Photo Credit: Andrew Duany
Just as I never expected to write a best-selling diet book ten years ago, I never expected to be writing a book about gluten today. But thanks to revelations from observations of patients, an extensive review of the medical literature, and many remarkable clinical experiences, I knew I had an amazing story to tell.
For years I had noticed that many individuals on Phase 1 of the South Beach Diet, which was intentionally created to be grain-free (but was also unintentionally gluten-free), not only lost weight but also had more energy, fewer aches and pains, and no longer complained of stomach problems or brain fog.
When they reintroduced gluten-containing grains on Phase 2 of the diet, their health problems often returned. I began asking these patients to switch to eating gluten-free whole grains, such as millet, brown rice, and quinoa, on Phase 2 and they quickly felt better again, while continuing to lose weight.
Why is gluten so much of a problem now?
When you take into account that possibly 50 percent of Americans have some degree of gluten sensitivity—and this includes children—and that most don’t know it, the first question you might ask is: Why now? Why, all of a sudden, is gluten a problem?
It’s really a perfect storm of factors. First, we're consuming much more gluten today because of the vast amount of highly refined wheat products in the American diet, beginning in childhood. Our addiction to highly processed starches—doughnuts, white breads, cookies, crackers, chips, and other unhealthy snacks—has led to gluten overload. And, to make matters worse, gluten is often added to breads and baked goods to increase protein and to help with texture. Gluten is added to many other products as well, including self-basting poultry, prepared salad dressings, prepared soups, broths, gravies, marinades, and more.
In addition, there’s the fact that the good microbiota (gut flora) in our small intestine that help us digest gluten are being destroyed due to our overuse of antibiotics. Furthermore, many of our baked goods today present more gluten to our intestines because we've eliminated the step of fermentation in their preparation. Until the last few decades our bread was invariably fermented before baking, which predigested gluten in the dough. Finally, damage to our small intestines due to our increased use of pain relievers in the form of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) is another factor likely contributing to our current epidemic of gluten sensitivity.
So, the more we can educate both physicians and the public about gluten-related disorders, the more people can be spared from needless misery and the risk of potentially serious complications. My hope is that I can shed more light on the “Gluten Trifecta,” the three primary ways gluten can negatively affect our health. The components of the “Gluten Trifecta” — inflammation, diminished nutrient absorption, and an autoimmune response — are all induced by incompletely digested gluten proteins and our system’s reaction to them.
How does the Gluten Trifecta affect our health?
Intestinal inflammation can trigger symptoms such as bloating, diarrhea, and reflux, and can also cause system-wide reactions ranging from skin rashes and migraines to fatigue and muscle aches. In the case of celiac disease, the inflammation destroys the fine architecture of the intestinal villi, limiting the nutrient absorption function of the small intestine.
Poor absorption of nutrients can lead to various deficiencies and present as anemia, hormone imbalance, mood disorders, neurological issues, and osteoporosis, among many other conditions.
The autoimmune response is perhaps the most serious component of the Gluten Trifecta, because our immune system mistakes the incompletely digested strands of gluten protein—called peptides—as invaders and sets out to destroy them. Because the gluten peptides can, in cases of mistaken identity, look like proteins that make up many of our body’s tissues, there is practically no organ in the body that may be spared from potential attack. The autoimmune reaction is thought to be the major cause of type 1 diabetes and it can lead to rheumatoid arthritis, thryroiditis, and many other conditions.
So, what can you eat if you’re concerned about gluten?
If you think gluten is negatively affecting your health, I recommend you try The South Beach Diet Gluten Solution Program, which is an extension of our time-tested South Beach Diet plan.
The same principles of eating a varied diet (consisting of nutrient- and fiber-rich vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, as well as lean protein and good fats), still hold true here.
You’ll just be giving up all gluten for four weeks, then gradually reintroducing it, to see if you are gluten sensitive. The program lasts as long as you want it to, in order reach a healthy weight, but after four weeks, you slowly reintroduce gluten starches on a schedule we provide to determine how sensitive you are and how much gluten you can tolerate without symptoms.
Most people lose up to 10 pounds in the first two weeks and at least a pound or two each week after, and their symptoms usually disappear or are mediated, sometimes in a matter of days.
More good news: People don't have to give up all grains. Buckwheat, which despite its name is wheat-free, amaranth, brown rice, basmati rice, cornmeal, millet, quinoa, and teff are all whole grains that are gluten free. In addition, today many gluten-aware cooks use nut flours, such as almond flour and coconut flour, and bean flours, such as white bean flour and garbanzo bean flour, as replacements for wheat flour in recipes.
Dr. Agatston's new book, The South Beach Diet Gluten Solution, is available wherever books are sold today.