We’ve all heard cautionary tales about the dangers of sugar and the importance of watching our grain intake – particularly if we’re suffering from a gluten intolerance or celiac disease. But what does this really mean, and what options are open to us when sugar and grain seem to be everywhere?
Gut Health: What Affects It And How To Improve It
First, it is important to understand the role that the gut plays in our overall health. The trillions of bacteria that inhabit the gastrointestinal tract have received a tremendous amount of attention in recent years, and gut microbes are finally recognized for the significant role they play in keeping our immune systems healthy and maintaining overall wellness. And when the gut lining becomes permeable, the result – known as “a leaky gut” – can cause a serious immune response. Gluten is one of the main contributors of this condition.
Effect Of Gluten On Gut Health
People tend to think about gluten in black and white terms. Either one is allergic or one is not. But we now know that it’s possible to have gluten intolerance without having celiac disease, and that gluten intolerance is more a spectrum of conditions than just a single condition. There is no single prescription one can give across the board; some need to avoid gluten at all costs, while others would do well if they just monitor their intake. In any case, understanding the range of physical responses to gluten can help us regulate what we put into our bodies.
People didn’t have grains or beans until about twenty thousand years ago, and they didn’t begin to make bread until about eight thousand years ago. The historical precedence for digesting this type of food is much more recent than we realize. Furthermore, the wheat we eat today is different from the wheat the previous generations ate because it has been hybridized. The result is a grain that converts to sugar more rapidly, contains entirely new (gut-damaging) forms of the gluten protein, encourages addictive patterns, and stimulates appetite.
By reducing our intake of grains (hence, reducing our intake of gluten), we minimize bloating and cravings while protecting the integrity of the gut lining. This can also help with autoimmune diseases, weight loss, and skin health.
Does this mean that one must entirely eliminate grains from one’s diet? The answer – like most honest answers – is that it depends. Most healthy bodies can tolerate a small amount of grain, especially when prepared properly. However, it is essential to pay close attention to your body’s response. If you feel bloated and gassy after consuming grains, experiment with further reductions. If you decide to eat grains anyway, there are great ways to improve their digestibility. Traditional societies usually soak or ferment their grains before eating them – processes that neutralize phytates and enzyme inhibitors and, in effect, predigest grains so that all their nutrients are more available. Soaking, sprouting, or fermenting grains breaks down the detrimental phytic acid, which blocks protein and mineral absorption.
Effect Of Sugar On Gut Health
Just as gluten can wreak havoc on our gut lining, so can sugar which operates like a drug – addictive and devastating to our immune systems, tissue elasticity, teeth, and overall health. Understanding how much sugar impacts our health and destroys our good gut bacteria can help motivate you to make sugar an occasional treat.
As is the case with grains, there are certain things one should minimize and other things one should avoid completely when it comes to sugar. Experts in the field seem to be unanimous in cautioning us against artificial sweeteners. While the FDA claims that nonnutritive sweeteners do not cause cancer, a Purdue University study shows that artificial sweeteners interfere with the body’s natural ability to count calories based on a food item’s sweetness. Additionally, sucralose is said to be highly addictive and detrimental to gut bacteria, contributing to weight gain and appetite stimulation, often causing the exact opposite of its desired effect. A comprehensive research study has shown (almost unequivocally) that artificial sweeteners can, in fact, impact health via altering gut microbes. The study shows that consumption of non-caloric artificial sweetener by both mice and humans increases the risk of developing glucose intolerance and metabolic disease. Not wanting to “drink your calories” in understandable, but there are plenty of enjoyable beverages like kombucha and iced, organic tea that have health benefits without many (or any) calories.
So how does one deal with the abysmal reality of sugar? How do you satisfy your sweet tooth while limiting your sugar intake? As an alternative to high fructose corn syrup, which should be avoided at all costs, there are plenty of sweetening options. Raw honey and dates can serve as terrific sweeteners. Local honey has the added benefit of inoculating you against local pollen and can help with allergies. The microbes in the honey start residing in your gut and help modulate your immune system to adjust to the local environment. Honey is also an excellent source of prebiotics. Make sure you buy raw, unheated honey as it is less processed, contains vitamins and minerals, and feeds beneficial bacteria. Maple syrup can also satisfy the urge (remember that grade B is actually better than grade A) and a little organic – ideally raw – dark chocolate is good for satisfying a craving for sweets while providing nutritional benefits. Sometimes when we crave sugar, we are really just thirsty; so a cup of chamomile or mint tea can work wonders.
Every once in a while, it is important to indulge in the real deal. However, you will find that small tweaks to your daily diet can drastically improve your health. If you continually ask yourself how you can make something healthier, you will discover creative, delicious alternatives that not only strengthen your body but also make your diet more interesting.
Steps To Reduce Consumption Of Gluten And Sugar
- Reduce the quantity of gluten you consume to keep your gut healthy, preserving the overall health of your body.
- While avoiding gluten, don’t eat gluten-free, pseudo health products full of fillers and additives.
- If you continue to eat grains, avoid boxed cereals, which go through extrusion – a high-heat process that denatures proteins and damages fatty acids. Prepare organic oatmeal at home.
- If you continue to eat bread, opt for sourdough, which uses a cultured grain. Swap hamburger buns for lettuce-wrapped burgers.
- Reduce your sugar intake and cut out all artificial sweeteners, replacing them with raw honey, cinnamon, or modest amounts of real sugar.
- At all costs, avoid high fructose corn syrup and soda.
- Replace diet soda with kombucha or sparkling water with lemon.
- Unfortunately, grains like oats and brown rice don’t contain a lot of phytase, which is needed during the soaking process to reduce phytic acid. Beyond phytic acid, soaking still improves digestibility and neutralizes tannins and lectins. However, it isn’t going to reduce a lot of phytic acid, so don’t make oats your staple.
- As for rice, after soaking for 24 hours, keep roughly 10% of the soaking liquid and use it the next time you soak; keep it in the fridge in between. Rinse the rice, and prepare it as you usually would. The next time you soak brown rice, add the saved soaking liquid to the fresh water you use. After three cycles of this, 96% of the phytic acid gets removed. This method works for brown rice. You can also choose to eat white rice because a majority of phytic acid is in the bran. Perhaps there are fewer nutrients in white rice, but grains can be yummy fuel and you can focus on getting nutrients from fats and proteins.
- Eat lots of healthy fats to reduce sugar and carb cravings; remember, fat doesn’t make you fat!
- Try gluten-free flours like rice and coconut flours as they can take high heat better (e.g., baking bread) than nut flours, like almond flour, which have delicate fats that are damaged by high heat.
- Try homemade ice cream, which is a great sweet treat.
- Soak oatmeal overnight with 1 Tbsp of whey to help reduce the phytic acid content and make the oatmeal easier to digest. Add healthy fat like ghee, butter, or coconut oil as well as cinnamon and raw, whole milk to help regulate blood sugar and make oatmeal a yummy, satisfying breakfast.