The Myth of Gluten Free: It Doesn’t Reduce Your Risk of Diabetes
“Gluten-free” is the newest trend in foods these days. Store shelves everywhere are touting products with labels screaming “gluten-free.” It would seem to be a good thing for people who have learned that they are sensitive to gluten, and for people who, even without a proper diagnosis, believe they are gluten-intolerant or, believe that avoidance of gluten is good for their health.
What exactly does gluten-free mean? And does eating gluten-free breads, muffins, cakes, cookies, pizza, and other high carbohydrate foods relieve you of getting diet-related lifestyle conditions such as Type 2 diabetes?
Let’s go over the basics to answer these questions. First off, what is gluten exactly? It is a protein naturally found in wheat, rye, oats and barley. When these grains are processed and turned into flour, the gluten is normally kept because it gives elasticity to the dough, helping it to rise and to keep its shape.
The problem is, in people who show gluten sensitivity, the lining of the small intestine can suffer damage from an immune reaction due to this protein. This damage prevents absorption of nutrients through the intestinal wall. In addition, the gluten sensitivity may cause intestinal wall cells to not produce and release needed hormones in the required amounts for regulation of food intake. The cells may also not produce molecules that signal the pancreas to release enzymes necessary for digestion. On top of this, water and electrolytes may seep out of the damaged intestinal lining. All these can cause diarrhea, bloating, and other symptoms. Secondary problems such as anemia resulting from malabsorbtion of nutrients can also happen.
Obviously, the best treatment for gluten sensitivity is usually to completely avoid any grains and grain flour containing gluten. After starting this diet, usually within a few days, most people experience a remarkable decrease in symptoms and signs, though it may take months before the intestinal lining comes fully back to normal.
But Can You Live Gluten-Free?
The hardest part about going gluten-free is that our culture does not really support it very well. Grain-based food products, especially made from wheat, are ubiquitous in our culture. Even though there are now an increasing number of products that are made to be gluten-free, people often feel unable to partake in celebrations involving family and friends, deprived when they cannot eat a sandwich made with bread or rolls, and left out when they cannot share pizza, pie, cookies or cakes made of wheat flour.
In addition, you have to be very careful to read labels to identify hidden sources of gluten (since it can be in any product made with wheat flour). You have to be a real sleuth to detect how many products contain gluten that you never suspected. Knowledge of hidden sources of gluten is critical, as you need to be very strict on eating only gluten-free food. A small amount of gluten accidentally reintroduced into your gut can set off a flare-up of the sensitivity.
Reframing the Question: Do You Really Need Grains?
If you have been reading my blogs, you know that I have been researching Type 2 diabetes for over 20 years and I suggest that it is the overconsumption grains, not insulin resistance, that causes high blood sugar. In my view, most of America should be asking themselves not whether they are gluten-sensitive, but rather do they truly need to eat so many grain products given that the consequences include a very high risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
I suggest that humans do not truly need grains such as wheat—or certainly very little of them. Our human ancestors started walking on this earth about 50,000 years ago, while farming of grains started only about 10,000 years ago. This means that wheat and other grains containing gluten are not necessary for human survival and wellbeing.
In fact, even though the human body needs over one hundred different nutrients, no carbohydrate is considered essential. This negates the argument often made that grains are a major source of vitamins, minerals and fiber. The best example is the survival of Inuit people in the Arctic region for thousands of years without having access to grains.
If grains are not essential for humans, then why are people in most cultures almost addicted to eating rice, bread, pasta, flat bread, and other food items made with grain flour? One major reason is the availability and affordability of grain and grain products. More and more sophisticated farming, harvesting, transportation, and milling of grains have enabled a vast global increase in the production of grains.
As our diets have changed in response to the low cost of grains and grain flours for bread, cereals, pastas, and pastries, we learn from an early age to enjoy eating them. During a meal, grain and grain flour also absorb water and swell up inside your stomach, giving you a feeling of fullness. This often becomes the internal signal we use to terminate eating. For many people, in order to stop eating, they must feel that sense of fullness during a meal, so they consume a lot of grains or grain products—bread, rice, corn, and then a dessert made from grains and sugar for sweetness.
Gluten-Free or Diabetes Free, That is Your Real Choice
But as I have been teaching in this blog, eating grains is the most significant factor in causing high blood sugar. Grains produce copious amounts of glucose (sugar) molecules in digestion; these are transformed in your body into small fatty acids that begin filling your fat cells with triglyceride, ordinarily known as fat, (which is what causes abdominal obesity and weight gain) until there is no more room for them. When that happens, fatty acids circulate in the blood stream and your muscle cells begin burning the excess of fatty acids, leaving the glucose. And that, in a nutshell, is why and how you develop high blood sugar.
So, here is the real conclusion. Eating gluten-free may help you reduce or eliminate your gluten-sensitivity related symptoms and signs. But if you want to avoid Type 2 diabetes, I suggest you try reducing the amount of bread, pizza, pastries, and rice and corn products and you will lose weight, feel healthier, and eventually find that you do not need to eat grains or grain-flour products at all to be healthy.