Grain-Free, Gluten-Free: A Naturopath’s Life-Changing Diet Journey
My first foray into discovering how food affects health came while I was working with a professional trainer who focused on physical fitness and nutrition. I was entering fitness and bodybuilding contests and had enlisted a trainer to help me become more competitive.
The first thing he told me was to do away with wheat and gluten, which was an unconventional idea at that time. The result? I not only lost body fat, but also overcame a few nagging health issues almost immediately. Needless to say, gluten had not been my best friend, nor was it on my radar anymore.
When I rid myself of gluten, my body got super lean. I was stronger than ever and, even better, my longtime battle with endometriosis vanished. My mother had taken me to the doctor several times for this chronic condition that causes painful periods, and all they could offer was birth control pills and high doses of Motrin to relieve the pain. For me the answer turned out to be as easy as cutting gluten from my diet. That was my first aha moment about how food could affect my body in a profound way.
Going Sideways to Avoid Gluten-Free Food
But like many others I took the gluten-free thing too far, which is a SUPER COMMON PROBLEM! If you are a medical professional, you may know that there is real harm in telling patients to simply go gluten-free. The message is tangled in confusion.
When I went gluten-free, I ate fruit, veggies and lean meats, and yes, I also ate everything gluten-free I could get my hands on. As long as the package said gluten-free, in my book it was fair game.
Bad move. What I was getting instead was potato starch, cornstarch and any other starch that makes food taste good without evil gluten. The problem is, all of those starches are equally bad for you, or a pretty close second. Going gluten-free saved me from nothing. I still had intestinal issues, inflammation, and fatigue, and my skin started looking bad, even though I was living a gluten-free life. I eventually crashed and burned.
The answer? Don’t just go gluten-free – give grains the heave ho, too!
What I learned when I removed grains from my diet was this: Gluten-free was a great first step for me – if I had done it without all of the gluten alternatives. But what really worked for me was to not only go gluten-free, but grain-free too. That’s when I experienced true health benefits.
The Case Against (Some) Grains
If you’re trying to decide whether to go wheat- and gluten-free, that’s great! But when I say “great,” I only mean great if you truly know what you are doing. Plenty of issues can arise when you kick wheat and glutens to the curb, believe me.
First and foremost, the second you start shopping at your local market, you’ll see dozens of replacement foods out there … gluten-free muffins, brownies, cake mixes, etc., as well as lots of replacement flours for wheat flour. The thing is, many of these substitutes can be just as damaging to your gut and immune system as wheat and gluten, especially if you add them to your diet on a regular basis.
So many who go gluten-free end up filling up on foods that have other “ugh” ingredients — like corn — to which many have sensitivities. Those on the substitute bandwagon also find they’re adding a lot of starches to their diet because ingredients like, say, potato starch, are often replacements for wheat flour.
Consider the following grains: Barley, corn, durum, kamut, millet, oats, rice, rye, sorghum, spelt, tuff, triticale, wheat (all varieties), wild rice and whole grains. Gluten is found in barley, rye, wheat and any foods derived from these ingredients. And then there are the pseudo grains, like amaranth, buckwheat, chia and quinoa.
Since so much of the health of your immune system stems from the gut, having a weakened gut leaves you wide open to just about every modern-day disease out there.
How Grains Can Damage Your Gut
What is it about grains that can cause damage? Our bodies are not adapted to eating grains, particularly in large quantities. We have only been eating grains since the advent of agriculture, some 10,000 years ago, and while that may seem like a long time, from an evolutionary standpoint, it’s really just a hiccup in time. It takes a seriously long time to affect our genes, tens of thousands of years.
I say, send gluten packing, but don’t do “modern-day gluten-free” by stocking up on starches instead. I tell my patients who are interested in trying out this lifestyle to replace grains with other options like nut flowers or arrowroot when baking.
Plus, you can make many great gluten-free dishes in a snap using zucchini (zucchini “noodles” make a mean lasagna), squash (spaghetti squash makes a fantastic gluten-free “pasta”), eggplant (makes a great shell for casseroles), sweet potatoes (incredibly versatile and will fuel you better than any almost any other starch), pumpkin (pumpkin pancakes are tasty winners) and cauliflower (makes great mashed “potatoes” and meatballs).
My advice: Keep your gluten-free diet as real as possible. Fill it with unprocessed real foods and shy away from packaged gluten-free foods, which are pricier and definitely will not get you on the health track. You won’t miss a thing. Promise!
Kellyann Petrucci, ND, is a lifestyle expert, nutritionist, and the author of five healthy-lifestyle books and two food planson her drkellyann.com website, the 30-Day Reset and My Paleo programs. Dr. Kellyann appears regularly on local and national TV shows, on ABC, NBC, FOX, and Daytime, and has been a guest on The Dr. Oz Show. She conducts workshops and seminars worldwide to help people feel — and look — their best. She enjoys a busy family life that includes two young sons. She lives in the Philadelphia area.
By Kellyann Petrucci, ND, Special to Everyday Health