How I found out I have a gluten allergy was quite by accident. I never dreamed that I was allergic to anything, least of all bread or wheat. When I was little, my mother stayed home while my dad went off to work, and she cooked and she baked. Boy, how she baked: Vienna tortes, chocolate chip cookies, applesauce cake, chocolate eclairs, and, last but not least, homemade bread! I’ve grown up loving the smell of the yeast dissolving in water, the dough rising, and the warm comforting aroma of the bread just hot from the oven. Let’s face it, I was hooked. I LOVED bread, long before I had ever heard that there was such a thing as a gluten allergy.
Throughout my life, though, I’d had issues. Nothing too out of the ordinary—a little sluggishness, bouts of constipation—until I reached middle age, when my magic charm ran out and I gained a lot of weight. For my milestone birthday, I planned a big party to celebrate going “over the hill.” Six months before, I had started the “Atkins” diet to get rid of those extra pounds once and for all. I did so well on that diet (I did love bacon and cheese!), that I went from a size 14 to a size 6 in six months. You can find out more about the Atkins diet here.
Never did I exclude vegetables from my eating regimen—the only changes I made to were to eliminate breads, potatoes, and sugar from my life. The diet worked so great that I stuck to it more or less religiously for five years. I maintained a good weight and stayed around a size 7 or 8 during that time. At the end of five years, the Atkins diet worked so well, I thought I could go back and eat foods I had previously denied myself, like bread.
Looking back now, I realize that the symptoms of gluten allergy coincided with me going off the Atkins diet. I was no longer able to go hiking anywhere without easy access to a restroom because I would have urgent diarrhea. I had to stay close to home a lot because I needed the bathroom every half hour.
It was no fun to live like this! Finally, I made an appointment to get a colonoscopy because I feared the worst—colon cancer. The specialist assured me that I did not have cancer and that everything looked ok, except for what he called “micro-bleeds” of the intestine. He couldn’t tell me what caused these bleeds but assured me that I didn’t have cancer or polyps.He also said it wasn’t irritable bowel disease (IBS) or inflammatory bowel disease, either. He told me to come for a checkup in five years!
With all this tummy trouble, I lost a quick ten pounds from losing all that fluid and, soon after that, bounced back up an extra 15 pounds that I just couldn’t get rid of. The diarrhea eventually stabilized but the weight did not come off. I never got up to a size 14 again but did feel bloated and gassy all the time—my stomach at times would look like I was 6 months pregnant.
A Mysterious Ailment: How My Nephew Helped Me Discover I Had A Gluten Allergy
Meanwhile, I found out that my nephew had been consulting a number of doctors trying to get answers for a mysterious ailment that he had had since his mid-30s, or for about 10 years. He was always not feeling well and when I saw him during one visit back home, he looked really sick. I was really scared for my nephew. It was heartbreaking to think that something could happen to him.
One day my sister old me that a doctor had finally figured out what was wrong with my nephew. He had celiac disease! I really had no idea what that was—I thought it was the same as Crohn’s disease, which I knew was something bad. However, the only thing that he had to do to live a normal life again was to avoid anything with wheat in it. didn’t know a wheat allergy could make someone so sick but when he quit eating wheat, he came back to normal health and looked better than he had in years!
When I talked to my nephew about his experience with celiac, he explained to me that he was allergic to gluten, which is a protein found in wheat. He could never have it in his diet again, but he said it was pretty easy to avoid gluten foods and still eat well. When I asked him what symptoms had brought him to the doctor, it sounded a lot like my experience: he said that he had had uncontrollable diarrhea and bloating. In fact, he said once he avoided foods with gluten, he lost 20 pounds right away and the digestive troubles associated with gluten allergy and gluten intolerance just stopped.
Gluten is in a Lot of Foods! A Partial List
Thanks to that chance conversation with my nephew about his wheat gluten allergy symptoms, I decided to try to stop eating wheat, too. It hasn’t always been easy to know how to avoid foods with gluten, because wheat is not just in whole-wheat bread, it’s in nearly everything on your grocery shelves. (You can even find wheat in soy sauce, and I don’t just don’t get that at all!)
Here’s a partial list of foods with gluten in them:
- Most flours (white or wheat)
- Soy sauce (tamari is OK)
- Alcoholic drinks except for wine
- Hydrolyzed Plant Protein
- Grain vinegar (apple cider vinegar is OK)
- Grain alcohol
- Graham crackers
- Modified food starch
- Packaged puddings
- Flour tortillas
- Cream of wheat cereal
- Most cornbreads (mixed with regular flour)
NOTE: This is not a complete list.
How Do I Know if I Have Gluten Allergy?
If you are concerned that you may have gluten allergy, you can ask your doctor to order antibody (usually IgG and IgA) tests. Be aware though that unless you are actively consuming wheat or gluten, these tests can turn up negative.
In my opinion, your body will tell you whether or not you have gluten allergy, so I prefer to do my own challenge testing. Watch how your body responds when you stop eating certain foods for a week or so and then try and eat them again. You may notice that your tummy puffs up or you feel gassy and uncomfortable. Oftentimes, the effect will be immediate.
The reason for the puffiness or bloating is that gluten (if you are sensitive to it) erodes the lining of the intestine and can lead to “leaky gut,” where the impurities in the intestine leak out to the surrounding tissues and cause inflammation. Based on my reading, I think that much of what we call obesity is just inflammation of the tissues as a response to attack on the immune system by an offending substance in the intestines, like gluten.
Dr. Mark Hyman’s Warning About Gluten and Gluten Allergy
Here are some links if you want to learn more about gluten allergy and celiac disease.
Why is Bread So Bad? What I Didn’t Know About Modern Wheat
Though I’ve been interested in natural health and healthy eating for many years now, I’ve only recently read “Wheat Belly” by cardiologist, Dr. William Davis. Dr. Davis explains exactly how modern wheat is different from what most of us knew growing up. Although wheat is one of the grains that are affected by genetic modification (along with corn and soybeans), the changes in its basic structure started long before GMOs became news. Using specialized breeding, or hybridization, scientists began a widespread experiment in how to better feed the growing population of Planet Earth. In approximately 1985, a hybridized form of wheat, a “supergrain” was developed that could potentially solve world hunger. The hybridized form of wheat had a larger seed head and shorter stalks, making it faster to grow and easier to harvest; in addition, it packed a lot more carbohydrate into the edible portion so that in places like Africa and India, where harvests were meager, what little bit of grain farmers grew would yield more nutrition.
Sounds like the perfect solution, right? However, what happens when that carbohydrate-packed grain ends up in the diet of developed nations like the United States? With a sudden increase in the carbohydrate content of wheat, then it’s no wonder that obesity rates have skyrocketed in the last three decades, and younger and younger people are struggling with weight issues. Childhood obesity rates in the United States are at record highs.
Check out Dr. Davis’ book, Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health to read this fascinating story of modern wheat, and all the serious health problems that have developed because of our addiction to foods that contain wheat.
What Does This Have to Do with Gluten?
In addition to more carbohydrates in the edible portion of the wheat stalk, the gluten content has skyrocketed. Gluten makes baked products lighter, fluffier, and helps the dough stick together so it can be made into bagels, bread, and muffins that have the desired consistency and appearance that we are used to. Gluten does much more than that, however. As Dr. Davis mentions in his book, gluten is one of the only food substances that can make the intestine permeable, meaning it allows the contents to leak out, spilling into places they don’t belong like the abdomen and causing toxic reactions and immune responses, like cramping and bloating. As if that weren’t nasty enough, gluten gets carried along in the bloodstream and can pass through the blood-brain barrier into your brain, affecting mental clarity (“brain fog”), making you sleepy, irritable, and even depressed.
I won’t even attempt to address the question of whether our digestive tracts are meant to handle grains (i.e., grasses) at all. (That’s something for a future blog!) However, I believe we would do well to try and avoid wheat in all forms, stay away from genetically modified foods whenever possible, and to try to eat food that comes from local and known sources. There are a number of products you can find that will substitute for mainstream flour and wheat products and I’ve tried some of them.
I have listed some resources below if you suspect you have a gluten allergy or gluten intolerance. Take charge of your own health and do the research to avoid gluten allergy and other health issues stemming from overindulgence in carbohydrates, such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
Bob’s Red Mill GF Homemade Wonderful Bread Flour “Never Fails!”
Bob’s Red Mill has been making products for gluten-sensitive and people with celiac disease for over 30 years. I love buying these products, but the best and easiest by far is Bob’s Red Mill Bread Flour. I have baked bread twice now and got exactly the same result: perfectly browned, with a hard shell crust rising up out of the baking pan. And the taste is heavenly! I don’t even miss “real” bread any more!
The bottom line: it’s called “Wonderful” for a reason!