My reluctant shuffle to the grain-free side

I have to confess. I said over and over that we wouldn’t be jumping on the gluten-free, grain-free, generally paleo bandwagon.
Life has such a way of making me eat my words.

I think I always believed that grains weren’t great for a person. I sort of thought of them like iceberg lettuce. Ok to eat, but not necessarily overly nutritious. I just couldn’t get my head around the idea that everyone, suddenly, was allergic to gluten. When my husband started mentioning stomach aches (and taking long naps every evening because he was so tired), I think I actually told him he was ridiculous – that his stomach couldn’t hurt every day.

But eventually it became clear that something was really wrong. I tried cutting back on white flours and sugars, upping our whole grains and veggies in an effort to “eat better”. But no luck. If anything, he just got worse.

So he went, reluctantly, to the doctor, who diagnosed him with mild-form colitis. (Mild-form meaning he was suffering terrible bloating and stomach aches, exhaustion, and frustration in general but almost none of the severe symptoms that come with ulcerative colitis. Thank goodness.)

We both believe that chemicals and steroids as a way of life should be avoided if possible, so he didn’t want a prescription to control the inflammation. Besides that the doctor made it clear that pills would only mask the symptoms, not heal his gut or solve any problems.

What the grains were doing, in plain English

She said that grains and gluten were damaging the villi in his intestine. Wearing them away (essentially making internal sores), but more than that, hindering his body from it’s ability to absorb nutrients from his food. That’s one of the main functions of those little villi, apparently. (I’ve just googled this to double check my info, and the web concurs.) So not only was he suffering stomach aches and digestive troubles, but worse, his body was starving for nutrition. Upping his whole grain and raw veggie intake wasn’t helping at all – it was just making it worse, wearing away on the villi, causing more damage.

This was not necessarily an allergy to gluten the way I had understood allergy previously. There ARE people who are allergic to gluten, and they get sick if they have even a tiny bit of the stuff. Not so with my husband. This was his body saying – enough already!

The solution; not just gluten free, but grain free and whole

The doctor’s recommendation? Cut out all grains and gluten. Give up all processed and difficult to digest foods, like corn, and raw broccoli/ cauliflower/ carrots. No more dairy, no more spicy foods, no more pork and less beef. Let the gut heal, rather than just mask the symptoms and exacerbate the problem. Over time, she said, the sores will heal and the body will begin to absorb nutrients again. But not if you keep subjecting the gut to the things that are hurting it.

She stressed that “gluten free” products were usually extremely processed, high sugar, high fat, chemical concoctions. Don’t just buy him a bunch of stuff from the gluten free section of the grocery store. Mostly in that isle, she said, you’re paying a lot of money for very little nutrition.

She stressed learning to cook with whole foods, learning to make our food from scratch. (No, I’m not 100% successful at this yet. But I’m getting better all the time. There are no instant meals in my pantry or freezer anymore, but I still by tomato paste and chicken stock. I have a list of gluten free staples I keep in the house for “instant” dinner.)

She also stressed that because his body was so depleted in nutrients, supplementing was a must. Give him the vitamins and minerals he needed to heal.

How it’s changed our lives

G is more or less grain free. (Every couple of months he’ll have a burger or a piece of pizza and then regret it later.) It’s been just over a year of eating this way and his stomach aches are gone. He’s less tired, and much happier in general. It’s still pretty hard for him to accept that this is a way of life and not just a stage he’s passing through. As hard as it is to admit, grain free is the way forward for him, if he wants to feel good. And he finally DOES feel good. Figuring out cheap, healthy, gluten free lunches on the road was the hardest thing, but we are winning at that too!

I am not 100% grain free because honestly, even though I know that they aren’t beneficial, they don’t bother me. But I rarely eat grains, because I’m sure not gonna cook two meals, or fill the pantry with stuff that only I can eat. I’ve adjusted to grain-free cooking, and I have more energy and less food cravings. Weird, I know.

If you’re new to the grain-free, gluten-free club –

I recently read Wheat Belly by Dr. William Davis. I take absolutely everything I read with a “grain” of salt, but there were many things in his book that really resonated with me after my experiences this past year. We haven’t taken all his advice (like ditching rice and potatoes); my husband would probably starve – he says he needs his carbs. Dr. Davis’ thoughts on grains and their affects on the body were very interesting. His cook book has been a fabulous wealth of information about how to replace the grains! Actually, the cook book made it POSSIBLE for us to continue in our grain free lifestyle.

This lifestyle isn’t as terrifying as you might imagine – and it’ll likely be totally worth it!

Why we went Grain Free / Gluten Free