Is Going “Gluten Free” Enough (Part 2)

Posted on December 4, 2011


A quick update before we decide today if being gluten-free is ‘enough’! Since last post – I moved! I didn’t kill Drew or anyone else, although they likely wanted to end me at a few points along the way – but I’d say it was a reasonable success! We now live about 20 mins drive from our gym & very close to amazing running paths (perfect timing since it’s now time to turn these legs back into ‘running legs’!)

Ok, so let’s figure this out – is there ‘enough’ benefit from just going gluten-free? Last post, we determined that the food journal I’d kept was showcasing insulin-spiking foods, a lower amount of protein & very little fat. Here’s the food journal again to refresh your memory:
Bfast: Oats (steel cut) with berries and honey
Snack: Apple with almond butter, nuts (probably almonds or cashews)
Lunch: Caprese salad, asparagus
Snack: Gluten free crackers

To recap why I could have been doing much better than that: insulin-spiking foods make you perpetually hungry, they certainly don’t help you to lose weight, and they increase inflammation in your body. Eat enough insulin-spiking foods for long enough, and you break your signaling system (hello, type-II diabetes & metabolic syndrome).

Reason #2 that my food journal looked less-than-optimal: It contained foods with pro-inflammatory compounds in them.

I just wasn’t tuned in to this a few years ago. I’d stumbled across an anti-inflammatory diet once or twice, but never really looked at it or understood what the purpose of it was. So let me save you the time and mistakes that I went through, & let’s get you applying this information to your life right away.

We’re all united by “fight or flight”. Except plants. They just fight.

Every thing on this earth is fighting for survival so that it can reproduce and its genes can carry on for generations to come. For instance: if you come across a tiger, it will either run away or kill you. It’s instinctual to that tiger that it must protect its’ survival somehow – either by fleeing or by fighting. Plants are no different. Except that plants can’t flee. So what does a plant do to ensure that you or some other animal doesn’t eat it into extinction? It fights.

To fight for survival, it creates chemical compounds that, inside you, act like the drunk jerk-off at your party. They break the lamp, they instigate bad behavior from other guests, & they leave their mark after the party’s over.

If you’re eating gluten free, you already know about how gluten is one of the biggest jerk-off’s there is – every person on the planet reacts to gluten, those who react more significantly are the ones who test positively for gluten intolerance or Celiacs’. But be clear!…gluten does not break down in anyone’s body well. It unlocks the tight junctures of your stomach lining, allowing for tiny food particles to slip through into your bloodstream. These food particles go places they shouldn’t – like your joints, your ovaries, your pancreas, etc. Your immune system goes after them because, well, they’re not supposed to be there. And there you have rheumatoid arthritis, PCOS/infertility, cancer, and so on.

I can’t stress it enough. You do not function your best with gluten in your life. Period. 

Now, looking beyond gluten – there’s another jerk-off who broke your lamp at your party.

Who Invited The Jerk-Off?

Grains contain chemical compounds aptly called “antinutrients” because they are just that – anti-nutritional/opposite of nutritional. These chemical defenses include gluten, but also include lectins & phytic acid, which disrupt your digestion, cause inflammation, and prevent you from absorbing vital nutrients and minerals.

Mark Sisson clarifies: Lectins’ stickiness allows them to bind with the lining, particularly the villi, of the small intestine. The result? Intestinal damage(with impaired cellular repair potential), cellular death as well as compromised intestinal villi, which means reduced absorption of other nutrients, including minerals and protein.

Add to this altered gut flora, which can allow certain harmful bacterial strains like E. coli to run rampant. Furthermore, because the body is now responding full-time to the needs of the injured gut lining, proteins and other resources are redirected from other basic growth and repair processes. In addition, lectins have been associated with leptin resistance, a pre-diabetic condition linked to obesity.

If  we lost you in there, know this…lectins eff things up in your gut. Why would you invite that jerk-off into your gut? Your immune system is mostly housed in your gut, which lectins are messing with. Lectins, like gluten, open up your gut a la ‘leaky gut syndrome’ – setting the stage for autoimmune mayhem<–es no bueno. Antinutrients take up your body’s attention so that it can’t do growth & repair – growth & repair applies to how you recover from workouts, but even more so, it applies to aging. You look & feel old when your cells are no longer regenerating at the rate they were in your very young youth.

Maybe you’ll never develop these serious conditions…but sadly, at the rate of development in the US (like obesity) it’s likely you’ll end up in the sick & fat camp if you don’t do something about it now. But let’s just say you don’t get really fat or really sick. How can lectins bug you? Maybe, like gluten, you’re less sensitive to lectins than others – the cold you hang on to for 3 months…the excessive soreness in your body…the head fog you can’t shake some days…the menstrual issues that are painfully irritating…the ADD-like attitude of you or your child…maybe that’s all that will happen to you. But what if eliminating or significantly reducing your antinutrient intake allowed you to experience none of those things?

And if none of that gets you, maybe there’s vanity in you that doesn’t want to look like an old fart even though you are one! People who live a healthy lifestyle look younger. Period. No cream or potion is better than the effects of a good diet on your skin. 

But here we go gang, we’re bringing it home, here’s my plea to you:

How awesome do you want your health, wellness & performance to be? Do you want your life to be ‘fine’ or ‘optimal’? Do you want to be pro-active in fending off disease potential? How fit & healthy do you want your later years to be?

If you want to be as awesome in your health as possible, if you want to rise above ‘fine’ to be ‘optimal’, if you want to fight like hell to have a body that disease simply can’t live in, if you want to be 90 and rockin’ out to the Foo Fighters while driving your car around town, then you need to keep striving to make your exercise & nutrition more healthy.

As you learn new things about achieving optimal wellness, you need to apply them, so that you continually step up to greater heights of optimal health. And if that means taking another look at exactly what those ‘heart healthy whole grains’ are (not) doing for you, you should do it. What have you got to lose? And if you absolutely hate what going grain-free does for you, you can always go back to them.

If Not Grains, Then What?

If you’re a sedentary to slightly active person, you’re capable of sustaining your energy almost entirely from protein, fat & vegetables. General carb needs are less than 70g of carbs/day.

If you’re a into mid-length endurance activities, you’ll also do fine mostly running on protein, fat & veggies – but you’ll also have the room and the need for some starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes, and a bit of fruit. General carb needs are 100-150g of carbs/day.

If you’re a marathoner or Ironman-type triathlete, you’ll absolutely need starchy vegetables as a big source of carb energy to fuel training and recover from the calorie depletion. There are athletes doing these distances entirely grain-free– if you still insist of some kind of grain, consider significantly limiting the amount of grains you eat in favor of a greater consumption of sweet potatoes and other starchy vegetables. General carb needs are 150-200g of carbs/day.

For ideas on how to create meals that do not include grains, search through the archives of my Paleo category, as I have 30 days of meals listed there as part of the 30-day challenge I did in May of this year (while training for & PRing a 10mile race totally grain-free). There may be days that are uncomfortable as you transition from insulin-dependent grains to protein, fat & vegetables but keep in mind. As you’re taking out the grains, you’ll need to add in more of the other stuff. Getting more protein, fat & vitamins from veggies & fruits is a good thing!!

I’d love to hear what hurdles you overcome as you figure out how to eat grain-free! Please share your experience so the rest of us can possibly get some new ideas on great meals for living grain-free!