Ask John Douillard: Is Gluten-free a marketing ploy?

Via on Nov 16, 2011

> photo by elana’s pantry

Q. What’s your take on gluten intolerance?

I recently visited an allergist as I wanted to see if I had an allergy to wheat, which I don’t. I don’t get bloating etc – but there’s so much in the media now about how we’d all be healthier if we ate gluten-free products.

Do you think this is a marketing ploy or do you suggest that your patients avoid too much wheat?

A. This is a great question! I think one of the easiest ways for a practitioner to offer quick symptomatic relief to their patients is to take them off wheat and dairy.  These foods are both hard to digest and since most folks don’t digest as well as they did in their early twenties, avoiding them often makes them feel better. But have we solved the problem of a weakened digestive system by just avoiding certain harder-to-digest foods?

Most people know that wheat sits atop the list of so-called “bad foods”, but there’s more to it than just that. So, to answer your question:

No, I don’t think gluten is bad.

Yes, it is a hard-to-digest protein than can present digestive symptoms if the digestive strength is weak.

Yes, it has a high glycemic index which tends to spike blood sugar and leave you feeling sluggish if you don’t have high enough digestive fire.

So why not boost the digestive strength instead of condemning a food that has fed humanity well for thousands of years? Because, there are studies that show that when  gluten  hits the villi of the small intestine, it will irritate, inflame and actually flattens down the villi causing what is called “leaky gut syndrome.” So it has to be bad, right? Wrong!

Gluten should never see the villi of the small intestine.

Gluten should be completely broken down in the stomach by strong digestive acid. The real problem is that many folks don’t have a strong enough digestive acid to break the hard-to-digest gluten protein down so it passes into the small intestine undigested where is spikes blood sugar, acts as a digestive irritant, and according to the media is Public Enemy #1.

So yes, if you just want to feel better – don’t eat wheat.

But if you realize that the symptoms caused by the wheat are  symptoms of a failing digestive system, then stop the wheat while you reset and re-kindle your digestive fire and digestive strength. While this can be a little tricky here are a couple tips:

• Drink a large glass of water 15-20 minutes before a meal to hydrate the cells beneath the stomach that produce acid.
• Add a little salt, pepper and lemon to that water to fire up the furnace. By the way, all of this is easy in any restaurant!

Wheat is a winter grain.

Also, remember wheat is harvested in the Fall and should be eaten in the winter. Wheat was never meant to be eaten everyday, 365 days a year.  Wheat is a winter grain. It is warm, wet, and gooey and helps insulate the body during the cold winter months. It’s not harvested in the spring and summer, but rather in the fall. According to Ayurveda, the digestive fire (much like the house furnace) is turned on full blast in the winter but much less so in the summer. So nature did it’s job (again) and harvested this hard-to-digest grain is a season when the digestive strength was strong enough to break it down.

PS. If you feel like eating gluten-free this Thanksgiving….there are plenty of foods that will most likely be on the table already:
Green Beans, The Turkey, Cranberries, Butternut Squash, Mashed Potatoes, Gravy, Carrots, and maybe even some gluten-free bread!

For more, read my video-newslettter: Secrets to enjoying gluten again

About Dr. John Douillard

John Douillard, DC, has published over 400 health videos and articles that are available on his website. He has written six books, produced numerous health DVDs and CDs, and has formulated his own line of organic health care products. He is the former Director of Player Development for the New Jersey Nets NBA team. He currently directs the LifeSpa Ayurvedic Retreat Center in Boulder, CO, where he lives with his wife and six children.

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15 Responses to “Ask John Douillard: Is Gluten-free a marketing ploy?”

  1. Thank you for writing this! I have Celiac disease and the trendiness of gluten free is a mixed blessing. More and more restaurants and large groceries are offering gluten free products. However, many of them say (California Pizza Kitchen was a notable one) that they are only safe for those who "choose a gf lifestyle" but not for those who have Celiac Disease.

    When I hear someone say they want to go gluten free to lose weight or be healthier I want to bang my head on the wall! Whole foods, whole grains, less refined flours…sure, good idea! I think that people who magically feel better when they cut out gluten feel better because they are eating less processed food. But long term? If you are eating gluten free processed foods in general they have less fiber, more fat, more calories that their whole wheat counterparts. A few companies (Rudi's comes to mind) are actually getting it right, but there are a lot of scary products out there.

  2. Thank you for the article. I do think the gluten free campaign is sincere for certain companies, and many others are riding it like a marketing ploy such as when "fat-free" was the catch phrase. I am most appalled by the majority of gluten free products which contain refined sugar, cane sugar, evaporated can juice, etcet. I will not eat foods with any type of refined or cane "sugar." I am vigilant about and limit the amount of any sweetener I eat (agave, honey, maple syrup), because there is so much sweet "taste" in our diets in the U.S. already and I am aware about maintaining a more alkaline PH for my body, yeast, inflammation (sugar being a culprit). As a breast cancer survivor, I find it pretty discouraging that there seems to be recent awareness about gluten, yet the population at large remains ignorant about the significant harm that sugar causes on the endocrine, digestive, and reproductive system and vital organs. And, many or most of these gluten free products still have tons of sugar. It seems to lack integrity about having a righteous diet.

  3. Amelia says:

    Thank you John! I always noticed that wheat just gave me an "extra layer" on my body, which I guess would be rather useful in keeping me warm through the winter months. Usually I only eat sprouted bread but may open my mind (and mouth!) back up to whole wheat as the season starts to cool here in Massachusetts. I am a graduate of Integrative Nutrition from several years back and really appreciated the presentation you gave to our class. I will never forget your recommendation to drink hot water throughout the day for additional cleansing benefits (and how the students kept asking follow-up questions like "tea?" "no, hot water." "water with lemon?" "no, hot water." "herbal tea?" "no! hot water."). Thanks very much for this contribution!

    • Zebbe says:

      I was recently given this book by my ceailc mother-in-law, and I am so grateful. My sister and I are both ceailcs, and desserts like cake and cookies have been missing from our lives for years. (I mean, REAL cakes and cookies that taste like their gluten-laiden counterparts.) From the very first recipe we tried- frosted macadamia nut bars (p.145) to my 25th birthday treat- whoopie pies (p.118), my entire family has devoured the outcomes. Including those who can eat wheat. This book explains evey detail about gluten-free flours, right down to thier protein contents, and how and why they work. This is an absolute must for anyone who wants to enter back into the realm of heavenly desserts, or anyone catering to their beloved ceailc. Just be prepared to stock your shelves with a bunch of new flours, and you’ll be on your way!

  4. Miriam says:

    I am curious about other suggestions and links. For instance, you mention that dairy is similar to gluten in this way – other than taking lactase (which I do) do you have dietary suggestions for assisting digestion of dairy? Also, are there other, longer-term ways to strengthen the digestive system for gluten and overall?

    • Thanks for your response. I have written a couple of video-newsletters on this subject. There are two I think you may love to read. One on gluten and the other on dairy. That said I have written extensively on how to re-boot the digestion so these hard to digest foods like casein and gluten are more easily digested. While there are reasons why some may not be able to tolerate these foods – boosting digestive strength is an important first step before we give a life sentence to gluten and dairy. You can find my newsletter archives at http://www.lifespa.com ~Dr. John

  5. Brent Binder drbinder says:

    Just Posted to Elephant Wellness on Facebook and twitter

  6. Sue says:

    You made some very odd points in this article. "Wheat is a winter grain." Right — unless you consider spring wheat, which is harvested in the spring & summer. What about other gluten-containing grains like rye, barley, and oats? What could you possibly mean by "Wheat was never meant to be eaten everyday, 365 days a year"? Are you saying that humans evolved to eat only winter wheat, and only during cold weather? How cold was the weather in the Middle East, where some of the signs of the earliest cultivated wheat have been found?

    Humans were surely eating wild versions of all these grains long, long before we learned to plant our own food. The hundreds of thousands of years that we were living without agriculture surely had more influence on how our digestive systems work than the far shorter time period when we've been eating cultivated crops like winter (or spring) wheat.

    Readers: engage brain before "digesting" articles like this one.

    • Thank you for your response. When considering a Middle Eastern diet – the original wheat was grown through the mild winters of the middle east as wheat is a cold climate grain – in fact it wont grow well in warmer climates. Some experts believe that ancient farmers chose the hardier kernals that through a process of natural hybriization – creating tougher varieties of wheat that tolerated colder climates which eventually allowed different varieties of wheat to be available year round pretty much around the world.. As it is a colder climate grain – according to Ayurveda — India's traditional medicine – wheat is good in the summer and best in the winter. Its hard to digest protein requires a stronger digestion which again according to Ayurveda happens each winter. This is to help us digest the harder to digest, more insulating foods like wheat and most other grains typically more available each winter.
      It is interesting to note that corn is considered a warm climate grain. According to Ayurveda it is a very dry grain – trypically harvested in southern or more wet or humid climates. Wheat a more wet glutinous grain is typically grown in the north to help antidote the colder and more dry winters. ~ Dr. John

  7. As a chef, there was a time when I rolled my eyes at the gluten and dairy free diet. But when my son was two months old he spent two weeks hospitalized with pneumonia. I was breastfeeding and eating lots of bread and cheese, yummy! As soon as my little one was "recovered" after lots of treatments, we went home and he immediately became sick again. I asked my homeopathist what he thought and his immediate response was to give up an array of allergens. As it turned out wheat was one of the biggest culprits of Isaiah's health issues. Because I was nursing, I gave it up and guess what? Huge surprise: my stomach suddenly felt really happy and I dropped five pounds (I am assuming fluids from inflammation) within several days. Here's the thing though: Neither Isaiah or I are have any problems with other gluten grains such as spelt, barley and rye. Which leads me to my point:
    I suspect that it's the genetic modification of wheat that could be the bigger problem. Many breads contain additional gluten to make the product more pliable. And the grain generally over processed even if you are buying the groovier brands. Same goes for dairy. When something that should be consumed fresh and raw is homogenized, pasteurized and kept sometimes for weeks before its consumed- the body is sure to rebel.

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  11. Rebecca says:

    …or you could do your digestive tract a favor and avoid gluten and dairy while strengthening the digestive system with hot lemon water, apple cider vinegar, etc, etc. It doesn't have to be either/or!

  12. Adrienne says:

    A big piece of the puzzle is the genetic modification of wheat as well. It's much harder to digest this "new" wheat compared to the ancient forms. Many people with gluten intolerance find they can eat wheat products in Europe with little to no digestive consequence.

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