Updated: Apr 6
If you're seeking a healthier lifestyle or simply curious about the gluten-free trend, you've come to the right place. For many years, we followed a plant-based diet that included a variety of grains, including spelt, kamut, and other ancient grains that contain gluten. However, as we began to educate ourselves more about the effects of gluten on the body, we made the decision to eliminate it.
Back in my gluten consuming days
Going gluten-free has been a game-changer for me and my family and I want to share our journey, however that will have to be another post. Right now, in this in-depth exploration, we'll unravel the hidden dangers of gluten and its impact on our brain and overall health, including its association with psychological disorders.
By the end of this informational journey, you'll gain a comprehensive understanding of why gluten has become a hot topic and how it may be affecting your well-being. So let's dive in!
What is Gluten and Where is it Found?
First and foremost, let's clarify what gluten is. Gluten is a family of proteins found in grains like wheat, barley, and rye. The two main proteins in gluten are gliadin and glutenin. Gluten plays a crucial role in giving dough its elasticity and providing a chewy texture to baked goods. While gluten is most commonly associated with bread, pasta, and baked goods, it can also be found in various other products, including sauces, salad dressings, and even some cosmetics. For those with gluten-related health issues, it's essential to read labels carefully and be aware of hidden sources of gluten.
Gluten and Its Connection to Neurological Disorders
It may surprise you to learn that gluten can have a profound impact on the brain and nervous system. Researchers have discovered links between gluten consumption and numerous neurological disorders, including:
Autism spectrum disorder
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
The precise mechanisms underlying these connections are not yet fully understood, but several factors may contribute to the negative effects of gluten on the brain:
Inflammation: In susceptible individuals, gluten can provoke an immune response, leading to inflammation and potential neural damage.
Gliadorphins: These peptides, produced from the incomplete breakdown of gluten, are believed to cross the blood-brain barrier and bind to opioid receptors in the brain, potentially disrupting neurotransmitter function and contributing to neurological disorders, including schizophrenia. Some studies, like Reichelt et al. (1996), have found higher levels of gliadorphins in patients with schizophrenia compared to healthy controls, although more research is needed to confirm these findings.
The Gut-Brain Axis: How Gluten Affects the Connection
The gut-brain axis, a complex bidirectional communication system that links the gastrointestinal tract with the central nervous system, is another area where gluten may have significant implications. By altering gut permeability (leaky gut) and gut microbiota composition, gluten can potentially impact brain function and behavior through this axis.
For example, studies have found a higher prevalence of gluten sensitivity and celiac disease among individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Additionally, some individuals with ASD have experienced improvements in symptoms after implementing a gluten-free diet.
Beyond Gluten: Other Harmful Components of Grains
Although gluten is often the main focus, other compounds in grains can also impact our health and brain function:
1. Lectins: These proteins can interfere with cell function.
2. Phytic acid: This antinutrient can reduce the absorption of essential minerals
like calcium, magnesium, and zinc, which are crucial for proper brain function.
3. Amylopectin A: This carbohydrate rapidly increases blood sugar levels, which
can lead to insulin resistance, a risk factor for neurodegenerative diseases like
The Benefits of a Gluten-Free Diet for Brain Health
Given the potential negative effects of gluten on brain function and overall health, it's no wonder that many people are embracing a gluten-free lifestyle. Some of the benefits of a gluten-free diet for those with gluten-related health issues include:
Improved cognitive function
Better gut health
Decreased neurological symptoms, including those related to schizophrenia
It's important to note that individual responses may vary when going gluten free. However, if you suspect that you have a gluten-related issue or a neurological condition that might be linked to gluten, it's worth consulting with a healthcare professional for a proper evaluation and personalized guidance.
How to Implement a Gluten-Free Diet
If you're considering adopting a gluten-free diet, it's crucial to educate yourself on the right approach. Here are some tips to help you get started:
Familiarize yourself with gluten-containing foods and their alternatives.
Read food labels carefully to avoid hidden sources of gluten.
Plan your meals and snacks to ensure you're meeting your nutritional needs.
Experiment with gluten-free recipes and ingredients.
Be cautious when eating out and inform restaurant staff of your dietary restrictions.
Gluten Free Grain Options
Here is a list of gluten free grains. Although they don't contain gluten, we still avoid some of these on the list due to them being highly cross contaminated with wheat, like oats, or for being very acid forming or damaging to the gut. However, I wanted to provide a clear list for understanding of which ones contain gluten.
Rice: Including white, brown, basmati, jasmine, and wild rice varieties.
Quinoa: A highly nutritious pseudo-grain that comes in white, red, and black varieties.
Millet: A small, yellow, round grain that can be used in various dishes like porridge, salads, or as a rice substitute.
Buckwheat: Despite its name, buckwheat is not related to wheat and is a gluten-free pseudo-grain. It can be used as flour, groats, or in the form of soba noodles.
Amaranth: Another nutritious pseudo-grain that can be used in a variety of dishes, including salads, soups, and as a breakfast cereal.
Sorghum: Also known as milo, sorghum is a gluten-free grain that can be used as a flour substitute or cooked like rice or quinoa.
Teff: A tiny, nutrient-rich grain native to Ethiopia, teff can be used in a variety of dishes, including porridge and baked goods.
Corn: Including popcorn, cornmeal, polenta, and corn-based pasta varieties.
Oats: Although oats are naturally gluten-free, they may be cross-contaminated with gluten during processing. Look for certified gluten-free oats to ensure they are safe to consume.
Fonio: One of Africa's oldest cultivated ancient grains loaded with important micronutrients and amino acids and has a very low glycemic index.
Montina: Also known as Indian ricegrass, montina is a gluten-free grain native to North America that can be used as a flour substitute.
When incorporating these gluten-free grains into your diet, remember to check for potential cross-contamination and always read food labels carefully to ensure they are truly gluten-free.
Here are some of our favorite gluten free grains/ products (with affiliated links) we recommend.
1. Bob's Red Mill Whole Grain Teff, 24 Oz https://amzn.to/3Ke6Gqv
2. Bob's Red Mill Whole Grain Teff Flour, 20 Oz https://amzn.to/3zvBT3B
3. Organic Amaranth Grain, 10 Pounds https://amzn.to/3Mnqpa1
4. Bob's Red Mill Organic Amaranth Grain, 24 Oz https://amzn.to/3nJ0C1A
5. YOLELE Fonio Grain, 10 OZ https://amzn.to/3m5gwD3
6. Jiva Organic White Whole Grain Quinoa 2 Pound https://amzn.to/3nNZmdB
7. Organic Tri-Color Quinoa, 5 Pounds https://amzn.to/3U7Mw67
8. Lotus Foods Gourmet Organic Forbidden Rice, 11 Pounds https://amzn.to/3GgejLG
9. Lundberg Family Farms Organic Wild Rice, 8 Ounce https://amzn.to/3Ua4qF8
Is it Right for You?
The evidence surrounding gluten's effects on the brain and overall health is compelling, and for many individuals, adopting a gluten-free lifestyle can lead to significant improvements in well-being, including the management of schizophrenia symptoms.
However, it's essential to remember that every person is unique, and what works for one may not work for another. As you make your decision about whether a gluten-free diet is the right choice for you, consider your personal health history, symptoms, and any potential risk factors.
With this comprehensive exploration of gluten and its potential impacts on the brain and overall health, hopefully I've better equipped you with the knowledge to help make an informed decision about whether going gluten-free is the right choice for you. Good luck on your journey to better health and well-being!
What Are Your Thoughts?
What are your thoughts on gluten? Have you suffered from any ailments that you now think you may find relief from if you remove gluten from your diet? Are you realizing some symptoms worsen after consuming gluten or are you like, "Either way I'm not giving up my bread and fried dumplins"? Regardless of what you decide, tell us what you think?
For more health and nutritional tips, recipes, and product reviews, be sure to check out our blog posts and resources on our website. We're committed to providing valuable content to help you make the most of your health or plant based journey.
If you would like some gluten free recipe options, check out our videos on YouTube. Here is one of our favorites using Teff and Amaranth grain.