And for those of us who suffer from Celiac, gluten intolerance, and other sensitivities to the food we’re eating, this makes sense. We suffer the effects in a very personal and often painful way – in digestive issues like: diarrhea or constipation, stomach upset, abdominal pain, bloating, and IBS. But it doesn’t generally stop there, does it? We may also experience skin conditions like eczema, acne, rashes, vitiligo, lupus, urticaria. And low and irregular thyroid problems has also been associated with wheat and gluten, as has joint pain, osteoporosis, even some autoimmune illnesses like rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. More recently there has even been some discussion of the link between wheat and gluten to depression and anxiety (as seen on Dr. Oz). ADD, autism spectrum disorder, chronic fatigue syndrome, even schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are being studied to see if there could be a connection between those conditions and wheat/gluten.
Unfortunately, some of this information has not yet reached the full attention of many in our medical community. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be proactive in taking care of ourselves!
So let’s first:
1. Focus on foods that are naturally gluten-free.
Our bodies are designed to heal themselves – if we give them what they need to do so. But if we deny ourselves the vital nutrients our bodies need, by consuming too many junk foods (devoid of vital nutrients), or foods that inflame and stress our bodies (like wheat and gluten) – even in small amounts when we know we our bodies have an issue processing those foods, we cannot expect to feel well. The constant or intermittent trickling of wheat or gluten into our system will not allow our bodies to properly heal themselves, and so they remain inflamed – and we feel sick.
In a previous article I wrote: What Can I Eat and What Do I Avoid? I explain that naturally gluten-free food include whole foods, like vegetables, fruits, proteins (eg. poultry, fish, tofu), and grains (like rice). They are your best choices for healing your body and feeling better. Their wholesome goodness is like a natural pharmacy, providing your body with what it needs to heal.
2. Be Gentle
While vegetables and fruits provide rich amounts of antioxidants that will help your body to recover, you may find that initially your stomach is sensitive to almost everything you’re eating.
So ask your doctor if you should avoid high fiber foods for a while. Those would include things like beans and whole-grain foods: brown rice, wild rice, and old-fashioned gluten-free oatmeal. Fiber rich vegetables and fruits include: broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, corn, peas, butternut squash, potatoes and apples with their skins, berries, avocados, and pears.
If your doctor does recommend cutting back on the high fiber foods for a bit – look to those considered low fiber, like: white rice, gluten-free broths, gluten-free cream soups, free range eggs, dairy (if you know you can tolerate them), tofu, and organic chicken or fish. If you’re finding vegetables difficult to digest, consider juicing them, separating the liquid from the pulp/fiber. Asparagus, zucchini and cucumber (without the skin), carrots, mushrooms, raw tomatoes, iceberg lettuce, romaine and Boston lettuce, melon, grapes, and peeled apple or applesauce are all considered low fiber. If you’re prone to acid reflux you might want to avoid the tomatoes and citrus fruits.
3. Get your Tryptophan
We’ve all heard how falling asleep after eating a big Thanksgiving dinner is due to the tryptophan in the turkey. But what is tryptophan?
Tryptophan is an amino acid that leads to the synthesis (or formation) of serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter (a chemical that transmits nerve impulses between cells). Serotonin affects things like sleep, mood, and appetite. It is located in the brain, the digestive tract and in blood platelets. Ninety-five percent of the body’s total serotonin is concentrated in the gut. An imbalance in serotonin levels can lead to insomnia, depression, anxiety and even panic attacks!
As researchers have gained an understanding of the role of tryptophan, they have discovered that low levels of the amino acid result in changes in healthy bacteria that are needed to maintain gut health. Individuals who have inflammation as part of an immune system disorder may also benefit from adding tryptophan to their diet.
So…where can I find tryptophan? The highest sources may be found in chicken, turkey, lean beef, lamb, salmon, tuna, shrimp, dairy products, bananas, cherries, nuts and soybeans.
4. Introduce healthy bacteria
Some 70% of our immune system lies in our gut, hence another reason it is so important to have a healthy digestive system. Eating foods high in probiotics is recommended to maintain that balance. Diet, stress, certain medications (like antibiotics) and infections can decrease your good bacteria, putting you at risk for illness.
Among the foods that promote healthy digestion and help to strengthen the immune system are yogurt and kefir. Look for those containing live active cultures (such as lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidus). Fermented foods are also a good source of healthy/good bacteria. Gluten-free Miso, saurkraut, buttermilk, tempeh, sour cream, Kimchi, and Kombucha (which is a fermented tea that is said to help with bloating, but may have a slightly laxative effect for some people). Make sure to read the labels as not all of them are gluten-free! You can also take supplements to increase the good bacteria in your body.
Of course, if you are concerned about your digestive health and your immune system, or if you have questions about probiotic foods or supplements, you should speak with your doctor.
5. Get Your Fats
Contrary to popular belief, not all fat is bad for you. Healthy fats are important for the growth and development of your tissues and organs. Healthy fats serve as a concentrated form of energy. It is the primary way your body stores energy for the long haul.
Coconut oil, preferably organic cold pressed, is one such fat. It contains medium chain fatty acids that are easily converted into energy. It is also anti-microbial and anti-fungal – which is a good remedy for getting rid of your gut’s bad guys.
Olive oil is a monounsaturated fat, well tolerated by the stomach. This healing fat has a beneficial effect on ulcers and gastritis. Look for cold pressed virgin olive oil. Studies have shown that people who consumed about 2 Tablespoons a day had high levels of antioxidant compounds in their blood. Olive oil is also known to activate the secretion of bile and pancreatic hormones, thus lowering the incidence of gallstone formation.
Another recommended source of healthy fats comes from flax seeds and chia seeds (derived from the salvia plant – native to Mexico). Both offer high levels of omega-3 fatty acids – important nutrients that you must obtain from your diet. They are essential to brain function and may help reduce your risk of developing heart disease. Both chia seeds and flax seeds are rich plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
Fish oil, including that from salmon, tuna, trout, and mackerel are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties. These fish are also rich in protein, which promotes the healing of tissues.
And finally, do discuss with your doctor the best plan of action for you. Remember it took a while for you to get in this condition, so don’t despair if it takes some time to heal. You will get better! =)