Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Gluten Free-ked Out

As a wise Ed Bauman once said, "Boulder is completely gluten free-ked out."  He's right.  Almost every restaurant has a gluten free menu in this town, and the trend is spreading through the country. 

But despite the growing acceptance of a gluten free lifestyle, almost everyone who has stopped eating gluten has been chided or interrogated for their choice to pass on the bun and just eat the burger.  Or for the burrito-less burrito they order at Chipotle - the one without the delicious tortilla.  It's embarrassing sometimes to be gluten-free because people think you're just crazy - that you're making it all up.  "Why would you suddenly not be able to tolerate something you've eaten your whole life?  It's all in your head."

This post is dedicated to all of you who've been ridiculed for your choice, which sometimes isn't really a choice, to pass on wheat, barley, rye, kamut, conventional oats and spelt.  Listen up, all you wheat eaters - this is why your brother/girlfriend/co-worker is so gluten freaked out.

It's because this person probably was suffering from any of these symptoms before they took it out of their diet:

Depression and Anxiety
Migraines or other headaches
Weight Gain
Water Retention
Joint Pain 
Blood Sugar Imbalances
Thyroid problems
Multiple Sclerosis
Rheumatoid Arthritis
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (Crohn's, Ulceritive Colitis)

Sound bad enough to stop eating it?  Your brother/girlfriend/co-worker thought so.

You don't need to be diagnosed with celiac disease (a severe immune response to gluten) to need to take gluten out of your diet.  The widely ranging statistics say that anywhere from 30% to 80% of the American population may have some sensitivity to gluten - in other words, any negative immune response to it.  The number of people who have full blown celiac disease has increased by a whopping 400% in the last 50 years.  Why?  Because first of all, we are not evolved enough to tolerate gluten well.  We spent over 2 million years NOT eating gluten.  We only began eating it 10,000 years ago - a drop in the bucket of human evolution.  That's part of what the Paleolithic Diet is all about, but more on that later.  Beyond that, the highly refined, nutrient-stripped, sugar fortified gluten products we're eating now are much different (and much worse for us) than the whole grain products people consumed until the last century.  The abundance of crappy food in our diet interferes with our digestive and immune systems' abilities to deal with gluten, which is difficult for even the healthiest body to digest and assimilate.

Where Is Gluten Found?

I wish it were simple to identify where the protein, gluten, is found, but it's just not.  Like I said, gluten is in wheat (bulgar, graham, whole, etc.), spelt, rye, barley, kamut and oats (due to cross-contamination) - all of which are grains.  So it's found in breads, pastas (durum, semolina, whole wheat, orzo, couscous), cakes, cookies, all pastries, cereals, and pizza crust.  When it says "flour" in the ingredients and it doesn't specify what kind of flour - it's wheat.  But it doesn't stop there.

It's in soy sauce, beer, soups, sauces, some supplements, many types of alcohol, some flavorings, brewer's yeast, malt extract, icings, malt, malt vinegar, matzo, and the list goes on.  And on.  Some sensitive people can handle small amounts of gluten, but others might get hives, immediate diarrhea, or they might feel drunk.  Sometimes a child will start acting up after eating gluten - it's like a drug for sensitive people.

What Can You Do?
If you have any of the symptoms listed above chronically, I'd suggest taking gluten out of your diet for a few weeks to see if it's affecting you.  If you need help with that, make an appointment with me or any other nutrition professional.  You should know within a week to a month whether or not you feel different.  By the way, taking gluten out of your diet is different than just taking wheat out - some people just have problems with wheat, but they can eat other glutenous grains like spelt and rye.  You could try just taking wheat out if you want to start there.  If it doesn't help, though, take all gluten out. 

There are all kinds of gluten-free options for you in the form of recipes, blogs, bread, pizza crust, etc.  You can substitute gluten grains with rice, millet, quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, tapioca, potato flour, chickpea flour, almond flour, coconut flour, and others.  You can find a ton of gluten free products in health food stores, but these things are starting to crop up in regular grocery stores now, too.  Most people find that there are plenty of options - that it's not that hard to make the switch.

Gluten free bread.  Doesn't look so bad, huh?
Get really familiar with this list of gluten-containing foods and take gluten out of your diet completely for those first 3 weeks.  Then if you're still not sure whether or not it affects you, eat some.  Preferably try a piece of whole wheat bread and watch your body for the next 3 days.  Am I feeling fatigued?  Moody?  Achy joints?  Headaches?  Make note of anything that happens in those three days - the symptoms are not always immediate and they vary widely from person to person.

If you're STILL not sure if you're sensitive to gluten, or if you're the kind of person who needs some evidence to base big life changes on, there are blood and stool tests you can take.  One that I use is EnteroLab, but if you're interested in doing it, I strongly suggest you work with me or another nutrition practitioner to get the support you need.

Good luck!

Please post comments on your experience with this - symptomatic people who are on the fence about trying a gluten-free diet need your support!

For citations to support this post and more information on gluten sensitivity and celiac disease, look at this post by Dr. Mark Hyman or go to

One last thing.  My friend and a culinary instructor at Bauman College, Christine Ruch, is opening up a new, fantastic, take-out style, healthy restaurant in Boulder called Fresh Thymes Eatery.  Please help her out by taking this survey so she knows what Boulderites want in a new restaurant.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

But It's orGANic...

I just got around to the August 21st, 2009 podcast of NPR's "Science Friday", during which Michael Pollan and others were talking about sustainable foods.  Michael Pollan's thoughts were so compelling that at midnight after a 4-hour car ride, I found myself sitting in the car in my driveway to finish listening to him.  Here's an example of his unconventional wisdom:  "Right now we're moving toward a supermarket full of organic junk food which people buy under the mistaken impression that it's healthy."

I agree, Michael Pollan.  I hear, "But it's orGAnic," from people all the time.  It's as if because it says "organic" on it, the package could contain a deep-fried twinkie and people would still feel virtuous consuming it.  Even though an organic, packaged product might be made with some ingredients that come from a field that wasn't sprayed with toxic chemicals and a cow that wasn't fed toxic sludge, it might still have been stripped of all of its nutrients and heated in an inferno to kill off all things bad and good.
Let's be real here.  If you're going to spend the time and money on organic food in order to avoid the chemicals that are in conventional foods that could cause cancer, hormone imbalances and neurological disorders, don't you want to stay away from any food that might cause those awful things?  The processed, organic foods we're substituting for conventional junk foods may have too much added sugar, salt and refined (devoid of nutrients) flour.  They may contain loads of Omega 6 fatty acids from soybean or corn oil, or they might have ingredients in them that you are sensitive to.   That food in a box certainly has no fresh vegetables or fruit in it, either.  All of these things can cause cancer, hormone imbalances and neurological disorders, too...

Here's an example.

Organic Newman O's
Yesss!  Healthy Oreos!  Let's compare them to regular Oreos to make sure.   

Looking at the ingredients, there's not much difference between the two, except that Oreos contain high fructose corn syrup instead of the three sweeteners that Newman's Own uses, and nothing is organic in the Oreos.  Note that not everything is organic in the Newman O's, either...

They're really similar in terms of nutritional value, too (chart below).  Both have lots of sugar, refined flour, Omega 6 fats, little fiber and not much protein at all.  You can't exactly call it a well-rounded snack.  I can't even demonize Oreos about having trans fats in them - they don't anymore.  These two products are almost exactly the same, except that Newman O's have no pesticides or GMO's in them (not that I don't think that's important).

The point is, they'll both spike your blood sugar, create inflammation, and do little to actually satisfy hunger.  Not to mention that if you make a habit of eating foods like this all the time, you're likely to have bigger problems (see third paragraph) as you get older.

To top it all off, upon further investigation, I found out that Nabisco came out with an organic version of the original Oreo.  You know that if Nabisco can do it, it's not healthy.  I rest my case.

Please keep the suggestions for blog topics coming - it helps to know what you're interested in hearing about.  If you like this content, please subscribe - I'll be posting on at least a weekly basis.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Revival of the Foodist

The title of this blog, The Revival of the Foodist, sums up what I try to do every day.  As a nutrition therapist with Food As Medicine Holistic Health Counseling, part of my job is to re-awaken people's primal fascination with food - to try to make every one of my clients and friends and family members into foodists.

It's fun and rewarding doing this every day.  I get to hear about my clients making kale salad for the first time and actually liking it.  Or about my sister's discovery of her new favorite snack food, cashews and dates, which she was sure she would hate when I first told her about it.  My friends tell me about how they've started cooking again and the satisfaction it brings them.  They're all becoming foodists.  Discerning foodists.  Nothing makes me happier, which is why I know I'm in the right profession.

Now, after that sweet little introduction, I'll warn you that my tactics to woo your love for food won't be lacking in my very own (well-researched) opinions and some biting sarcasm.  I am a passionate person, and nothing unleashes zeal in me like the topic of nutrition.  Food and nutrition are the centerpieces of a debate between a whole lot of parties who each truly believe that they are right.  And a lot of them are right.

There are vegans who swear by veganism, who are sure that nobody should be eating anything that comes from an animal.  On the other hand, there are Paleolithic eaters who are sure that everyone should eat a LOT of foods that come from animals.  Our bodies and genetic propensities are all so different from each other that there is not one particular diet that works for everyone.

There are, however, certain parties in this great debate who we should pay a little bit more attention to than others because some are just plain crazy.  Throughout this blog, I'll tell you about the merits and shortcomings of all kinds of diets, supplements, and individual foods.  I will do my best to educate you with unbiased research to back it up.  But the main point is this: If you are a vegan and you're just eating organic fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds that are in their most unadulterated form, OR if you are a Paleolithic eater who just eats organic vegetables and fruit, grass-fed beef, free-roaming chickens, wild fish, eggs, seeds and nuts then you are BOTH probably in way better health than the person whose food mostly comes from boxes, cans and fast food restaurants.   

Being truly healthy and thriving is about eating fresh foods that have abundant nutrients,  vibrant color, and that exude vitality - not "fortified", highly processed grains that need to have synthetic vitamins put back into them.  Not lackluster fish that are injected with dyes to make it look appealing.  Not "food" that looks like, say, a chicken nugget, but is actually just an assemblage of corn products.  Not fake meats that are made up of one hundred ingredients that were so overly processed and packed together that they now look and taste (sort of) like meat. 

You get the picture.  It's simple.  In general, you will thrive if you drink pure water and eat humanely raised and properly fed meats, seafood and eggs, and organic vegetables, fruits, herbs, spices, and sea plants.  We'll talk about grains, legumes and dairy later.  For now, explore the outer perimeter of your grocery store to whet the appetite of your inner foodist.

Photo by Heisel Photo -