The Gluten Controversy

A controversy has been growing about gluten, the protein that naturally occurs in wheat, rye, spelt, barley and an extensive variety of prepared foods, condiments and beverages containing these grains. More and more people are complaining of what appear to be allergic reactions from eating these foods, many of whom previously enjoyed them without symptoms.

Celiac Disease

Many people have come to believe their physical and mental symptoms from consuming these grains are the serious autoimmune disease called Celiac. This disease shows up in people who are genetically predisposed. This tendency is hereditary and runs in families and only affects approximately 1% of people worldwide.

In Celiac disease the body launches an immune response to even miniscule amounts of gluten, damaging the villi in the small intestine. The villi are small fingerlike tissues that absorb nutrients. When the villi become damaged malabsorption and malnutrition become a problem. This in turn leads to many other potentially serious long-term health conditions. The symptoms and time of onset of Celiac varies widely among people. If you believe this may be an issue for you or a loved-one please research this topic and share your concerns with your doctor.


Most people who experience problems after consuming these foods don’t have celiac disease, but the question remains – what is causing these reactions? Some physicians and authors are now discussing lectins, substances naturally occurring in many plant seeds and revealing their potential for creating negative effects in our bodies.

Lectins naturally occur in plants and their seeds as a defense against pests and microorganisms that may attack and eat them. Its role is to make predators think twice before trying to eat them. Lectins are resistant to digestion and allow seeds to pass through an animals’ digestive system intact, evolution’s way of spreading seeds far and wide. Cooking plant foods can deactivate lectins significantly in most cases.

Most of us have antibodies to dietary lectins in our bodies which can lead to an immune system response and symptoms like joint pain, skin rashes and systemic inflammation. Due to lectin’s effect of slowing repair of the gut lining, the miseries of leaky gut may result. People with Crohn’s disease or IBS may be especially sensitive and should avoid lectin-containing foods. There is strong scientific evidence that Crohn’s patients are also strongly negatively affected by meat, dairy and yeast. Some experts believe that urinary tract infections may be caused by lectins.

Not coincidentally, all of the top food allergens contain high amounts of lectins: wheat, dairy, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, fish and shellfish.

An Antidote to Lectins

Foods high in mucilaginous fiber swell up and become gelatinous and gooey when combined with water and can block the damaging effects of lectins. They would be beneficial* for many of us to include in the diet regularly if we are eating lectin-containing foods. Common examples are: chia seeds, flax seeds, psyllium, aloe vera, kelp, okra, figs, plantain, cassava and herbs like licorice root, marshmallow and slippery elm.

The Presence of Pesticides in GMO Grains

This is a topic frequently discussed in recent years: reports that Monsanto’s glyphosate, the most commonly used herbicide in the world, is being widely sprayed on wheat crops as a desiccant prior to harvesting.  This may be exaggerated and is sprayed for this purpose in just a few states and Canada. Many people complain that eating wheat causes digestive problems and are blaming on this chemical. One way to test this for if you believe this has affected you is to switch to eating only certified organically grown wheat/products and see if you observe a difference.

Benefits of Gluten

Many people will be surprised to learn that there are measurable and important benefits to regular consumption of this much-maligned protein in wheat, rye and barley.

  • Researchers found that people observing a gluten-free diet had significantly higher blood levels of mercury (up to 4X as much), lead, and cadmium than in those who did not avoid gluten. This increased toxic heavy metal burden was found in people with and without Celiac.
  • From an American Heart Association study with data from nearly 200,000 people whose dietary histories had been followed for more than 30 years something amazing was discovered: the group eating the most gluten had the lowest risk of type 2 diabetes – 13% lower than the people consuming the least.
  • In another large study (100,000 people followed for 26 years) from Harvard School of Public Health concluded their report by stating “The promotion of gluten-free diets among people without celiac disease should not be encouraged.” Gluten consumption (after adjustments for intake of refined grains) was associated with a 15 percent lower risk of developing coronary heart disease.
  • Another recent study from Europe showed that people eating a gluten-free diet consumed more calories, saturated fat, protein and often sugar than people who eat gluten containing foods.
  • There is evidence that gluten, and not just the fiber in glutinous whole grains, can help to lower triglycerides and LDL cholesterol.
  • There is strong evidence that gluten-containing foods are beneficial for our healthy gut microbes. People who avoid these grains have increased bad bacteria and a reduction in beneficial microbes and overall immune function.

The Healthiest Options:

If you have a severe health issue, digestive challenges or an autoimmune disease it may be best to avoid grains entirely until you are healthy. Our ancestors didn’t eat many grains and certainly not the variety and the multitude of ready-to-eat forms we now have available.

Sprouted grain products and/or sourdough bread are healthier choices and can be consumed in moderation. They are an improvement over non-sprouted grains.

  • The sprouting process pre-digests proteins like gluten making them easier to digest.
  • Soaking, sprouting and then cooking foods, containing lectins can reduce (in most, but not all, cases) the harmful effects of these substances. Our ancestors understood that in order to avoid the problems grains, beans, nuts and seeds provided they had to prepare them with care.

If you react to any food it’s wise to investigate the overall health of your body and address GI health and digestive issues first. The food is showing you where the pre-existing weakness is located. Chronic inflammation due to other factors may be involved. More valuable information can be found HERE

Find out if you are sensitive to Gluten now!

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*Mucilage isn’t always beneficial. In cases where severe immune dysfunction and/or gut microbiome imbalances are present you should work with your health practitioner to determine the quantities and types of fiber that are safest and most effective for you. It may be better to avoid lectin-containing foods altogether until your health is improved.