Everyone would be wise to cut out gluten

This column is written by Stig Bengmark – Professor Emeritus, scientist, lecturer and writer. Read more of Stig Bengmark’s columns here.

Gluten is a strong source of inflammation

Western eating habits have actually become quite distorted over the years. A suitable amount of protein to consume per day is 40-70 grams – but most Swedes consume upwards of 4-5 times as much. Proteins are not to be played with, and too much intake of the wrong kind of protein can, and often has, very negative effects on our health. These include casein, which is the predominant protein in milk, and gluten, which is found in cereals, rye, barley and wheat.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about bread and health and pointed out, among other things, that bread is in fact quite shabby food – usually just ‘empty calories’ – and that some types of bread even have a higher GI than pure sugar. This also applies to gluten-free bread, which in many cases is pure junk food, made from potato and corn flour.

Bread usually contains too little plant fibre and also far too much gluten – the amount of gluten in bread has almost doubled since we started baking bread. It’s no trifling matter, bread is highly inflammatory and clearly negative for our health – not only for gluten intolerant people, but for all of us. Gluten fuels inflammation in the body – it also counteracts the renewal of beneficial gut flora. In the body, gluten has the same effects as the strong bacterial toxin endotoxin – 100 µg/ml gluten has the same inflammatory effect as 10 ng/ml endotoxin (LPS) – one of the body’s most dominant factors causing chronic inflammation and disease. And even 70 years ago it was shown in classical experiments that the gut’s beneficial bacteria wouldn’t grow when they were exposed to casein and gluten

For 99.9% of humanity’s existence on earth, we lived gluten-free. After gluten was introduced into the daily diet, a number of diseases are believed to have appeared, the most hypersensitive to gluten have died away and humanity has lost about 15 cm in average length. Dr. Braly & Ron Hoggan write in their book ‘Dangerous Grains’: ‘Our agricultural ancestors became smaller, their bones became weaker and more diseased, and the size of their brain diminished. Human brain size, based on head circumference, has diminished approximately 11 % since the advent of agricultural societies. Modern European hunter-gatherer stood 5-6 inches taller than farmers of a few generations later’.

Its only value is making dough rise quickly

Gluten is completely useless from a nutritional point of view, the body cannot break it down and it doesn’t satisfy the body’s need for energy – its only value is that it makes dough rise quickly. Gluten is an adhesive and its only function is to seal bread bubbles on the inside – in ancient times gluten was used for pasting wallpaper.

Scientific studies are increasingly reporting the link between gluten intake and diseases such as ADHD, arthritis, allergies, autoimmune diseases such as ALS, multiple sclerosis and scleroderma, autism, rheumatic disease, dementia, depression, diabetes, obesity, toxic goiter, IBS (irritable bowel disease), IBD (inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease), psoriasis, skeletal calcification, schizophrenia and various skin blemishes such as vitiligo. Gluten intake is increasingly associated with listlessness, fatigue and low energy, and gluten-free lifestyles with increasing energy and increased enthusiasm.

A lot of athletes cut out gluten

A lot of top athletes have taken note of this and they’re reporting noticeable differences in performance. It was reported that the vast majority of participants at the London Olympics were gluten-free. The gluten-free top athletes include two top-ranked tennis players in Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, who both refrain from a whole array of unhealthy foods including processed carbohydrates, lactose and gluten, and who report very positive effects from having done so. When she was asked what her secret was, Paula Radcliffe, who still belongs to the world elite of marathon runners at the age of 40, replied: ‘I don’t eat dairy products or wheat, nor do I take anti-inflammatory drugs’.

More and more people are joining the group of gluten-free athletes and nowadays they can be found among all sports. The advantages that are often emphasised by elite athletes are that gluten-free:

* It causes blood sugar to be kept at a more stable level
* Leads to reduced inflammation in the body
* Lowers levels of joint and muscle pain
* Increases energy and stamina
* Improves digestion and energy extraction from food
* Reduces ‘rumbling’ in the stomach as well as flatulence
* Strengthens the immune system
* Reduces the number of infections, especially colds, in the days after a competition
* Reduces exercise pain and accelerates the body’s recovery, especially the muscles

While athletes choose to eat gluten-free, they’re also leaving behind the old-fashioned way of recharging based on large amounts of processed carbohydrates – now it’s increasingly about fresh fruits and vegetables.

If gluten causes fatigue yet gluten-free gives more energy and is good for athletes, then it should be good for schoolchildren as well. The diet for a lot of children in Sweden consists of gluten, sugar and dairy products, which in fact contributes to tired children, which in turn creates poor conditions for learning in school.

The time has come to look for new and healthier cereals

Gluten-free is also increasingly being used in medical care, often as a ‘last resort’. There are reports of young people with epilepsy who make no progress with medicines but who have become completely symptom-free by transitioning to gluten-free living, and of older people with dementia, other than Alzheimer’s, who have ‘cleared up’ their psyche after switching to gluten-free.

One study from 2003 has particularly impressed me. In the transition to a gluten-free diet, 12 of 14 patients with type 1 diabetes showed significantly improved insulin sensitivity, which completely reversed when they returned to their normal diet after 6 months. Similar experiences were reported from extensive studies on IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and ADHD.

There’s a lot of evidence to suggest we can get a little further towards better health by also avoiding corn, which is not only extremely high in calories and causes obesity (according to a recent English study, a cinema cone of popcorn contains more than 1000 calories), as well as a gluten-like substance called zein, which has not previously received attention. In animal studies, zein was shown to have a greater negative effect than both casein and gluten – among other things, the uptake of the essential amino acid tryptophan to the brain decreased by up to 8 times (which is catastrophic because the supply of tryptophan is necessary for the formation of neurotransmitters about serotonin and melatonin ).

The time has come to look for new and healthier cereals and ideally to not eat them as bread but rather as cereals or porridge, since baking bread requires high temperatures. Waiting in the wings are some really excellent cereals that have rarely been used in Europe before: amaranth, millet, quinoa, teff and especially sorghum (sorghum, jowari, milo) – cereals that are less damaged from plant breeding, have significantly lower caloric content and a very high content of useful vitamins and minerals. This is especially true of sorghum, which is also rich in antioxidants compared to fruits and vegetables. Now’s the time for you to treat yourself and get some of these in your daily diet.

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