Gluten is a protein found mostly in wheat, rye, spelt, barley, kamut, bulgur, and triticale.
The name gluten comes from the latin word glue, which is an appropriate name given it's sticky and elastic in character and is often used in food to hold it together. Gluten has been given a bad rap over the years, but does it deserve such slanging or are there really serious consequences for eating the stuff?
My focus is on how wheat and gluten affect gut health, in particular constipation. Wheat has been included in this chat because gluten is a big component of wheat and wheat in and of itself has a few properties that negatively affect the belly and overall body.
Back in the day, I was a huge fan of gluten and wheat. The kind of person who would lovingly offer guests bread as a snack if they came over. It wasn't unusual for my day to consist of warm toast with a massive lashing of Nutella for breakfast followed by a deli sandwich at lunch, and Mum's amazing homemade schnitzel smothered in crunchy breadcrumbs with potato mash and vegetables for dinner.
Fast-forward to my 20s and 30s, post-naturopathic studies and after many years of personal and patient experience, I know too much about the harmful effects of wheat and gluten, and quite frankly being a gal who has experienced constipation, bloating, and depression in the past I would rather smear my body in cow dung than give it such fuel. I see no place for regular wheat and gluten intake, especially if your goal is to improve poor digestion and elimination.
Before you shoot the messenger, check out the key reasons I lovingly ask that you ditch gluten and wheat, especially if you want to have daily bowel movements and amazing gut health.
Hybridization of wheat
Wheat is not the same as it was many years ago. It has been processed and modified to make it more resistant to harsh climate, pathogens, and to produce more crop. This changes the structure of wheat and gluten proteins as well as reduces its nutrient profile. All of which make it more difficult to digest and are detrimental for human health, particularly immune health.
Otherwise known as Roundup, this is an herbicide used on wheat to ward of pests and is known to harm the liver and kidneys—our organs of elimination—as well as disrupt healthy gut flora balance, endocrine (hormone), and DNA health and has been linked to cancer.
Gliadin, a component of gluten increases the production of Zonulin, a protein that causes the tight junctions in the gut wall to open and close, triggering leaky gut. Leaky gut is directly linked to serious inflammatory health conditions, including autoimmune disease. It's highly likely that you already have a gut lining that is leaky if you have irregular bowel movements and therefore poor removal of toxic waste, which is the essence of constipation.
Modern, manipulated wheat contains more of the problematic glutens that stimulate an autoimmune reaction in the gut and has led to the rise of celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. Meaning many of us simply do not tolerate wheat and gluten well.
Wheat contains phytic acid, an antinutrient that blocks absorption and function of nutrients in the body. This creates deficiencies of important vitamins and minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, and zinc and can affect the way we digest and absorb starches, proteins, and fats. If you have constipation, chances are uptake of nutrients is already compromised because of toxicity, inflammation, and a leaky gut. Do you really need to add another hurdle and make your body work harder to thrive?
The following are a few more damaging effects of wheat and gluten, which are not directly linked to constipation but worthy of a mention as these conditions have a huge impact on our overall health, as do poor pooping patterns.
Raises blood sugar and risk of type 2 diabetes
Wheat contains amylopectin A, which is digested more easily than other carbohydrates and raises blood sugar levels faster and higher than sucrose. All of which increase the risk of type 2 diabetes.
High blood sugar leads to an increase in insulin levels. The greater the insulin level, the more fat is deposited, especially in the belly, otherwise known as "wheat belly."
Increase in appetite
Gluten increases exorphin production, a morphine-like, addictive substance, which can lead to more food and calorie consumption.
Dangerous visceral fat
Months of high blood sugar and insulin levels and insulin-driven fat accumulation results in fat collecting around the liver, kidneys, pancreas, and small and large intestine. This type of fat is called visceral fat, a dangerous type of fat that triggers inflammation in the body and contributes to chronic disease such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Men with wheat bellies and visceral fat may be at risk for man boobs ("moobs") as the abdominal fat tissue produces a surplus of estrogen and prolactin.
The big question is: Should you fill up on the abundance of "gluten-free" foods (pasta, bread, biscuits) found on most supermarket shelves? I shout: Do yourself a favor and avoid them. Most contain carbohydrates that are rapidly absorbed by the body, such as corn flour, rice starch, potato starch, or tapioca starch, which still trigger the glucose-insulin response as mentioned above and can disrupt gut flora balance, lead to weight gain, visceral fat "wheat belly," diabetes, and poor heart health.
Instead, get into the kitchen and make simple healthy gluten-free alternatives yourself so that you avoid all of the blood sugar chaos.
To sum it all up, by reducing our exposure to wheat and gluten we reduce our risk of leaky gut and chronic health conditions and instead welcome a pumping microbiome and regular bowel movements, which will help keep us healthy and happy, long term.