Is Your Diet Truly Gluten-Free?

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Note: This information in this post was obtained from an interview between Dr. Ben Lynch and Dr. Peter Osborne, author of No Grain, No Pain. It was aired as part of Dr. Lynch’s Dirty Genes Summit.


Do you think you’re eating a gluten-free diet because you’ve given up wheat, barley and rye?


Unfortunately, many people believe this to be true when it actually may not be. And while this topic is still up for debate, Dr. Peter Osborne says, “In order to be completely gluten free, you have to be grain free.”


If you’re already on a gluten-free diet, you’re probably aware of the cross-contamination issue. Many gluten free-grains are processed or stored in facilities or containers that once contained products with gluten. However, what I’m about to share with you isn’t about cross-contamination. It’s about the fact that all grains actually contain gluten.


What is Gluten?


Gluten is the name of the family of storage proteins found in the seeds of grass. This includes all grasses and not just wheat, barley and rye. To date, over 1,000 different forms of gluten have been discovered.


However, even though there are over 1,000 different forms of gluten the FDA’s definition of gluten includes only alpha-gliadin, which is a subtype of protein found in wheat, barley and rye. The definition leaves out all other types of gluten, which means that a product labeled “gluten-free” may not be.


This focus on alpha-gliadin not only means products are labeled incorrectly; it also means that grains commonly believed to be gluten free are actually not. According to Dr. Osborne, corn, rice and other grains often used by those eating a “gluten-free” diet actually contain several forms of gluten. In addition, his clinical experience has shown that people who react to gluten tend to react to the total category of proteins, not just one (i.e. alpha-gliadin) in particular.


Remember, “If you want to be completely gluten free, you have to be grain free.”


Grains…The Perfect Anti-Food


It’s not just animals that don’t want to be eaten; plants also have a strong survival instinct. Seed-based plants, like wheat and other grains, are designed to protect themselves and preserve their own species. In fact, they don’t want you to eat their seeds.


The job of that plant protein (gluten) is not to serve you; it is to perpetuate the plant’s own species. Seeds harbor the genetic material and embryo to create a new life and ensure survival of the species. The gluten in the seeds also provides fuel for the embryo. Again – food for the plant, not you.


How does the plant try to ensure its seeds are not eaten? By making predators sick when they eat the seeds.


Therefore, when a significant portion of your diet comes from these seed-based plants (which is the case for most Americans), your health will pay the price.


Grains are so unfit for human consumption that Dr. Osborne calls them the perfect “anti-food”.


First, there’s the gluten, which he says poses a problem for an estimated 30 to 40 percent of the population.


In addition, modern farming and hybridization has led to grains that are even better at surviving. There’s a battle going on between that seed and your gut, and humans have made the seed stronger. Guess who wins?


Another major issue with grains are the high levels of pesticides like glyphosate often found on grains. In fact, a naturopathic oncologist I know claims her vegan and vegetarian patients tend to have the highest levels of glyphosate in their bodies. The reason – excessive grain consumption.


If you pay any attention to this topic you’ve probably heard, “It’s not the gluten, it’s the glyphosate”. This is not necessarily true; it could be both. If you have the genes for gluten intolerance (more on that later), it is the gluten…and likely the glyphosate as well. And even if your genes can handle gluten, the glyphosate may still be making you ill.


The only way to get rid of both of these problems is to eliminate grains from your diet altogether.


Another issue with grains that contribute to them being considered an “anti-food” are the molds and mycotoxins that grow as a result of the way grains are stored. (Mycotoxins are poisonous chemical compounds produced by certain fungi.) And unfortunately, in the United States mycotoxins on grains aren’t regulated very aggressively (shocking, right?). These toxins may or may not create problems for you, depending on your genetics. According to Dr. Osborne, certain genes make one susceptible to damage from mycotoxins.


And Then There’s the Carbs…


The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends getting 45 to 65 percent of your daily calories from carbohydrates. According to Dr. Osborne, the average American’s total intake of carbs is 60-70% of his or her diet. There is no health reason at all that you need this many carbs – both the IOM’s recommendation and the average intake are much higher than is needed for good health. In fact, both levels are more likely to harm you than help you.


Americans are just socially and culturally adjusted to high-carb eating. These excessive carbs can cause high blood sugar, which can lead to diabetes and other chronic health issues, as well as yeast overgrowth. Not to mention, processed carbs are linked to just about every inflammatory chronic disease imaginable.


Giving up grains and carbs can be challenging. Believe me, I’ve been there. Dr. Osborne recommends reframing your thinking about this and suggests not thinking about taking away food, but instead regaining health. Doesn’t that sound more appealing?


He also wisely suggests not necessarily gravitating towards grain-free flour replacements, which can also be high in carbs. As someone who took months to fully get onto a ketogenic diet, I can vouch for that natural human tendency to want to find replacements for bread, desserts, muffins, etc. However, if you indulge in these too much, you may still find yourself with a carbohydrate-induced health problem even though you’ve eliminated gluten and grain.


Instead, consider items made with grain-free flours an occasional treat.


Commonly used grain-free flours include almond, coconut, cassava, tapioca, arrowroot, and potato. Check out this flour chart for carbohydrate content (and be aware not all flours on this chart are grain-free).


One last – but very significant – issue with grains is the amount of omega-6 fatty acids they contain. Omega-6 fatty acids are essential as they perform very important functions like maintaining bone health and regulating metabolism. However, Americans eat waaaaay too many of them and in excess, omega-6 fats are very inflammatory.


In a perfect world, our ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats would be 1:1. Even 3:1 is admirable by today’s standards. Unfortunately, various sources state the average American’s ratio is anywhere from 10:1 to 50:1.


We are on fire with inflammation and grains are one of the major reasons.


It’s due to all of the reasons above that Dr. Osborne calls grains the perfect “anti-food”. In other words, it goes way beyond just gluten.


How to Tell if You’re Gluten Intolerant


Genetic testing is the most accurate and fastest way to see if you are gluten intolerant.


While elimination diets are often considered the “gold standard” of determining food intolerances, improvement after giving up gluten can take up to six months. Many folks don’t have that kind of patience. And even if you do feel better, you really don’t know why. It may or may not be related to gluten.


Most doctors, if they are even willing to perform a test for gluten sensitivity, will order an antibody test. However, antibody tests do not give a comprehensive picture because they primarily focus on the patient’s response to alpha-gliadin. Remember, there are over 1,000 types of gluten identified to date.


To throw another wrench into this, not all genetic tests are the same. Due to the popularity of companies such as 23 and Me, you may be familiar with SNPs (or single-nucleotide polymorphisms). These are genetic “blips” or mutations that in certain instances can have a profound impact on health.


A 23 and Me assessment is quite helpful in identifying SNPs causing you to be susceptible to certain things. However, the gluten related genetic variants looked at in most SNP testing, including 23 and Me, are celiac variants. And not all people with gluten sensitivity have celiac, which means you may not be properly diagnosed. Even when ordered by a doctor, he or she will typically order genetic tests for celiac and not for gluten sensitivity.


Gluten sensitivity is real and affects an estimated 30-40% of people. If you do have these genes and you expose yourself to gluten, you WILL have an immunological response that can harm your health.


How to Replace the Nutrients in Grains


Grains do contain a lot of B vitamins, I’ll give them that. They also contain fiber and important minerals like magnesium and selenium.


However, grains are not an essential food to obtain these nutrients; there are plenty of other sources of B vitamins, minerals and fiber. Animal products, especially organ meats, and mushrooms are both great sources of B vitamins. In fact, vitamin B12 is only found in animal products. (Sorry vegans, fortified nutritional yeast doesn’t count. Not to mention, nutritional yeast is often fortified with the synthetic, non-bioavailable, and some say toxic, cyanocobalamin form of B12.)


Bones and bone marrow are also a great source of B vitamins, particularly B6, B12 and folate. But I get it, organ meats and bones probably don’t sound that appetizing to you. Instead, try making a nutritious and delicious bone broth, which I call “liquid gold”. Find out how here.


Who Should be Concerned About Grains


My personal opinion as a nutrition professional is every human being should rethink eating grains. Even if you are not genetically susceptible to gluten sensitivity, grains pose so many other issues as mentioned above and are not a necessary part of your diet.


You should be very concerned about gluten if you have any autoimmune disease, period, or any other chronic degenerative disease such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, dementia or Alzheimer’s, osteoporosis, and others.


For more information on gluten and grains, check out Dr. Osborne’s book, No Grain, No Pain, or check out his website.


Final Words of Wisdom


The last question Dr. Lynch asked Dr. Osborne is whether he would change anything he was doing regarding his health over the past 20 years.


Dr. Osborne’s reply: “Nothing. Our past experiences shape who we are today and I would not want to change who I am today for any amount of money, or any amount of experiences.”


What is so inspiring about his answer is that improving your health now has nothing to do with what you may or may not have done in the past. This is something I’m constantly trying to help people understand. It’s not about blame or second guessing what you did when you didn’t know any better. It’s about empowering you now to make better choices.


Don’t go it alone. Yes, you can try but it will take you a lot longer and may be very frustrating. On the other hand, a mentor can fast track your health.


Nowadays there are many of experts out there who are well-versed in functional nutrition and medicine. Find someone you work well with and have them help you because it can save you time, money and frustration.


If you need help transitioning to a grain-free diet, please feel free to email me at If you have a serious autoimmune or other condition to address and are interested in working with a medical doctor who practices functional medicine, you can find one through the Institute for Functional Medicine.


Informed. Empowered. FIERCE.





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