Warning: I really, really try not to be “preachy” when it comes to this Paleo stuff. I want all my friends, family & readers to take things away from this blog that they can cook & share with their families, knowing that they have made a nutritious choice. I do not want people to feel attacked or belittled if they choose not to follow a Paleo/Primal/Grain-Free/Whole Foods lifestyle. That being said, it is very hard for me to talk about Gluten and not get a little passionate about it, so please try to understand where I am coming from. —Thanks, Laci
Probably the most important aspect of a Paleo or Primal lifestyle is the absence of grains, especially gluten.
This is the part of the diet that made the most immediate difference for me and after less than two weeks of following this “rule,” I felt so much better that I knew I would never go back to eating grains on a regular basis again. This is also the part of the diet that scares the heebeejeebee’s out of people. (And yes, I think that is a made up word, but I like it.) When I answer questions about my diet, I can literally see the fear in people’s eyes when they think about never eating bread, cereal, pasta or cupcakes again.
I completely understand this fear. Our Standard American Diet (SAD) is built literally on a foundation of grains. Remember our food pyramid growing up? The base was made up of 9-11 servings of grains per day. I am not as familiar with the My Plate that is the current government recommendation but grains hold their important place. When we were younger, the white stuff was good enough. But as we have grown up, emphasis has been placed on using whole grains as a “healthier” choice than white. I know that my daughter’s school lunch menu proudly describes all the whole grain products they use. A trip through the aisles of the grocery store will assult you with the labels 100% Whole Grain & Heart Healthy Whole Grains.
I spent a good 2 or 3 years experimenting with different Whole Grains while following the Clean Eating diet and lifestyle advised by Tosca Reno. (No offense to Tosca, she is still one of my favorite cookbook authors.) I bought and learned how to cook with brown rice, quinoa, barley, buckwheat groats, rice flour, sorghum flour, teff, millet, steel-cut oats & whole grain flour. I got pretty good at it, too. I was doing it out of a desire to make nutritious foods full of fiber, vitamins and minerals for my family. If we were going to have muffins, they were whole grain. Stirfrys and stews full of meats and veggies and a big dose of whole grains to balance them out. (I also want to point out that during this time I experimented with vegan/vegetarian dishes from time to time and quickly realized that I was also allergic to tofu (soy), but I can promise you the hubby wasn’t too sad about that discovery! Sorry tofu fans, it is just NOT my thing!)
I guess my point is, I have been there, done that. I also live in the “real world” where not everyone eats Paleo. It has only been 1 1/2 years for me, so I very well remember an average day on the SAD.
- Bowl of cereal OR bagel OR bacon, egg & toast (1-2 servings of grains)
- Cheeseburger on a bun OR Pasta OR Sandwich (2 servings of grains)
- Breaded or battered meat, veggies & dinner roll (2-3 servings of grains)
- Piece of cake, cookies or brownies (1 serving of grains)
- Granola bar OR pretzels OR crackers (1-2 servings of grains)
I can totally understand the fear of giving up this diet staple. I venture to say that it probably makes up more than 50% of some people’s diets.
My Story with Gluten:
I came across the idea of a gluten free diet because I was having a lot of problems with my skin. I was still having breakouts and had an odd rash on my arms near my elbows. I went to the dermatologist and a few prescriptions & expensive creams later, I wasn’t any better. It was probably worse. I decided to experiment with the gluten free thing and I did so for the months of November & December of 2010. Both times my skin cleared up and then on the respective holidays of those months, Thanksgiving & Christmas, I ate gluten and immediately broke out into a rash again. So, it was not a tough decision to go Gluten-Free on January 1st, 2011.
After a couple of months being completely Gluten-free, I experienced a 75-80% improvement in my skin issues. I was extremely happy. I knew that gluten was a thing of the past for me. I was still doing a lot of research through books and the Internet about gluten-free living , and I kept stumbling across the idea of a Grain-free or Paleo lifestyle. It seemed especially discussed among people that had skin issues (acne, dermatitis, psoriasis, eczema) and were following a lifestyle approach to treat them. On March 1, I decided to expand from Gluten-Free to Grain-Free/Paleo. Within days I knew I was never turning back. My skin continued to improve and I just felt “better.” The hubby wasn’t complaining with all the delicious food I was making. Food prep actually became a bit easier with my new “limited” set of ingredients. My grocery cost actually went down, because maybe you have noticed: Gluten-free replacement foods are expensive!
The hubby was very supportive (and he can’t cook, so what choice does he have?) and remained Paleo at home, but was still eating burgers on buns, fried chicken & pasta dishes at his work lunches. After only a couple of months he noticed that he didn’t feel great in the afternoons and would have to grab a snack out of the vending machine (because his blood sugar had dropped) or would have some ringing in one of his ears. He eventually went all Paleo on his own and has never looked back. He probably “recruits” more people than I do, he is a natural at sales and isn’t afraid to strike up a conversation with anybody.
We learned how to eat out and remain gluten-free most of the time, grain-free 99% of the time. (Really folks, corn tortilla chips and guacamole at a great Mexican restaurant is nearly impossible to pass up!) I started blogging some of our meal plans and recipes on my family blog, partly as a way to explain what I was doing and partly as a way to stay organized. I randomly Googled “Paleo & St. Louis” one evening and found a very new Meet-Up group that was dedicated to the Paleo and Primal way of eating. Some of these folks have become very good friends.
There are lots of little things that have improved or disappeared for me since I went Paleo. I wasn’t even aware that some of these were such frequent problems, until they were gone. A few of them include:
- all skin issues
- bouts of anxiety
- mild bouts of depression
- PMS & crampy type female issues
- seasonal allergies
- sinus infections
- stomach aches
Overall, I am just a much happier, healthier person since I decided to “Go Paleo.” I can see it in my husband and family, too. I have a few converts running around out there, and their success keeps me motivated to run this blog and share the word. Maybe one day some of them will do a testimonial for my blog! (Hint , hint!)
I can honestly say that I haven’t personally met an individual that HAS REALLY GIVEN PALEO/PRIMAL A TRY, that doesn’t feel much better when they are doing it. Are there people that stick with it only 75 or 80% of the time? Yes. Are there people that can “cheat” by eating a stack of pancakes and not experience ill effects? Yes. Are there people that repeatedly fall off the Paleo Wagon? Yes. Most climb back on, but all of these people will tell you they feel better when they are primarily grain free.
Here are just SOME of the medical/health issues that I know have improved with some of my close Paleo friends and acquaintances:
- weight loss (anywhere from 10-100 lbs)
- Type 2 diabetes under control or “cured”
- off of cholesterol meds
- less illness in general
- improvements in allergies
My Story with Gluten Continues:
I have to be honest, I have not been completely “cured” by Paleo. I still break out from time to time. I also have some fatigue or lacking energy levels, in my opinion. More than just “Mom Tired.” I get sick every time we fly to go on vacation. I decided to see a Dr. (that I know supports and promotes a Paleo diet) and after some lab testing was surprised to see that I am still “being gluten-ed” regularly, although I haven’t eaten it in 1 1/2 years. I also have a destroyed stomach from years of eating gluten when I clearly have a severe intolerance. So for now, I am digging in and finding out that even I have a lot to learn about gluten. And it isn’t very much fun!
All is well, though. I just have a lot to learn about cross-contamination & hidden gluten in products. Did you know that gluten and Wheat/Grain derivatives can be found in:
- shampoo/conditioner/other hair styling products
- dryer sheets
- fingernail polish
So, I am going to be busy the next few months continuing on my Paleo path and trying to eliminate my mysterious gluten exposure. I really underestimated this Gluten Guy! He is a jerk!
I don’t feel qualified to begin to explain what gluten is, how it affects your digestion & why other grains are involved (even the gluten free ones), so I am going to provide links to some people that do it well. Consider looking through this list and seeing if trying a gluten-free or grain-free lifestyle would be something you would be willing to do for a month. Just to see how you “Look, Feel & Perform” (a quote from the great Robb Wolf).
- Practical Paleo by Diane Sanfilippo (available at bookstores)
- A Guide To Gluten (a FREE PDF) from Practical Paleo
- Wheat Belly by Dr. William Davis (available at bookstores)
- Gluten: What You Don’t Know by Mark Hyman, MD from The Huffington Post
- How Common is Gluten Sensitivity? from Mark’s Daily Apple
- Top 8 Most Common Reactions to Your Grain Free Diet from Mark’s Daily Apple
- Mrs. USA 2011 Shannon Ford: Raising Awareness About Celiac Disease from Robb Wolf
- Leaky Gut Syndrome In Plain English & How to Fix It from SCD Lifestyle
- How Long Does It Take the Gut To Repair After Gluten Exposure from The Paleo Mom (Scientist turned Stay at Home Mom)
- Pioneering Researcher Alessio Fasano M.D. on Gluten, Autoimmunity & Leaky Gut (a transcript ) from Chris Kresser’s Podcast Revolutionary Health Radio
- 9 Steps to Perfect Health: #1, Don’t Eat Toxins from Chris Kresser
I would love to have feedback on this post! I would also love to see you give a Gluten Free diet a try for a couple of weeks, even if you can’t jump into Paleo. Feel free to share your success with avoiding gluten. These stories are what really help people find the road to better health!