Around Thanksgiving of 2011, a neighbour lent me his “Wheat Belly” book. A lot of it made sense to me, so I decided to get off wheat completely from then on. What a difference it has made to my general health, in ways I would not have expected. For instance, my whole life I had certain food intolerances – I was lactose intolerant. I couldn’t eat bananas or fresh apples or pears (my lips and throat would become itchy). I couldn’t eat much corn without it causing me digestive stress. I blamed all this on the fact that solid food was introduced into my diet at 3 months, which is really early, but in England in the 50’s, it was a competition to see whose baby could eat sooner, speak sooner, be toilet-trained sooner, etc.
Anyway, the good news is that since giving up wheat, I can eat all these other foods with no problem, and my stuffed up nose and scratchy throat as well as my joint pains and skin rashes are a thing of the past as well!
All my symptoms were caused because my digestive system couldn’t handle the long gluten molecules in conventional, modern wheat. I was having a true immune response to wheat, which caused inflammation in my gut which led to other allergies and symptoms.
Why would I be having an immune response to wheat?
In the 60’s and 70’s, scientists genetically selected wheat plants which would produce more gliadin, resulting in longer chain glutens, as these are much more stable and produce the large, airy, spongy loaves of bread which we normally associate with commercial, supermarket bread.
The problem with gliadin is that, in certain individuals, it can actually cause damage to the intestinal lining, leading to malnutrition in severe cases. This is Celiac disease. The number of people with true Celiac disease has been increasing slowly over the last couple of generations. Considering that Celiac is a genetic disease, this means that more people are getting diagnosed earlier, which is a very good thing. If you don’t have Celiac disease, the gliadin doesn’t cause intestinal damage, but enough of it can produce an allergic response which worsens over time, attests Dr. William Davis in the “Wheat Belly” book.
Another aspect of wheat that the author gets into in “Wheat Belly” is that the gliadin in modern day gluten can act as an opiate in your brain, causing you to want to eat more and more bread and baked goods, etc. This may be why some people say they are “addicted” to bread. He goes on to talk about the link between increased wheat consumption and the increase in Type-2 Diabetes and Heart Disease so prevalent today, but he does caution, however, that simply replacing wheat with gluten-free alternatives such as tapioca or rice flour can exacerbate this trend because they can cause a very sharp spike in your blood glucose – worse than wheat!
I am not Celiac, but I cannot digest these long chain glutens. The lucky thing is that I can easily digest Spelt, an ancient grain which may have been a precursor of modern wheat and contains less gliadin proteins. The gluten in Spelt is very fragile because it is much shorter than wheat gluten. Some say that it’s harder to work and bake with because of this, but I find it much easier. You have to use a very light hand – no kneading or using an electric mixer or bread machine, but if you can get the trick of not overworking the dough, it behaves similarly to wheat and can be used in any recipe with great results. In some recipes, such as for pastry and cakes, it works better, because it’s so light.
There are also many different kinds of spelt pasta available on the market, and they are just delicious.
The answer to (just about everything) is moderation. Since giving up wheat, I have obviously given up all commercial baked goods, cakes, muffins, etc. However, I am a baker, and I love to experiment with how I can substitute spelt flour and honey for sugar in my favourite recipes. So while I am able to digest them more easily, it’s not such a good thing to just eat the same amounts, or (oh no!) more, for the sake of experimentation. Can blogging be making me fat? Stay tuned….