There’s a Jimmy Kimmel bit where LA joggers are stopped and questioned about their health.
"Are you gluten free?"
“Yes, of course!” they resound.
“By the way, what is gluten?”
Good question, Kimmel. Let’s start there.
Gluten is not some amorphous thing that shall forever remain incomprehensible, like the Cloud. It’s a wheat protein, found in things like barley and rye; the “glue” that helps doughy products keep their shape.
Alright, we know what it is, but is it good or bad? Books like Grain Brain proclaim gluten *gasp* as evil incarnate. By the last chapter you'll be running from potato rolls as if they set off an air raid siren. Of course, the opposing Gluten Lie will send you skipping through the bakery aisle.
So what's the deal?
I first started researching gluten when my naturopath handed me the moderately insulting title, Why Isn’t My Brain Working. (See picture) The gist of the 624 pages is that the majority of neurological decline issues can be alleviated, if not resolved, by eliminating gluten. The case studies are fascinating: Stories of brain-fogged individuals regaining clarity, car crash victims regaining their ability to speak, people suddenly walking on water. I thought it was crap.
...until I cut out gluten.
Some of how I feel might have to do with the fact that I no longer consume fresh almond croissants lightly entrenched with powdered sugar (I miss you). Cutting out crappy processed foods will make anyone a little perkier.
Either way, something has changed. Sans gluten, my mind is clearer. I don’t have to dig through a pile of mental mud to find words. And my pants don’t hate me.
Most people assume that if they don’t have intestinal er, “issues” after eating gluten, they’re fine to carb out. Yay, Pizza! Even if you don’t have any stomach problems and test negative for gluten sensitivity, that doesn’t mean it’s not inflammatory. Why? Nothing you put in your body affects just one system. Gluten affects your digestive tract and your brain. For example, “one study of patients who manifest gluten sensitivity in the brain found only a third of them also suffered from gastrointestinal disorders.”(1)
Gluten is an inflammatory substance, and inflammation, in whatever form, is the main root of neurological degeneration.
So, if gluten = inflammation, and inflammation = neurological issues, then...
Here’s my argument.
We shouldn’t be eating gluten anyway. It comes in processed foods, the majority of which didn’t exist 100 years ago and contain what I call The Three S’s: Sugar, sodium, and sh*t you can’t pronounce. So whether it’s dropping the garbage grub or going gluten free, if you feel better, you feel better. In reality, it’s likely a combo of both.
Note: General good and bad statements apply here. Candy? Bad. Alcohol? Mostly bad. Gluten? Well, something that causes massive intestinal distress in a percentage of the population probably isn’t the best for you either. If it’s not good for some, it’s not good for all.
One caveat: Don’t eat too many processed gluten-free foods. Use your judgment: If there’s an anthropomorphic bear on the front of the box, chances are it’s not healthy. (I’m looking at you, Panda Puffs). In order to remove gluten, companies add one of The Three S’s: Sugar.
If you’re still debating, (or maybe rolling your eyes) let me ask you this: What do you have to lose? For me, the zen-like mental clarity is worth being the annoying gluten-free friend. A month without cake is tough, but a lifetime of clearness? That’s priceless.
(1) Kharrazian, Datis. Why Isn't My Brain Working?: A Revolutionary Understanding of Brain Decline and Effective Strategies to Recover your Brain's Health, Elephant Press: 2013.