Monday, March 19, 2012

Gluten, Like Rhythm, Is Gonna Getcha

Gluten. It'll slice your throat while
you sleep and leave you for dead.
The hardest thing for me to eliminate from my diet was also the most rewarding part of adopting Paleo as a lifestyle-- NO MORE GLUTEN! Gluten intolerance has become far more mainstream than it used to be, especially with the recognition of a multitude of diseases that are caused by this cement-like substance.

But what the hell is gluten?!

Were you like me? Did you take foods classes in high school to get out of gym? (Or geometry?) Did you pay attention to your teacher? Probably not, since it's Foods!

Well, there was one thing I remember from my own Foods class. A kernel of knowledge that found its way into my brain by accident-- I was memorizing lines for The Madwoman of Chaillot while we were watching a documentary on pasta (who could blame me for wanting a distraction), and the movie somehow stuck.

What I remember is that pasta and paste aren't so very different, which is why there's always that one kid in kindergarten that eats a ton of it. Pasta gets its texture from binding agents-- gluten-- found in grains like wheat, barley, oats, and so on. But here's the problem: grains are assassins! Deadly, deadly assassins! (See above picture)

Defense Mechanism:
Every living thing in, on, over, under, and through this planet wants to stay alive. It's hardwired into us. And so, every living thing has its own defense mechanism:

  • animals run or fight
  • animals look cute (how likely are you to eat something that's looking at you with enormous puppy-dog eyes?)
  • plants protect their seeds so they can be consumed by animals, survive the digestion process, and still germinate (unless there's some super secret ninja turnip out there, plants don't fight back)

Fruits, berries, nuts, and even certain vegetables can be safely consumed because you either don’t eat their seeds or their plants have evolved to let seeds be eaten by animals while staying somewhat intact without damaging the digestive process of that animal.

Not grains.

Grains like wheat, oats, etc. aren't as durable as seeds. They must rely on a different form of Food Kung Fu to protect themselves. They just shred your insides all to hell.

Oh, if I was kidding. Grains have special proteins in them (lectins, also found in peanuts and legumes, which I'll get to later...) that attack anything trying to dissolve it, keeping the structure of the grain intact, which, as it moves through your digestive process, cuts lil' itty bitty holes in your intestines, releasing the garbage those intestines were trying to process back into your body. If gluten were a movie villain, it would be that ooze from Fern Gully. (I soooo wanted to make a “Die Hard” reference work, but alas.)

Taking full advantage of this parallel to Hexxus, gluten is glue. It's an edible cement. And because bodies are not built to break down that paste, it ends up trapped in our systems, blocking our ability to absorb other good nutrients. Then, it goes on to power a large-ass tree-cutter and tries to destroy an entire tropical ecosystem and all the tree fairies sworn to protect it. (Rent Fern Gully. Tim Curry is the voice of Hexxus, and how could that be bad? But I digress.)

Not being able to digest gluten hijacks your body’s built-in capacity to heal. Think of your body as a pie chart: you have a certain amount of energy that’s used to keep all systems ‘go’. If you have to start rerouting energy from one system to fuel one that’s not working well, and then another, and then yet another, soon you won’t have enough energy to power even the simple parts that don’t need all that much to work right. Keep that in mind as you scroll through the following list; with further research, gluten has been shown to be the root of many different ailments and even diseases:

  • acne
  • PMS
  • autoimmune diseases like fibromyalgia, MS, and Lupus
  • Celiac
  • some cancers
  • IBS
  • constipation
  • diabetes
  • arthritis
  • depression
  • heart problems

... and much more.

So Why Can’t I Eat (this)?:
Let's begin with the Red Flag Ingredients you should look for when cutting gluten out of your diet:

  • oats
  • barley
  • wheat
  • rye
  • malt
  • whey
  • dextrin
  • triticale
  • durum
  • graham
  • kamut
  • spelt
  • semolina

Now, take a leisurely stroll around your grocery store and pull some random boxed or bottled items from the shelves. Read through the ingredients; packaged dinners, commercial fruit snacks, microwavable soups, baby foods, ice creams, protein bars, sauces and dressings (like ketchup), even some beverages can have a form of gluten added to it to do one of three things: 1.) thicken the texture or change the taste, 2.) help increase the food’s shelf life, or 3.) slightly boost an otherwise low fiber or protein content. Gluten is in everything! It’s a conspiracy! They’re trying to kill us all! Soylent Green is PEOPLE!

But seriously.

Gluten is added to many foods you wouldn’t think would need it. And in truth, they don’t need it. Large food producing corporations started adding gluten to their products to boost the volume of it at a much cheaper cost. That’s why you can even have foods that are supposed to be made out of meat have an ingredient list that looks more like materials to build a local playground (including wood pulp and glass... but that too is for another article...)

“But what about all those commercials and smart-sounding people going on and on about the goodness of whole grains?” That answer can be a little complicated. Grains have been such an integral part of our modern society, for well over thousands of years. But that does not change millions of years of evolution. That’s like running your car on gasoline for 99,900 miles and filing the tank with Elmer’s glue for the last 100 miles. Take into account that grains are among the highest subsidized foods in this country, and who are the ones constantly telling you that whole grains are good for you, and how much industry is built around grains-- farmers, food manufacturers, breweries, fast food companies and chain restaurants-- that’s a lot of dough! (Ba-dum-chink!) I can guarantee, the foods that farmers are paid to grow by the government will get the highest government endorsement. Think I'm wrong? Keep in mind that cigarettes, which have been proven to be nothing more than Cancer Sticks, still get a government seal on their packaging, and they're in the top ten of any list of Highest Subsidized Products in the US. If you still don’t believe me, look at almost any incarnation of the Food Pyramid (or nowadays, the Dinner Plate). Grains always take up the most room on their charts... which is interesting, since they also take up the most room in the average bloated, oversized belly.

Gluten rant shall be continued soon...

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