Low Gluten = The Human Diet?

Posted: April 12, 2011 in health
Tags: , , , , ,

I will begin by saying that there is a lot of information out there about diets and what you should and shouldn’t eat, and because of this, it seems that doctors and the media have succeeded in making people skeptical about anything. Heck, every time I see the new diet trend posted all over the front page of whatever news website, I end up just scrolling down and ignoring it. I’m not a doctor, or a nutritionist or anything of the sort, but I do know what my body tells me and it has been telling me I was doing something wrong for a very long time. I always thought that I ate a relatively balanced and healthy diet, heck, at times people thought I was a vegetarian because I couldn’t simply afford to buy meat. It didn’t matter how much tofu (an unfortunate source of estrogen) and rice and whatever else I ate – I always ended up feeling tired and fatigued throughout the day, especially in the mornings.

Edit: Right before I posted this, I had a feeling I would be seeing more about gluten on the news, but didn’t realize they would be saying pretty much what I’ve been saying for the past two months!

I honestly thought that being tired, along with having digestion issues (many of which I look back on and realize how severe they were), and kidney infections, asthma, and headaches, and having incredibly painful abdominal cramps was normal. I otherwise felt… fine, if you could call it that. I was pretty much raised to believe that if I wasn’t dead, I wasn’t sick. Well, that isn’t exactly what I was taught, but it is the end result of years of being sent to school because my headache wasn’t something that should keep me at home. So I guess I ended up ignoring a lot of health problems throughout my life and pretended like nothing was wrong. And just the numerous times I had to run to the bathroom my freshman year in high school (could it have been that nasty pseudo-pizza I kept wanting to punish myself with?), I ignored the signs that something wasn’t right with what I was eating.

 

What was I eating? Mainly pasta, bread, some veggies, tofu, some chicken and really not much red meat. Sometimes I had fish if I could afford it. After meeting my boyfriend, I began eating more red meat. I have to comment though, that in the US the variety of meat is a bit lacking, though I will admit that in some stores they’re starting to bring in some buffalo, ostrich and because of the Mexican influence around here, cow tongue, tripe, and other cuts that help not only keep your meats more interesting, but also, by consuming every bit of the animal that is edible, you could technically avoid killing another cow (but since cows are regarded as nothing more than a product in this country, I doubt the slaughtering line will slow down because a few Mexicans would rather use cow tongue than a ‘prime’ cut of meat).

How did this diet make me feel? Not too good. As mentioned earlier, I was fatigued, and plagued with many chronic ailments. It didn’t matter if I ate whole grain or what – I just felt worse than terrible. While thinking about this, I wondered if there was a correlation between countries where carbohydrates are staple and diabetes, and guess what? I realized that I was on to something. Of course, I’m probably not the first person to point this out, but heck, it’s the first time I thought about it and I think it’s pretty significant. According to WebMD, the top 10 countries with the most cases of diabetes are (in the year 2000) India, China, U.S., Indonesia, Japan, Pakistan, Russian Federation, Brazil, Italy, Bangladesh. Now, I don’t know much about Pakistan and Russia, but I know that in many of these countries, rice, pasta, or bread are a staple. In fact, I lived in Japan for a year and though I had lost a lot of weight (too much considering I was underweight), I still felt tired and fatigued no matter how much exercise I did. All I could really afford was rice and tofu, natto, flour and of course, ramen. The only reason I lost weight was because I was burning so many calories all day, every day and sometimes couldn’t even afford to eat. I was skinny, but not healthy.

I’ve always been pretty active and never ate much, but regardless of my lifestyle, no matter what I did as long as these carbs were included, I felt terrible. I would fall asleep waiting to go to class, I would fall asleep during classes, I would need to take naps during my breaks at work, I could go to sleep at 8 am and still end up sleeping until the last minute before work or class… even if it meant I slept until 2pm. I’ve always thought that I was lazy and there was nothing I could do about it. As a kid, I didn’t eat much but I was very energetic and bouncy, but as I got older I started to become more fatigued and unwilling to do even the simplest chores. Of course, I eventually end up doing them, but it was hard when the minute I got up and started to work on whatever it was I had to do, I ended up feeling fatigued. Not once did I think it had anything to do with my diet.

So, a few months ago my boyfriend thought it would be a good idea to watch another documentary. I really put off watching this one because I thought it was just going to be another one of those narrow-minded ones, which in many ways it was, but buried deep inside a whole bunch of bologna, lied a basis of truth I eventually used to do some research. For anyone who is curious about it, Netflix has the movie on streaming and it’s called Fat Head. Ironically, from the day I changed my diet, the media has been covering ‘diabetes diets’ to lose weight and the dangers of gluten – something that hadn’t been covered much to my knowledge. I’m always keeping up with the latest ‘news’ and I’ve really noticed how much ‘buzz’ has been generated around gluten recently. Why would people in Europe suddenly announce successful weight loss with the use of a diabetic diet?

A few things in this documentary were brought up that actually made sense to me. I have always been a nutrition buff and thought I knew a lot about good and bad cholesterol, and what to eat, but after seeing even a doctor puzzled by the results of this man’s diet change, I started to think. Though he really set out to prove that fast food wasn’t fattening, he really ended up showing that many health problems arise from the ingestion of certain carbs, aka, those which aren’t really part of the human diet. Grains are really meant for birds and very few mammals thrive on them. What this man did was to limit the carbs in his fast food diet and not only did he lose weight, but his cholesterol went down. He didn’t avoid the usual ‘fatty’ foods and instead of eating a salad, he ate hamburgers and avoided fried carby foods like French fries. His doctor was shocked that he was actually healthier than before after eating a month of fast food and really, this shouldn’t be a surprise because not only did he avoid carbs, but he didn’t eat huge portions. Now, obviously eating fast food isn’t the best thing in the world. A home cooked meal is a lot healthier and if done right, it can save you money and gas. This documentary included a lot of other information which explained how animal fats are necessary for human health because cholesterol is an important nutrient for your organs, especially your brain. And that’s all really interesting and much of it made logical sense, but what really caught my attention was the gluten. What really made sense to me is that humans, before they learned how to cultivate grains, lived off of nuts, berries, meat, fruits, tubers and veggies. That’s pretty much all you need in your diet. The only reason doctors push people to eat grains is because they claim they are heart healthy because of their fiber content, but all one has to do to get their daily recommended fiber is to eat enough fruits and veggies. If we don’t need grains for fiber, then shouldn’t they be at the top of the food pyramid along with sweets? Correct me if I’m wrong, but what nutrients can be found in grains that cannot be found in the foods I’ve mentioned?

Anyway, if you’re interested in finding out more about some of the misconceptions about what is healthy or not, you really should do some research and find out for yourself. I’ve read a few blog posts like this one that praise this documentary and that is fine, but the point is that people need to do more research before believing anything their doctor, teacher, some scientist or a documentary tell you. In the end, your body knows best. I myself found the documentary to be a bit annoying and derisive, but even though I wasn’t too keen on the way he went about making the documentary (and I can kind of understand that his emotions in regards to the issue may have pushed him to make the documentary thus it would be logical that they would influence it), the information he provided was definitely interesting enough and pertinent to my own health to the point that I actually watched the whole thing.

A friend of ours had announced a few months ago that he was quitting gluten for health reasons. At first I thought that I would never be able to do that considering I love eating bread, pasta and rice. I never even bothered to ask why he was changing his diet and am honestly wondering if he has succeeded and if he’s feeling any different. What I do know is that once I eliminated a lot of bread, pasta and rice, a lot of my health problems just disappeared. There is a chance that I’m more sensitive to gluten than others and it’s even possible I may have something more serious, but I’ve been glad to see that I don’t feel like an old lady anymore. Also, a lot of bad stuff feeds off of carbs and sugars such as cancer, yeast infections and the like. And having nice clean teeth is a plus. I’ve always had a plaque problem and avoiding certain carbs has really helped keep my teeth and gums healthy.

The first time I tried this change in diet, I eventually got a little complacent and thought that after I started feeling better that maybe I could go back to eating pasta since we were out of food and that was all we had left. That, and rice. Unfortunately, the day I ate nothing but pasta proved me wrong. I ended up sleeping 12 hours into the next day and since we still hadn’t purchased any food, I ate pasta for a few more days and I still felt terrible and my kidneys started acting up. I’m a healthy person, at least, according to my doctors who could never find anything wrong with me. They said my digestion issues were due to my ‘nervousness’ which in part may be true, but I had problems more often than not when I was perfectly calm and happy. If only they had pointed out that a change in diet could have saved me years of what I realize now was illness. When we finally got our shopping done, I was able to prepare food that was relatively gluten-free again. That was last night – in fact, those carnitas I prepared were supposedly low in gluten. I went to bed somewhere between 2 and 3 am and ended up waking up for the first time in days at 8 am. Not only was I awake, but was unable to lie in bed and had to get up.

Now, obviously every person is different. For example, Eskimos and other groups of people who live in extremely cold conditions do just fine feasting on seal, whale, duck and whatever other kind of meat they are able to procure. Some people can’t eat certain foods and in the end, eating is about being healthy and staying alive – not about eating what you can’t eat. Everything can taste amazing if you just care about its preparation. And if you want a cruelty-free, sustainable and highly nutritious source of protein, maybe you should try insects! I honestly used to be a really picky eater as a child, but as soon as I began traveling to other countries, I really learned to enjoy a lot of food. I actually remember the first time I had Kool-Aid and American pizza as well as sugary cereal and American bubble gum, all of which we purchased at the military base. I was so sick I swore I would never eat anything unnaturally colored again, but when we moved back to the US, my stomach had to learn to deal with the greasy pizzas and the sugary chemical filled cereal, and now I don’t mind them as much. I’m a bit disappointed that there is such a lack of variety in foods in American stores. It’s either cow, chicken or pig muscles. You rarely see a nice display of organs and you definitely don’t see them selling insects. If you like crab, you’ll love tarantula.

I do hope though that this blog post will be helpful for those, like me, who didn’t really interpret the signs properly because I didn’t know any better. I understand that it can be really frustrating for people who try to lose weight, exercise daily, think they’re eating right and look at themselves in the mirror and see the pounds just piling on. Some people can try just about anything and because of hormonal issues or other causes, they will never be able to lose weight consistently except with invasive surgery. In Europe and many other places they are now helping people lose weight by having them eat the diet a diabetic would. It seems that a trend is beginning to emerge where scientists and nutritionists are finally realizing that gluten could actually be a problem. To those, like me, whose life was actually affected by what I ate, I hope that you will find that you can have a delicious meal with very little gluten – and hopefully you’ll feel better and even lose weight. Of course, again, you should always control the portion size.

Now, I want to make clear that when you do research you will definitely find that there is bias wherever you go. For example, the milk industry wants to make sure you keep buying cow’s milk by portraying it as an essential part of you diet when in fact goat milk is the closest thing to human milk you’ll be able to get. Also, cow milk is technically meant for calves, like human milk is meant for human babies. That doesn’t stop me from eating cheese though. Also, PETA will obviously try to convince people that meat is bad for you. I understand that the huge meat consumption in this country creates high demand thus cows are created in factories like living steaks, and I guess I would say pretty much anything to stop people from doing something I thought was wrong, but in the end, not eating animal fat can cause depression and nerve damage which are obvious signs that something is not right. I would rather raise my own animals and care for them properly and obviously make sure they are killed quickly and painlessly (which sadly isn’t done in many ‘meat’ factories) but I don’t really have the means at the moment. But one day I do aspire to at least grow my own fruits and vegetables and if I can’t raise my own, then I can deal with a farmer that can prove that they actually care about their cattle/sheep/chickens/turkeys etc… Also, I would rather know where my meat is coming from than purchase a slab of meat that looks nothing like what it came from and is probably filled with hormones and antibiotics. Diet seems to be such a delicate and controversial matter for many, but in the end, you’re still a mammal and you still need to eat. And if you chose to sacrifice certain aspects of your health in order to uphold an ideology, then that shows a great amount of will power and conviction. But now I’m just trailing off into some pseudo-philosophy on the human condition or something like that!

Anyway, I will be keeping a log of what I eat and any changes in my health, good or bad, and will be posting it periodically along with recipes to dishes I prepare. If anyone else would like to join me and share your recipes or even share how the diet has affected you, it would be really great.

Here are some links to check out to find out more info about gluten and how the food pyramid has changed in the US (and compared to other countries) and the effect on American health.

Turning the food pyramid on its head

Food Guide Pyramid (Note that they mention that carbs have the same negative effect on the body when consumed in high quantities, which begs me to ask… why is it still the biggest food group?)

Why the food pyramid changed on ask.com

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