One of the most popular areas of contemporary interest for modern family health surrounds the benefice of a gluten-free diet. I first discovered the health benefits of a gluten-free diet after the birth of my daughter. According to Forbes, over 3.1 million people were on a gluten-free diet in the USA in 2009. However, just over 70% of these people did not have coeliac disease but instead chose a gluten-free diet for the additional health benefits.
Gluten is a protein that occurs in grains such as wheat and barley. Some people have coeliac disease. This means that their body has an autoimmune response to these proteins which is not normal and can cause serious illness. It is also possible that rather than having coeliac disease you are have what is called a gluten sensitivity. This means that gluten may cause your digestive system to become irritated or inflamed. Either way, consuming gluten causes sickness and/or discomfort.
Every sensation in our body, whether we are aware of it or not, has the capacity to affect our day to day life. For example, an irritated gut has the capacity to trick our brain into thinking we are anxious, thus, causing stress. This is because anxiety’s effect is also largely felt in the gut and is commonly known as the feeling of butterflies in your stomach. My test for coeliac disease came back “borderline”. My doctor erred on the side of a “positive” which is why I simply choose not to consume gluten. Here are some other benefits of eliminating gluten from you diet:
1-Going Gluten-Free Improves Gut Health
Modern families are increasingly adopting a gluten-free diet to improve their collective health. But are there real benefits to going gluten-free if you do not have coeliac disease, or is it all just a fad? Should you eliminate gluten from your family’s diet?
Gluten can cause inflammation in the gut lining, especially in those who are sensitive to gluten. Inflammation itself is a sign of a problem. However, inflammation in the gut also means that the proper absorption of nutrients from our food cannot take place.
Going gluten-free can help to reduce inflammation and improve the overall health of the gut. The health of the gut can also be improved by taking probiotic products.
2- Going Gluten-Free Can Aid Weight Loss or Gain
Ok, so largely this benefit isn’t directly a result of going gluten-free! It’s a by-product. Most foods that contain gluten are processed foods that contain a lot of fats and sugars that cause us to put on weight. So, put down your cookies and your cupcakes – it will be kinder to your gut and your waistline!
For some, going gluten-free can help with gain and/or maintenance. Leaky gut syndrome (intestinal permeability) can cause essential nutrients to “leak” out and cause some to become undernourished.
3- Going Gluten-Free Can Improve Our Energy Levels
Opting for a gluten-free diet can reduce fatigue and improve energy levels. Studies conducted by The University of Aberdeen also found that adopting a gluten-free diet also improved concentration in its participants and found that they were able to think more clearly.
Gluten-free diets have been popular in celebrity culture for a long time now. Gwyneth Paltrow and Novak Djokovic are among stars who have gone gluten-free as a means of improving their physical and mental health.
Why does it lead to higher energy levels? Because going gluten-free reduces inflammation and bloating. This, in turn, improves the bodies capability to absorb the nutrients we need from the food we take in.
4- Going Gluten-Free Is Essential for Treating Auto-Immune Disorders
There is a major link between gluten and auto-immune disorders. In fact, to adequately treat an auto-immune disease it is imperative that you cut gluten from your diet.
If you have an auto-immune disease your body is trying to protect itself from toxins or even foods, it considers being harmful. However, your body fails to differentiate between your own body cells and the substance it is trying to defend you from.
So where does gluten come into it? The gluten we eat today is not the same gluten consumed by our grandparents. Wheat has been modified over the years to create fluffier bread, cakes, and pantries. It has also been altered to give it a more uniform structure and color.
We are being increasingly exposed to more gluten that our bodies are not naturally programmed to process. Our bodies can not tolerate this. Therefore, we experience more inflammation and poorer health of the gut along with auto-immune disorders.
5- Going Gluten-Free Helps Kids Who Are on The Autistic Spectrum
Research has found substantial evidence for a link between the brain and gut. Both adults and children who suffer from autism are much more likely to suffer from gastrointestinal problems. The Autism Research Institute has found that as many as 70% of children with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder also suffer from gastrointestinal distress.
These gastrointestinal problems cause the gut’s lining to become more permeable. Partly digested gluten and protein particles pass more easily through the more permeable membrane. The then travel to the brain and bind to opioid receptors. This affects the neurochemistry of the brain and causes symptoms of autism to worsen. For example, mood swings can become more frequent or intense.
A Few Extra Tips for Going Gluten-Free
- Firstly, concentrate on what you can eat. Not what you can’t eat! Habit is a tricky thing to break. Everyone who goes on a gluten-free diet finds it challenging to begin with.
- Buy a gluten-free cookbook.There are so many grain-free cookbooks that we love! Cookbook’s showing mouth watering pictures have the amazing ability to get us excited about food. They will also present you with ideas on how to create interesting meals that you will love on a gluten-free diet.
- Don’t cheat! Little bits of gluten here and there might not seem like much, however, they can cause your body distress and make you feel worse. If you are trying to change a habit you want to see progress. But progress is hard to see when improved health is clouded by little bits of distress due to cheating.
- Make connections. Join Facebook groups dedicated to sharing gluten free recipes and motivating each other to maintain the change of diet. Follow inspiring Instagrammers and / or create a Pinterest board to fill with new meals to try.
- Check labels on food packets and tins. The easiest way to break a gluten-free diet is accidentally! Check whether food contains gluten before consuming it.
- Reflect on how far you have come. Reflection and taking time to notice a difference will make it easier to maintain a gluten-free diet.
- Praise yourself. Rewarding positive actions is used in psychology to reinforce a desired behavior. Eventually, reinforcing a desired behavior creates a habit.
So, after reading this post how do you feel about glutens place in the modern family diet? Do you think you will be adopting a gluten-free diet in the future? Do you feel able to implements a family gluten free diet? If not, then why? Let us know, you might get your questions answered in a future blog post!
Here is Dex with Stella, our Speckled Sussex
How to Choose the Best Chicken Breeds
Choosing chicks for your flock can be exciting whether it is the first time you are raising chicks, or whether you are a seasoned chicken owner. Baby chicks are cute and it’s hard not to be tempted to take some home when you see them for sale at your local feed store. Before you do, there are a few things to think about.
Laying Hens vs. Meat Birds
Why do you want chickens? Do you want egg layers? Meat birds? If you slaughter and try to eat your laying hens, you will be in for a big disappointment. Chickens bred to be layers and chickens bred to be meat birds are very different. If you want to raise chickens for meat, you will choose either a pure breed or a hybrid breed. Some breeds have been altered so that these birds can be slaughtered for meat in only 44 days. We are skeptical of any type of “enhanced” anything around our homestead, so when we choose meat birds, they will be pure breeds.
Some good breed choices for meat birds include:
- Leghorn (think of the white chicken “Foghorn J. Leghorn” from the Looney Tunes cartoons)
- Jersey Giants
- Cornish Cross
Do your research because these breeds vary in “hatch to table” time.
Practicality vs. Aesthetics
Do you want birds to add to your food source on your homestead? If so, you will choose breeds for your flock that are “good layers” versus breeds that look fancy. There are so many different breeds out there that it can become quite addicting purchasing, raising, and getting to know the personalities and characteristics of each breed.
When looking to choose the best breeds for your flock that will be consistent laying eggs over time, you will want to look into the following breeds:
- Rhode Island Reds
- Plymouth Rocks
Personality vs. Practicality
Annika with our two newest Americauna birds, Earl the Pearl and Clara
This sounds funny but it’s true: we have noticed over the last decade that the different breeds have different personalities. Americaunas generally are very intelligent, personable and inquisitive birds. Our bird, Clory (named by our daughters) was the hen that was always by my side as I worked on fencing, coop upgrades, or other homestead maintenance projects. She would inspect my work and “talk” to us with her approval. Our other Americaunas have been, and are, the most intelligent birds in our flock. A bonus for owing Americaunas is that they lay the “Easter egg” colored eggs, which many people are amazed by.
Our Speckled Sussex birds are very similar to the Americaunas and they, too, lay about four to five light brown eggs a week. Our hen, Stella (pictured above) is the most intelligent, bravest bird we have. She is the last to roost at night and is the matriarch of the flock.
Rhode Island Reds are very good laying hens and are fairly intelligent birds, however, our Rhode Island Reds seem to be the most prone to broody behavior. We once had a hen go missing and we thought she had been taken by a predator. Weeks later we saw her emerge from underneath my workshop. After a check with a flashlight, we noticed that she had built a little nest of sorts and had laid almost 30 eggs before we noticed that she was there. Apparently she only came out to eat and drink when no one was around, and went right back to sitting on her “nest.” Sometimes broody hens don’t understand that those eggs won’t hatch!
If you are only looking for hens to produce eggs for you, and you aren’t really interested in having a chicken who will supervise your work or hang out with your children, we have found that these breeds are a a good choice:
- Black Australorps
- Speckled Sussex
- Plymouth Rock
Quiet vs. Noisy
It is amazing how some breeds can be quite vocal, whereas other breeds are very quiet and hardly make a sound. When we had our first flock, we technically lived inside the city limits although it was quite rural, and were not really supposed to have hens. Our neighbors had hens and no one minded, so we went ahead with the purchasing of our chicks, promising not to get any roosters. We wish knew then what we know now!
While we love our Buff Orpingtons because they are very beautiful and friendly, they seem to want to shout from the rooftops whenever they lay an egg. When you get a chorus of them going at once, it can be heard for miles around!
If you are interested in getting your first flock of backyard chickens and don’t want your neighbors to be bothered by the noise, then Black Australorps are the hens for you. While not the smartest hens in the coop, they are quiet birds and very consistent layers.
You can get into all kinds of fancy breeds, and even create breeds of your own, given the right rooster and hen. We will discuss roosters at another time. For now, you can learn more about the pros and cons of many of the more popular breeds here.
Here’s Kate with her first Rhode Island Red named “Red, Red, Red”
What are your favorite breeds, and why? If you don’t have chickens yet, what breeds would you like to start with?
Tell us a below!
It is hard losing animals you love and care for. The sad truth is, it’s inevitable on the homestead. We hope that this blog post helps when you wonder how to deal with losing animals on the homestead. For us, many of these animals are also our pets. Recently we lost our precious Leo. This loss was particularly hard on Kate, as we lost another cat named Charlie only a few months before. To add insult to injury, one of our hens was also taken the same week that Leo disappeared.
Homestead Animals Have Jobs
Here Benny and Charlie taking a break from rodent patrol by napping together next to the hay roll
Many of our animals on the homestead have jobs to do. Our barn cat, Benny, guards the barn from rodents. He is great at this! He is a little bit more cautious than Charlie and Leo were, because Benny doesn’t roam too far from the chicken house or the barnyard. Perhaps his feral mother taught him to be extra cautious. We adopted Benny and his mom at the same time. His mom did not stick around, but Benny did, and over the months became much more sociable. Today he is the sweetest, most loving cat we have ever owned. Charlie was also a feral cat, but he wandered a bit farther than Benny and he, like Leo disappeared without a trace.
We have had hens taken by hawks, fox, and coyotes. Over the years, we get used to this, and we understand that no matter how much we try to protect our animals, sometimes predators outsmart us. It is never easy to lose an animal. To my daughters, all of our animals are pets and every time we lose one, we all grieve. It is particularly hard on our youngest, Kate, who is still grieving over the loss of all of her animals. Each time we lose another, the grief of them all is renewed.
Grieving is Necessary
We all know how attached kids can get to pets. We have had memorials for Beta fish, baby opossums, beloved guinea pigs, baby birds that we’ve found as well as services for our hens and cats. When a child loses a pet for the first time, they don’t know that the feelings will be so strong, and they don’t know to expect grief. This is a big emotional load for a young child to deal with, not just the first time, but every time.
To a child, and to many adults who love their animals, losing a pet can feel like the loss of a human loved one. Pets are more than just animals to children; they are companions, good listeners, and even physical comforters. Pets can fill an emotional need for children like nothing else can. Feelings can range from anger, sadness, depression and despair. We lost Leo in early January, and we are all sad, however, Kate still falls into despair at times.
Allowing your child to have a ceremony can be helpful, and talking honestly with them about their feelings is important. For me, as a mom, I try so hard to not give the “adult response”, but to find my inner eleven-year-old who lost her dog one winter in Upstate NY. I grieved for that dog for months, maybe years. When Kate and I can talk about all of that honestly, I think it makes her feel like she’s not so alone. It doesn’t take away the heartache though; only time can do that.
Unfortunately, so often on the homestead, our animals disappear without a trace, and so no formal burial can take place. We try to remind Kate of all the fun times that she had with her animals, especially with Leo. We remind ourselves that some pets are with us for a long time, others for only a short time. Remembering Leo as a joyful cat who lived his life at 100 mph almost always makes us smile.
We made Kate this poster of Leo to help her remember all the fun times she had with her beloved kitten. It hangs in her room next to her bed.
And Then Another Animal Comes Along
Meet Jesse Covenant
Just when you think you can’t get any sadder, sometimes God gives you a gift. This little guy wandered over to our neighbor’s house. She called to tell me that she found Leo. When I got there, my heart sank; it wasn’t Leo. But, it turns out this guy was a stray who had obviously been wandering alone for quite some time. I brought him home, surprised Kate and her sister when they got home, and the rest as they say “is history.” For now, this guy’s only job is to live inside and bring joy to our healing hearts. He’s adjusted well, after his surgery, many naps, and proper nutrition. Kate has even taught Jesse how to walk on a harness!
The story of our journey toward a gluten-free lifestyle is one that has many subplots, complete with suspense and fascinating characters along the way. I won’t write the entire novel here, but I’ll give you the highlights instead.
Our Daughter Was Sick
When our second daughter was born, she had some serious issues which no doctor could pinpoint. Some of the more severe symptoms she had were not sleeping, dark red circles under her eyes and lots of fussiness which mostly came at night time. She was exclusively breastfed as a baby, and even nursing her did not help her sleep. As our daughter grew, her symptoms did not change, and she began to withdraw. She had what I call the “checked out look”, you know that dreamy stare that doesn’t actually focus on anything?
When our daughter Kate was born, her sister was only 17 months old, and although I was busy caring for my two babies, I took every.single.spare second to read and research so that I could find an answer to what was wrong with my daughter. I felt like this was on my shoulders because the practitioners on our ever-growing list of People Who Could Possibly Help was getting us nowhere.
Autism Spectrum Disorders and Dental Work
The more research I did on why babies didn’t sleep and had dark circles under the eyes, the more I came across issues related to Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The more I read about Kate’s symptoms and ASD, the more I read about the benefits of a gluten-free lifestyle (and dairy-free, too). As I delved deeper into this rabbit hole, the more I learned about metal toxicity and how it relates to ASD and allergies.
It was then that I began to realize that perhaps it was the mercury that was chipped out of my teeth and replaced with composite fillings a few months before, that affected my baby. I had some old amalgam fillings that needed replacing when I was pregnant. My dentist decided to wait and do this as soon after my baby was born as possible, so I had these fillings replaced when Kate was only four or five weeks old. Since she was still breastfeeding, she too, was poisoned by the mercury that went through my body, and, into hers via my breastmilk.
Research is Key
At that time I was not aware that there are dentists who take mercury removal extremely seriously, and that there is a proper protocol for mercury removal. Since I did not know this, I went to my regular dentist who removed these fillings from my molars and as she was doing so, I remember swallowing chunks of my old fillings thinking to myself, this can’t be good.
It wasn’t until months later that I learned of the damage that mercury can do, particularly to a growing brain. Kate also had some exposure to toxic metals via a flu shot that I had when I was pregnant, and by all the vaccinations that she had at birth and until she was 9 months old.
Diet Changes and ASD
Another thing that kept coming up in my research was the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD). This diet that has helped many children who are on the spectrum, and has helped many adults with leaky gut syndrome. Learning about leaky gut was a big aha! moment for me, as I had always had gut issues, ever since having surgery for an intestinal issue when I was two days old. It also made sense to me that anything that I was ingesting was going straight into my daughter, given that she was exclusively breastfed.
The first thing the SCD teaches is that you should cut out all grains. Wheat/gluten is a big culprit in causing gut issues, and so as I continued to try to find a practitioner who could help us, I cut out gluten, grains, many carbs that I was used to eating, and sugar. If you are imagining that going cold-turkey with this was probably hard, you’d be wrong. It was excruciating. I’m not gonna lie. And, I had a fairly healthy diet to begin with. I have always been into natural health and I knew the list of no-nos on Dr. Andrew Weil’s list, but it was still hard. So hard, that I have a very vivid memory of standing in my kitchen one weekend sobbing uncontrollably because I had to cook everything from scratch. Everything. Every. Little. Thing. No packaged anything for us. Plus, I was beyond sleep-deprived, and was caring for two babies, who now both had issues. (I had also continued to breastfeed my oldest daughter when I brought Kate home and she suffered some effects of this too.)
Eating Gluten-Free Today is Easy
The year we journeyed toward the gluten-free lifestyle was 2006, and back then, we couldn’t just run to our local grocery store and buy gluten-free items. I think there was one brand of rice bread at the store and not only did it taste awful and fall apart when you tried to use it, but it definitely wasn’t allowed on the SCD.
If we wanted any “baked goods” I had to make them out of almond flour. We bought almond flour in bulk, 25 pounds at a time, from a company who has since changed its name. It would come in a giant box in a giant bag and we’d repackage it in ziplock bags. I desperately missed bread, muffins, pastries, and crackers, but I found alternative ways of making these via the Specific Carbohydrate Diet. I had to learn to love cooking and baking. (I faked it then and I still don’t like it!)
The last doctor we saw around the time we went full-force with the SCD was a pediatric allergist. We opted for one blood draw, instead of the prick tests, and although this doctor made us feel ashamed for bringing our daughter the hour’s drive only to put her through the blood draw, he still agreed to do it. He kept telling us that we had a “perfectly health daughter” . Imagine how smug I felt when he called me on a Saturday morning, to tell me, “get your daughter off of all forms of gluten ASAP because she is highly allergic“. Thankfully, I had already learned that removing gluten could help, and we had been off of it for two or three weeks at that point.
Cheating and Proof
As we waited for Kate’s allergy reports, my own testing proved that Kate truly was allergic to wheat, as I suspected. One day I ate about one-third of a piece of Pizza Hut “personal pan pizza” while shopping at Target. Can you picture how small that is? I was starving and I had been on the SCD for about three weeks. Disclaimer: I never did the SCD intro diet; I went straight for the second stage. I just didn’t see how I could maintain strength while nursing two babies and not getting any sleep and by eating only gelatin and broth. I do know that the intro diet is a very important stage in healing though.
The fallout from that cheat was horrible. While Kate’s symptoms had not entirely disappeared, she was doing a little better in terms of not looking so “checked out” and the circles under her eyes were a bit lighter in color. After this one “cheat” her symptoms came back with a vengeance, and I did not cheat one tiny bit for the next 26 months.
After about eight to ten weeks, we saw big improvements in Kate’s behavior and in her skin, her eyes and her circles under the eyes. It was as if the fog she was in was cleaning. By that time, we had found a doctor (and a dentist) who understood our issues. We thank God for both of them. The doctor we found is a DAN! (Defeat Autism Now!) doctor.
Our dentist is a member of the IAOMT board, and both of these practitioners taught us so much about the immune system and overall health. I believe that our DAN! doc saved Kate from an autism spectrum diagnosis. I believe that if we had not followed his protocol for repairing her gut and mine (and our immune systems), that events would have turned out much differently for us.
We Still Live a Gluten-Free Lifestyle
After a few years, I was tested for Celiac Disease. My results came back right on the border of “yes” and “no”, smack in the middle. My doctor took that as a yes, and it did explain why, after being off of gluten for a while, I gained weight (I had always had a hard time keeping weight on), and felt healthier than I had in years.
Today my girls and I still live a gluten-free lifestyle. About two and a half years into the SCD, I also introduced grains to my diet. I can handle these now in moderation. I tried eating wheat again a few years after doing the SCD, and it just didn’t really give me warm-fuzzy feeling I thought it might, and it made me constipated so I went back to the gluten-free lifestyle. This turned out to be a very good thing for me, because I have Hashimoto’s and was also reated for Lyme disease a few years ago, (thank you, mercury). Living a gluten-free lifestyle helps with any auto-immune disorder.
Both of my girls understand the health benefits of the way we eat. Kate has eaten tiny pieces of bread so she knows what “regular” bread tastes like, and when we go to church and receive holy communion she now consumes the “regular” host instead of the g/f one and she does just fine. Sometimes if we eat out, my girls will order French fries (these should usually NOT be eaten if you are living a gluten-free lifestyle, because of cross-contamination), but that also seems to be just fine for them in moderation.
Today, I still bake with almond flour, but not as regularly as before, and now that the SCD has improved our guts, we can eat other grains which allows us to be able to walk into pretty much any grocery store and buy gluten-free things like bread, muffins, crackers, and granola bars. We still prefer homemade things because of the high sugar content of many of these gluten-free packaged foods, but it’s nice to know that they are available to us if we want them, and it definitely makes living the gluten-free lifestyle a lot easier.