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!
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.
Add cranberry for a great holiday twist!
Sauerkraut is one of our super foods! Fermented foods contain beneficial probiotics which help with digestion, and overall immune support.
Unfortunately, you don’t get the same benefits from sauerkraut that you buy at the grocery store; it just doesn’t have time to ferment properly before being packaged and sold, and the fermenting process is what creates all those good-for-you probiotics!
Making sauerkraut is simple and easy and is one of the best recipes to start with if you are new to fermenting foods. I’ll tell you how I got started fermenting foods. Years ago, I read the book Nourishing Traditions and began learning about the health benefits of fermented foods. The first thing I tried to ferment was shredded carrots in a mason jar, covered with cheesecloth. I followed all the steps and watched my carrots religiously, however, nothing really seemed to happen. I tried making kimchi once after that and that, too, was a disappointment.
Fast forward a few years to the day I went to a fermenting class with a friend. It was an “aha!” moment for me when they showed us a tiny little gadget called an airlock. Where had this been al my life? This simple gadget is the key to making safe, delicious fermented foods.
This tiny gadget is the key to making safe fermented foods
You can purchase a pre-made five-gallon bucket (or larger!) that will come with the grommet and the airlock, or you can make your own. Simply drill a hole, place the grommet inside, but be certain it is tight-fitting, and insert the airlock. Voila’! You are ready to make sauerkraut.
Now it’s time to get to work. Gather the following items and sanitize everything before you begin:
- food-grade five-gallon bucket with lid, grommet and airlock
- about 5-7 pounds of shredded cabbage
- non-iodized salt (2 teaspoons per pound of veggies)
- spoon, stamper or something else to submerge the cabbage (or use your hands!)
Step 1. Shred your cabbage. Use green or red cabbage or a mixture of both, add shredded carrots, shredded apple, or whatever your heart desires. Toss in some aromatics like juniper berries, or even cranberries for the holidays. Mix it up. You can’t go wrong!
Step 2. Transfer cabbage (and other veggies or aromatics) into your bucket, add salt, add enough water to cover the vegetables and mix well. I put rubber gloves on and get right in there with my hands. It is very important to use non-iodized salt. sometimes known as “cheese salt”. Iodized salt does not allow fermentation to occur.
Step 3: Weight your veggies. I place a medium-sized ceramic bowl in a ziplock bag and place this over the vegetables to keep them submerged in the brine. You can also purchase weights for this purpose, but I have never found them necessary.
Step 4: Place the cover on the bucket and let the magic happen!
Check every other day or so to make sure your vegetables are submerged in the brine. Active fermentation will cause them to rise up. Be sure to check for mold. You cannot see or smell mold, but you will feel it, and it means that oxygen got in. If you feel a slimy film over your vegetables, throw it out. It is okay to see a film over your veggies, but that film should not be slimy! Remember: when in doubt, throw it out!
The longer your sauerkraut ferments, the stronger the flavor will be. Test it every day and remove it when it is perfect for you. We like our sauerkraut fairly mild, so we usually remove ours after about 7-10 days, but you can leave yours fermenting for up to 30 days.
After you transfer your sauerkraut to mason jars or containers, if you have leftover juice, be sure to save it! This juice is wonderful for gargling with if you have a sore throat.
Strain and save your leftover juice!
Store your sauerkraut in the refrigerator or water-bath can, which is what we do!
This past July we took a trip to Kentucky, fueled by our eleven-year old’s enthusiasm for all things Breyer. She had wanted to go to the Breyer Horse Festival for years. We figured, why not? We left in July, during the worst heat-wave of the year, and headed north. Our trip consisted of stopping to see the girls’ aunt and uncle in Atlanta on the way, and seeing The Ark Encounter. On the way back we made a stop in Asheville, and, finally back home again. But this post will be about the Kentucky Horse Park and Old Friends Farm.
We knew we’d have an amazing trip, because this is what we saw before we left.
We left early on Thursday en route to Atlanta to see Aunt M and Uncle B along the way. We stayed the night in Atlanta and left the next morning, headed for Georgetown, KY!
Seeing this sign brought back so many memories for me! I went to college and graduate school not far from Saratoga Raceway, and lived there for ten years before moving to Florida. Every summer you’d find me standing by the rail, watching the horses race. I didn’t bet much, (what college student can afford it?) but I absolutely loved going up to the track at dawn and having breakfast while watching the exercise jockeys work the horses. I can’t even say how many famous horses I saw run there.
Here we are at the Kentucky Horse Park!
We made it to the Kentucky Horse Park and the Breyer Festival 2016. We followed many cars and minivans in decorated with “Breyer Fest or Bust”. We were excited!
The Breyer Fest was a bit of a disappointment for us. I guess we were expecting more activities, and less spending opportunities, especially since the tickets to get in were not cheap. To this practical-minded mom, I saw it as a big outdoor Breyer store. My girls enjoyed browsing the shopping area, but we could have done that anywhere (or at home online!) The part that we enjoyed most was seeing the retired racehorses. And this led us to visit Old Friends Farm, which, lucky for us, was right down the road!
The sweet boy, Silver Charm
Old Friends Farm is a thoroughbred retirement home and is a beautiful place with a serene and happy energy. We called ahead to book our tour and when we arrived found that our group was very small (they keep them small so that visitors have an intimate experience with the horses). Our tour guide, Laura, was terrific and to our surprise we were joined by Michael, the owner and founder of the farm. The tour took about an hour and a half and we didn’t want it to end (even though we were in a once-in-every-few-decades-heat wave!)
Please read more about Michael Blowen here. If you ever wanted to support an organization, this would be the one! The information we learned about each horse was incredible and I wish I had kept better records of who we saw, who we got to pet and love and feed. I know I saw some of these guys race at Saratoga years before.
I tried to keep up by making notes on my phone about each horse, but being the horse lover that I am, that quickly feel by the wayside; I didn’t want to miss a moment with these amazing animals, and I was right up front ready to stroke and feed and whisper sweet-nothings to these beauties.
Michael and Silver Charm
It was really fun for us to hear Michael’s story about how he got started rescuing these horses, and his love for them was palpable. I think if we lived in Kentucky, we’d definitely volunteer here!
We loved this farm and can’t wait to go back again.