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Seven Things You Should Know About Going Gluten-Free. And Why Going Gluten-free Really Should Be Going Paleo.

Are you are new to gluten-free? Or have you been gluten-free for a while but still aren’t feeling 100%? Here are 7 things you need to know about going gluten-free, that you might not have considered yet.

1) You don’t have to be diagnosed with Celiac Disease (CD) to have  a problem with gluten. While CD accounts for less than 1% of the world’s population, Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS or GS) may account for 8 – 15% of the world’s population (or even much higher), and experts in the field take it just as seriously as CD [1], [2], [3], [4], [5]. Celiac Disease is just the “tip of the iceberg” of gluten-related disorders.

Also, the effects of gluten are not always felt in the digestive tract. Arthritis, skin diseases and neurological disorders are just some of the extra-intestinal complaints that have shown links to gluten.

So if you’re feeling bad and you think its gluten, don’t worry about whether or not your doctor can produce a positive diagnosis of Celiac Disease. You can (and should) wait to start your gluten-free diet until after any biopsies and blood tests are taken. But if you’ve had all your tests, and still think its gluten, you have nothing to lose by eliminating it from your diet. You can also take this  self-diagnostic test to see if any of the symptoms sound familiar to you.

2) 7492% of people on the traditional gluten-free diet never heal! [6], [7] I find this statistic staggering and wonder why more people in the GF community aren’t talking about it. Why don’t we heal on the traditional GF diet? This could be because about a third of all inherently gluten-free grains are actually contaminated with gluten. It could also be because we may need to expand the definition of just what is gluten. Or maybe just consider that any part of the wheat (or other grain) plant is dangerous, not just the gluten portion. So its best to skip any uncertainties and go on a grain-free diet (at least until you heal), which research shows does heal people with gluten sensitivity [8]*.

3) You cannot trust gluten-free labeled food products or gluten-free menu items at restaurants to be 100% safe. Because our “gluten-free” grains are contaminated, and because we can’t be certain that less than 20 ppm of gluten is even safe, its best to eliminate processed foods altogether. At least for the first month. Plus, look at all the  other suspect ingredients in your packaged foods. Can we really trust that they are “good” for us, after all our bodies have been through?

For the same reasons, I believe you should not to eat out at restaurants until you’ve given your body a good month of healing time. Your experience at a restaurant with gluten-free options depends on the knowledge and experience of the waiter, the chef, the food prep handler, and the manager. That’s a long chain of people to put your trust into. While it is possible to eat out safely if you find the right establishment, it’s better not to have any mishaps in the first stages of your healing process. Anyway, there is too much temptation to “cheat” if you are eating out. Not to mention the pain you might feel when your friends are eating scrumptious gluten-containing foods right in front of your face! I also suggest that you avoid eating at friends’ and family members’ houses, unless they absolutely, positively can cook safely and within our safe food guidelines.

4) 75% of adults have a decreased ability to digest lactose, and 50% of people who have celiac disease also have reactions to cow’s milk proteins [9]. This may be because gluten proteins may actually find their way into cow’s milk, since it does happen in human mother’s milk [10]. Also people may cross-react to dairy, which is when proteins resembling gluten confuses your body into thinking it is actually gluten. So if you truly want to begin your healing process, you should also eliminate dairy. At least for the first 30 days.

5) Gluten causes “leaky gut,” also known as intestinal permeability. This, in turn leads to a variety of very serious health concerns. And a side effect of intestinal permeability is an increased sensitivity to many more foods besides just gluten. Until you know just what foods you are reacting to, its best to avoid the top food allergens, to help speed up your healing process.  Genetically modified corn and soy also cause leaky gut. And most corn (a grain) and soy in the US are genetically modified. We believe its best to stick to organic (which means non-GMO).

6) Plus, soy has its own set of problems. So we believe you should eliminate soy from your diet, and while we’re add it, eliminate all legumes, as well. Many of them can cause discomfort from gas and bloating, which you don’t need right now. And some actually contain toxic lectins and phytates (unless prepared properly) that are harmful to an already compromised gut.

7) Wheat contains opioides, making you physically addicted to gluten. Yes, opioides, as in the same type of peptides found in morphine, cocaine and heroin [11]! Its already hard enough that you have nostalgic and emotional attachments to your favorite gluten-containing foods. In addition, sugar, grains and empty carbs also keep you in an addictive blood sugar rise-and-fall cycle that makes it hard for you to not to give in to crazy cravings.

So you need to break your multi-faceted addiction to gluten and the best way to do that is to eliminate sugars and excess carbs from your diet. A side benefit is that you may actually lose weight (and in some cases, if you’ve been under-nourished, you may gain your weight back)!

So is there anything left to eat after you’ve gone gluten-free, grain-free, dairy-free, allergen-free, GMO-free, soy-free, legume-free, low-carb, sugar-free, and non-processed?

You betcha! I know it seems like a lot to take in, especially if you’re new to gluten-free altogether. But for these reasons, we believe the only way to truly heal after gluten has caused you disease, is to go on a Paleo diet. And these days there are tons of talented paleo chefs, along with recipes and cookbooks, that can help you get started. You can also check out our meal plans, our 30 Day Program (30 Days to a Whole New Gluten-Free You), and our community forum for help. 

* This study [3] shows that a diet free of cereal grains that may be cross-contaminated helped celiac patients to heal. The diet did allow rice. And 18% of the patients still did not heal. Whether or not that is because of the rice, there is no way to know. But there have been other studies that show that glutenin antibodies can cross-react to rice [6], so I advocate for eliminating all grains until healing begins. 

 


[1] Sapone, A.; Bai, J.C.; Ciacci, C.; Dolinsek, J.; Green, P.H.; Hadjivassiliou, M.; Kaukinen, K.; Rostami, K.; Sanders, D.S.; Schumann, M.; et al. Spectrum of gluten-related disorders: Consensus on new nomenclature and classification. BMC Medicine. 2012, 10, 13.

[2] Giacomo Caio, Umberto Volta, Francesco Tovoli and Roberto De Giorgio. Effect of gluten free diet on immune response to gliadin in patients with non-celiac gluten sensitivity. BMC Gastroenterology. 2014, 14:26.

[3]Hadjivassiliou M1, Grünewald RA, Kandler RH, Chattopadhyay AK, Jarratt JA, Sanders DS, Sharrack B, Wharton SB, Davies-Jones GA. Neuropathy associated with gluten sensitivity. Journal of Neurology and Neurosurgical Psychiatry. 2006 Nov;77(11):1262-6.

[4] Louisville Celiac Sprue Support Group, June 2003. Early Diagnosis Of Gluten Sensitivity: Before the Villi are Gone. https://www.enterolab.com/StaticPages/EarlyDiagnosis.aspx

[5] Dr. Vikki Petersen, personal communication.

[6] Intestinal Damage from Celiac Disease Persists in Adults, Even with Gluten-free Diet. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. September 2011. http://celiac.nih.gov/TissueDamage.aspx

[7] A Lanzini, F Lanzarotto, V Villanacci, A Mora, S Bertolazzi, D Turini, G Carella, A Malagoli, G Ferrante, B Cesana, C Ricci. Complete recovery of intestinal mucosa occurs very rarely in adult coeliac patients despite adherence to gluten-free diet. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2009 Jun 15;29(12):1299-308.

[8] Hollon J, Cureton P, Martin M, Puppa E and Fasano, A. Trace gluten contamination may play a role in mucosal and clinical recovery in a subgroup of diet-adherent non-responsive celiac disease patients. BMC Gastroenterology 2013, 13:40

[9] G Kristjansson, P Venge, R Hallgren. Mucosal reactivity to cow’s milk protein in coeliac disease. Clinical and Experimental Immunology. March 2007. 147 (3).

[10] E Hopman, L Dekking, D, F Beelen, N Smoltsak, S de Vries, L Dogger, L Mearin and F Koning. Presence of gluten proteins in breast milk: implications for the development of celiac disease. Chapter 2. Gluten intake and gluten-free diet in the Netherlands. Department Pediatry, Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC), Leiden University, Leiden.

[11] J Braly and R Hoggan. Dangerous Grains. Why Gluten Cereal Grains May Be Hazardous to Your Health. 2002. Avery. New York. 244 pp.

Heather Jacobsen

Author, diet & nutrition researcher, photographer. Founder of Stuffed Pepper. Using my MSc to unravel the health & science behind grains, gluten & the gluten-free/paleo lifestyle. Loves finding order in chaos.
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2 comments
  1. Jinni Bradfield

    Thank you for this powerful article! My daughter is severely gluten sensitive and I am attempting to keep our kitchen gluten-free. You brought up some points that I would have never considered. I really appreciate the warnings and the guidelines.

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