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Should You Go Against the Grain?
Can you digest gluten comfortably? Could you easily digest bread and gluten when you were younger?
Though it makes sense to eat healthier, we have to be careful that we haven't turned toward eating easier-to-digest foods in the name of eating healthier, when it is really because we can no longer digest them as well as we once did. If we don't digest beef, wheat, dairy, soy or corn very well, we can't assume that we are digesting everything else perfectly.
I know there are issues regarding how these foods are processed that make them hard or even impossible to digest. I am not suggesting that they are good for us. What I am saying is that many of us have taken certain foods out of our diets that have been unnecessarily deemed bad and indigestible — gluten may be one of them.
Gluten — innocent till proven guilty?
Have you banned gluten from your diet? My ancient techniques below may help you eat it again.
In the name of good health, we are often told to stop eating wheat or gluten and to start taking digestive enzymes because, "as we age, we lose our digestive strength." While I am being forced to concede, albeit slightly to the aging process, I completely disagree that our digestive strength has to slow down just because of the number of years we have been on this planet.
In the last 20 years or so, gluten has been accused of causing allergies, chronic fatigue, insomnia, auto-immune conditions, attention deficit disorder, asthma, memory loss, focus issues, headaches, rashes, joint pain, digestive issues, malaise, anxiety, depression, cravings and exhaustion — to name a few. In America, we are innocent until proven guilty, and I think gluten has been convicted without a fair trial.
Giving gluten a life sentence with only symptomatic evidence just isn't right! Let's dig in here and find out the truth about gluten.
Undigested gluten is the problem — not gluten itself
Gluten is a protein that has been eaten for 10,000 years all around the world and still is to this day. It is most commonly found in wheat but also found in many other grains.
There are good studies that have shown that the undigested protein molecule of gluten can cause Leaky Gut Syndrome. This is a syndrome where the villi of the small intestine become damaged and begin to separate, which causes the spaces in the semi-permeable membrane of the small intestines to break down.
Undigested proteins, pathogens and fat soluble toxins can sneak into the blood and lymph before they are neutralized by the digestive system. When the villi get beaten up by undigested gluten, you can begin to see why a host of symptoms arise and why gluten has been given a life sentence.
Weak digestive fire can't cook gluten
I completely disagree that our digestive strength has to slow down just because of the number of years we have been on this planet.
Gluten is a very hard-to-digest protein that requires a specifically strong acid in the stomach to process it. Without optimal digestive fire, gluten will not be broken down in the stomach. If gluten passes through the stomach undigested, it will — if eaten in excess — cause irritation to the intestinal villi.
Though it is common for the strength of the stomach acids and the overall digestive strength to weaken over time, it is not due to the aging process. This is a very reversible condition at any age. If we don't reset the digestive strength, a host of symptoms such as toxicity, food allergies, gluten intolerance and deficiencies will ensue.
As it turns out, gluten is not particularly bad. It is simply a harder protein to break down that can wreak havoc on the gut wall if our digestion has become too weak to digest it. We are told, "Stop eating wheat and all your problems go away."
Well some of them do disappear — for a while — until the problems start to return again. Then we take other hard-to-digest foods off the diet like dairy, corn, nuts, soy, fish and so on, until eating becomes a very challenging venture.
Secrets to enjoying gluten again
Bread doesn't have to be your enemy when your digestion is strong.
First, we must diagnose why the stomach acids have been turned off in the first place and why we can no longer digest richer or heavier foods. The main causes are dehydration, lymph congestion, thick bile, congested liver, inflamed intestinal villi and stress.
Start your engines
Usually the stomach acids have been turned off for a reason, and we must identify that first. Often, with good habits, the body balances itself, and all that is needed is to turn the digestive fire back on.
For this, I use a technique called The Trikatu Protocol. This is where you increase the amount of Trikatu capsules you take with each meal until you begin to feel a sense of warmth and digestive heat before, during, after or in between meals. Once you feel this, the stomach acids are working. Then you wean off the Trikatu while maintaining the digestive warmth around each meal, which indicates that the fire is still working even with smaller and smaller doses of the Trikatu. If you feel any burning or acid feelings, then this means the stomach is not able to handle the fire for another reason.
Gluten isn't meant to be eaten every day of the year
Don't pig out on gluten-rich foods. Eat reasonable amounts in the winter.
The other secret about gluten and wheat is that they were never meant to be eaten three times a day, every day of the year. This overwhelming amount of gluten, along with increasing stress, will bog down the digestive process and begin to let the gluten through the stomach without being properly broken down.
Wheat and most other glutinous grains are harvested in the fall and thus eaten in the winter. This heavy, warm, wet protein rich grain is the perfect antidote for the coldness and dryness of winter. Interestingly, according to Ayurveda, our digestive strength and fire is strongest in the winter. We can digest the hard-to-digest foods in the season they are harvested. In the spring, which is a damp, heavy, wet time of year, this grain is not available if you are eating based on natural harvesting cycles.
A gluten-free spring and summer
Bread is traditionally eaten during the winter because it is harvested in the fall and our digestion is stronger in the winter.
After a long winter of eating heavy, insulating foods rich in proteins and fat, nature changes the harvest and gives us a fat-free and gluten-free harvest each spring. It takes about six to eight weeks without gluten to heal and repair the villi, and nature has designed this digestive rest to happen each spring:
- Leafy greens fertilize the villi with new healthy bacteria.
- Bitter roots that are harvested each spring, like dandelion and turmeric, cleanse the villi of excessive mucus.
- The berries and cherries of late spring de-stagnate the Gut Associated Lymphatic Tissue that resides just on the outer wall in the intestinal tract.
Ancient techniques to help digest gluten
I am always amazed at how traditional cultures developed successful techniques to help them enjoy the tastes and benefits of wheat and gluten. Sourdough bread is one of them. The culture of the sourdough goes through a fermentation process that breaks down the gluten protein and renders it much easier to digest. So look for a good quality sourdough bread and toast it for added digestibility.
One other technique to help the stomach win the battle of breaking down the gluten protein is to soak your grains overnight. This softens the grain and activates enzymes within the grain that begin to break down and release this protein. Here are some ideas:
- Soak oats (or other cereal grains) overnight before cooking them for breakfast.
- Soak grains like barley and bulgar before turning them into a delicious soup, casserole or stew.
Conclusion: Eat smart
If you abuse gluten, over eat it and let your digestive fires weaken, it will have its way with you. With strong digestion, which we can rekindle, and respect of natural harvest cycles, most of us can enjoy the taste and benefits of wheat for many more years to come.
Article reprinted with permission from Dr. John Douillard Copyright ©2010 LifeSpa Products, LLC. All rights reserved.
Dr. John Douillard has been teaching natural medicine and Ayurveda for 22 years and has written and produced 18 health and fitness books, CDs and DVDs. Dr. Douillard publishes a nationally known bi-monthly video-newsletter on current health issues and cutting-edge nutritional research that you can sign up for at LifeSpa.com. He just released his latest book, The Yoga Body Diet, this April and is the author of The 3-Season Diet; Body, Mind, and Sport; Perfect Health for Kids and The Encyclopedia of Ayurvedic Massage. He also created the LifeSpa Ayurvedic skincare and herbal line and currently directs LifeSpa, an Ayurvedic Retreat Center, where he offers consultations (in person or over the phone) and personalized panchakarma detox retreats. He lives with his wife and six children in Boulder, Colo.