Today, millions of people without celiac disease are electing to be gluten-free, not because they are actually allergic to gluten, but because they have food sensitivities, or simply because wheat has been labelled a dietary no-no. Yet there is compelling scientific and clinical evidence that gluten is often not the underlying issue in the case of digestive woes and food sensitivities. Although eliminating wheat from your diet may alleviate your symptoms, it may be only a temporary solution. Going gluten-free could even make your health worse.
For example, a recent study with 10 healthy adults on a gluten-free diet for one month showed a decrease in beneficial gut bacteria and an increase in unhealthy gut bacteria. The study participants also saw a significant decrease in the functioning of their immune systems. Why? The fibre and carbohydrates in grains, including wheat, feed healthy immunity-boosting microbes in the gut.
Keep in mind that if you flattened all the villi and lacteals of your intestinal system—what’s called your intestinal skin—it would cover an area ranging somewhere between the size of a studio apartment and a tennis court. That skin, in turn, is blanketed in beneficial microscopic bugs. That’s a lot of bugs! While the science of this microbiome is still in its infancy, we do know that these microbes manufacture hormones, vitamins, and neurotransmitters that help detoxify and assimilate nutrients while playing a role in almost every bodily function—including the way we think and how we feel. If you kill your bugs, you will die.
This kind of information is important even if you don’t think you have a digestive problem. First of all, our digestive system has lots of backup villi in case of intestinal damage from stress, aging, toxins, and potential infections, so wheat and dairy intolerances may occur over a very long period.
In other words, you may not be suffering—yet. The more insidious problem is this: the microbiome is markedly reduced to other countries, who eat a whole range of different food groups.
1. Overeating wheat. About 50 years ago, thanks to discredited science and heavy government subsidies, we shifted away from eating healthy fats and began overloading on processed carbs like wheat, which was modified to increase production. Wheat is traditionally a fall harvest that fed people through the winter. We did not evolve eating wheat three times a day all year long. Too much wheat may inflame the intestinal skin.
2. Preparing wheat in the wrong ways. All grains, as well as beans, have anti-nutrients such as phytates that allow seeds to lie dormant and can make them difficult to digest. Traditional cooking techniques like soaking, sprouting, and fermenting the grains break down the phytic acids and reduce both the amount of gluten and the glycaemic index of the bread.
3. Eating wheat at the wrong times of day. Jet lag, shift work, night time snacking, heavy meals late in the day, and of course stress can wreak havoc on gut bacteria. For example, a study of people flying to Israel showed a single long plane ride can dramatically shift the balance of your intestinal bacteria. So the onset of wheat sensitivity may actually be a symptom of poor meal timing and disrupted circadian rhythms.
4. Eating wheat out of season. If a deer is fed leafy greens or corn in the middle of the winter (out of season, when the deer lacks the proper microbes), the indigestion may prove lethal. In humans, the production of digestive enzymes like amylase increases during the winter months, making the fall-harvested wheat much easier to digest. A lack of amylase, which is required to digest wheat, is linked to wheat allergies and baker’s asthma—and it is more likely when we eat wheat out of season, like in spring or summer.
5. Eating processed wheat. Traditional breads have a short shelf life because they are eaten by microbes. Our processed breads often last weeks without spoiling, which means microbes are not eating them. Fully 90 percent of the cells in the human body are microbial cells—and these microbial cells do the heavy lifting for our digestive processes, including breaking down gluten. If the microbes outside your body won’t eat your bread, don’t expect the microbes in your belly to digest it.
6. Eating poisoned wheat. Perhaps worse than processing is the increasing use of toxins for growing wheat. For example, in the last 15 years it has become a common practice in many areas to spray wheat fields with glyphosate (Roundup) a few days before harvest to help dry and ultimately kill the wheat plant to release more seeds.
In a study published in the Journal of Interdisciplinary Toxicology, researchers found a strong correlation between celiac disease and the use of glyphosates. It’s hard to imagine that these powerful bug killers are not killing our internal bugs as well. Perhaps not surprisingly, many with wheat sensitivities discover that they have no problem with wheat in France, which does not allow GMO wheat and uses far less pesticide. The French also have higher wheat yields than we do, so we are likely poisoning ourselves for no reason.
The Very Best Way to Return to Wheat
Engage your parasympathetic nervous system. In other words, sit down in a relaxed way and smell, taste, and chew your food. You probably know that already—or think you do—so let’s put it another way: Would you rather relax and chew your food at meals or grind your teeth in the night while suffering from an upset stomach? Relaxed time while eating is time well spent. You are nurturing rather than ravaging your microbiome.
Make lunch the biggest meal of the day. Eat heavier and hard-to-digest foods at lunchtime. Ayurvedic wisdom suggests that we do much better when we eat the majority of our food in the daylight hours and minimal amounts at night. Science now confirms that your brain as well as your gut needs the night time off from food.
Go to bed early and get up close to sunrise. Regular sleep habits—including going to bed early and not working into the wee hours of the night—are linked to better digestion, optimal health, and longer life.
Give your digestive system a reboot. If you think you are suffering from wheat sensitivity, don’t just give up wheat. Give your entire digestive system a reboot.
“Gut repair” foods are:
• Sweet potatoes
• Cooked beets
• Cooked apples
• Seeds (rather than nuts)
• Well-cooked or steamed vegetables
• Oatmeal, rice, quinoa, and millet
• Small, well-cooked beans and legumes (mung beans)
• Healthy oils like ghee, coconut oil, and olive oil
• Small amounts of well-cooked white meats or fish
• Small amounts of raw honey (1–2 teaspoons per day)
• Ginger, cinnamon, fennel, and cardamom tea
Consider adding a small amount of organic fermented foods to each meal, such as:
• Yoghurt (ideally without sugar—buy plain yogurt and add maple syrup)
• Fermented vegetables