importance of the Ratio of Omega-6/omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids.” Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy8 (2002): 365-79. Web.
  6. Challem, Jack. The Inflammation Syndrome: The Complete Nutritional Program to Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, Arthritis, Diabetes, Allergies and Asthma. Hoboken, NJ: J. Wiley, 2003.