Category Archives: Nourishing Yourself

Why the words “gluten-free” make me cringe.

I am about to go on a rant…

Tonight I was poking around Facebook and saw an amazing homemade raspberry pie made with homegrown berries coming out of the oven. It looked beautiful.  I also saw the baker go from happily showing off her skills, to making a sad face because someone asked her if her pie crust was gluten-free. I  am so very  tired of seeing this.

In the same way that I was tired of allopathic physicians refusing to acknowledge the idea of food sensitivities,  I am also tired of seeing food guilt forced on people because going gluten-free is trendy right now.   Orthorexia nervosa is a type of disordered eating which translates quite literally to  “fixation on rightous eating.”  The number of diagnoses is on the rise and  I can’t help but think that all this diet dogma in society is fueling this trend.

I am also tired of hearing holistic providers instantly fall back on gluten as a catch all for every physical ailment just because they don’t take time to dig for the core problem. I had a consultation a few years back with a practitioner who immediately jumped into the gluten thing – not knowing that I had been thoroughly tested for all such issues previously. I lost respect for her the moment the word “gluten” came out of her mouth.   This isn’t a limited phenomenon.

I’ve also had holistic practitioners  tell me that I would get my weight under control by getting my blood sugar down.   At last check my fasting blood glucose was 84, but of course they wouldn’t know that because they jumped the gun.  I am careful not to fall into the same trap.  I do my research and listen to my client’s story.

Gluten is a catch all term for over 70 different proteins in wheat with similar properties which are further categorized into gliadins and glutenins. If a practitioner tells you there is no way to diagnose wheat issues,  they haven’t done their research.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune enteropathy with ~1% prevalence. That’s right less than 1 percent of the population has Celiac’s disease and all Celiac’s sufferers present with Celiac disease-specific antibodies (anti-TG2, anti-D-gliadin) and a positive biopsy.

Wheat Allergies also exist. Sufferers present with wheat-specific IgE antibodies, specific clinical symptoms and positive skin prick tests.

Non-Celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) also exists. These people will test negative for the anti-TG2 and anti-D-gliadin antibodies but will test positive for anti-gliadin antibody.

If you have any of these serologic or genetic markers, you need to stop eating wheat.  But that still may not be enough.

Studies have shown that the IgG antibody response to gluten does not necessarily indicate an innate sensitivity to gluten. This is huge in terms of the bunk advice being tossed around on the Internet and picked up on by providers. The focus on removing gluten from the diet as a “cure” may be causing practitioners to overlook the fact that dysbiosis is causing the health concerns. In more simple terms, the reaction to gluten may be a symptom of disease, not the cause.

So the frequently offered diagnostic suggestion – an elimination diet – isn’t going to help make the call as to whether you have one of the gluten/wheat sensitivities or whether  it is just a case of your gut flora being off-kilter.

If you don’t have these serologic and genetic markers of celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, it is entirely possible that your reaction to gluten lies in an imbalanced microbial presence in your gut.

Dysbiosis may lead to increased gut permeability which is allows passage of gluten, casein and other proteins into the body where the body’s proper immune function is to create antibodies to these foreign invaders. Eliminating gluten from the diet may ease some symptoms, but in the end another protein such as casein in dairy,  or zein in corn,  will take gluten’s place and soon you end up with an individual who can’t eat anything. You all know that person who is allergic to everything.

If this is the case, you are going to need turn to a protocol that restores intestinal flora AND rebuilds the lining of your gastrointestinal tract.  Just as an aside, that does not mean “go out and drink a bunch of sugary probiotic drinks”.     I learned this lesson the hard way, setting back my own health progress using water kefir as a quick fix for probiotics.   There are no quick fixes.

Now I am not saying that you won’t feel better if you cut out gluten. Replacing gluten with some other sort of more easily digested grain may feel  better for you. I do not have any of the above reactions to wheat and still make a conscious choice not to overdo the gluten in my diet. When I do have wheat, I often eat sourdoughs  because the traditional manner of fermenting grains, starts to break down the proteins to a more digestible form.   But I am super cautious about all allergy causing foods because I have an autoimmune disorder.

Most people with autoimmune conditions will benefit from the removal of wheat, casein, zein and other foods known to result in allergies and sensitivities. I generally suggest elimination diets for autoimmune clients but that is not for the purpose of rechallenge, it is just to give the system a break. You have to be careful about this because I often feel worse when I  eliminate grains because my diet swings too low-carb. I feel better when I add a little bit back into my diet.

I have additional concerns about the gluten-free craze.  A lot of these gluten-free mixes are still full of preservatives and additives.    On top of that, they are expensive.  I don’t know how many young family’s I have seen struggling to stay on top of a food budget while trying to make “gluten-free” substitutions.

Secondly, substituting “gluten-free” for wheat doesn’t alleviate the fact that there are too many carbs in the standard American diet.    Replacing your giant morning muffin with a “gluten-free”  alternative still contributes to chronic health issues like insulin resistance and diabetes mellitus.

Replacing one finely ground white powder for another does not necessarily mitigate health concerns surrounding gluten. Todd Caldecott states in his book  Food as Medicine,  “Very few of these alternatives were traditionally milled into a fine flour and used in baked goods, and many of them have the same types of anti-nutrient factors and immune sensitizers as gluten-containing  cereals such as wheat.” (Caldecott, 2011, p. 53)  Furthermore the companies don’t tell you that oats and barley contain gluten-like substance with very similar properties, avenin and hordein respectively.

Personally I’d rather see a client eating a whole wheat  sourdough pancake than something made from  finely processed white rice flour.  Also I hate the idea of imposing a certain dietary dogma on people.

Here is the deal. As a practitioner, I’ve seen people improve on paleo diets, I’ve seen people improve on whole grain diets. I think how you eat is a personal choice. Most people who start thinking about how they eat show improvement. They start making choices that are going to be more healthful. They start cutting out additives and preservatives from their diet. They start cooking their food. They start having more family meals and they start feeling better about their food.  That’s what I want to see.  I don’t care what they have in the pot.

Works Cited:

Alaedini, A. (2013). Celiac Disease, Gluten Sensitivity and Neuropsychiatric Disease. National Celiac’s Awareness Foundation.

Caldecott, T. (2011). Food as Medicine. Vancouver.

Nga M. Lau, P. H. (2012). Markers of Celiac Disease and Gluten Sensitivity in Children with Autism . Columbia University: Celiac Disease Center,


Personal Seasoning Blends – Eat Your Bitters

0978ad46cc961d206956e9a0326dcd81My students are reading  The Wild Medicine Solution by Guido Masé for our book discussion and I am very much enjoying, myself.    It is fun to read something for the first time with them, because we are all learning together.   Guido rocks the bitters section in this book and his thoughts support a lot of my theories about various phytonutrients mitigating modern diet concerns and allostatic load.

I think my first exposure to the importance of bitters came from Jim McDonald who is a veritable font of information on the subject.    His Blessed Bitters is a good introduction to the subject, so my purpose in this post is not to explain their importance, but rather to share my ways that I incorporate Bitters into my diet.

As longtime readers know, we cook our own food around here and I am a very large proponent of eating your herbs.   I incorporate them into my food whenever possible because honestly… I am not going to remember to take 20 tinctures a day.    So while it is nice to have a  bottle of warming bitters  to be able to tuck in my bag when I am out traveling,  at home I prefer to figure out ways to cook with them.    I also run pretty cold.  So even though the classic bitter greens are a hugely important part of my diet, I need to find ways to warm them up a bit.   I eat eggs and greens for breakfast almost every morning braised with seasonings.  Similarly, if  I make chamomile tea chances are I am going to add some orange peel and fennel to warm it up.

One of my favorite ways to get bitters everyday is to put them in a seasoning mix that I make ahead of time and keep in a cute little crock by my stove.

To begin making this blend,  I grind  equal amounts of what I jokingly call na Tríonóide Naofa of seeds: burdock ,  milk thistle, and nettle seed.  Nettles are a bit  drying for me at times, so I use them sparingly and sometimes leave them out during the winter.

To that mixture  I add an equal amount of the  warming bitter fenugreek, mushroom powder and a good amount of rosemary.  You can use any mushroom powder you enjoy but  this 14 Mushroom Powder that is very nice and I’ve heard good things of the owner from many herbalists.

To this combination I add long pepper (because it is less drying than black pepper), sea salt,  and oregano in equal amounts.  My purpose is to try to round the flavors out in a manner similar to the way a churna would be made.    You can easily substitute in other culinary herbs  that balance out your energetics.  Perhaps you need more drying herbs?   While not a traditional churna because it is quite heavy on the bitters, I use this frequently to cook with and to season my food.

My Personal Bitter Seasoning Blend Formula

1 part milk thistle seed
1 part burdock seed
1 part nettle seed
1 part fenugreek
1 part dried mushroom powder  (if using only reishi you want to cut this back to a tablespoon)
1/2 part rosemary
1/4 part sea salt
1/4 part long pepper or black pepper
1/4 part oregano

If you have this made up and easily accessible, it makes it a lot easier to quickly add bitters to other preparations.     For example, the recipe below is the  bone broth recipe I’ve been throwing together, lately.    I drink it as a beverage, use it for  soups and cooking  rice for a quick pilaf.    For vegetarian dishes,  I have been making my garlic-astragalus broth with the seasoning blend.

Bone Broth might be a bit of a misnomer...

Bone Broth might be a bit of a misnomer

Bone Broth

2 lbs. marrow bones, chicken bones
1/2 cup chopped chicken livers
¼ cups sage  infused vinegar
2 onions chopped
2 cups chopped herbs from the garden
Garlic to taste. I usually use a whole head
½ cup dried burdock root
¼ cup dried seaweed.
1 cup fresh enoki mushrooms (or other favorite)
3 tbsp. of your personal seasoning blend
3 tbsp powdered astragalus

I make this recipe in a very large crock-pot.  You may want to adjust the recipe according to the size of your pot. There are many different ways to make bone broth.  I don’t always make it exactly like this. A lot of people like ginger in their bone broth but we are dealing with some dryness around here so I prefer to use copious amounts of garlic.

Roast marrow bones in the oven at 350 degrees for twenty minutes.  Place bones and liver (cut up into small pieces) in stock pot or large crock-pot and fill 2/3 full with water. Add vinegar and let soak in cold water for about at least 2 hours.

Add the chopped vegetables,  dry herbs and spices.   During the winter you can use things like potato skins,  carrots, sweet potatoes or mung bean sprouts.  During the rest of the year I like to use foraged greens and herbs from the garden.  Right now dandelion greens, chickweed, chives and cleavers are all abundant.

Turn on the heat to low and let it go for a at least a day. If you make big batches like this, you can freeze it. A friend of mine freezes hers in mason jars and I think that is brilliant because you thaw out a quart a day and make sure you drink it or use it, every day. I also hate plastic. Just don’t a place hot mason jar in the freezer. Wait until the broth has cooled to room temperature to avoid the risk of the glass shattering.

Celebrations, moderation, and the standard American diet…

Trapolin puts the final touches on our friend's birthday cake.

Trapolin puts the final touches on our friend’s birthday cake.

I feel like I’ve addressed this before, but  I thought this picture was a perfect opportunity to discuss my dietary philosophy.    I have a lot of friends who would be aghast at the amount of sugar and saturated fats in this cake.  Some , don’t even allow their kids to have a birthday cake which I honestly I find to be ridiculous.  The occasional celebratory cake is  not the problem with the standard American diet.  It is our inability to relegate sugar to its proper place in our diet.  The issue lies in daily soda or juice consumption and the additon of high fructose corn syrup to the pounds of processed foods Americans consume, daily.    Also, when people do eat dessert, their serving sizes are far too large.    You would be amazed how many people I can make a cake like this feed.   I also have friends who only eat honey or sugar substitutes.   That doesn’t work for me either.  Honey isn’t really any better for you than organic evaporated cane juice, if you eat too much.      I am also not going to set myself up to be the target of every slimy advertising campaign promoting the newest, greatest sugar substitute.    Excessive sweet is not health producing, regardless of its form.   I wish I could tell you differently, but that just isn’t the way your body works.

Like wise other friends tut tut when I post pictures of breads and grain products.  Personally I don’t  think carbs are going to destroy your health and make you fat.  I think that Americans eat too many of the wrong kind of carbs.   Also,  Americans  don’t soak our grains or ferment them.    There is a reason grandma used to leave the buttermilk pancakes on the counter overnight.     The predigestion of those grains helped rid them of certain elements such as phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors,  that were not health producing.     I truly don’t believe people need to avoid gluten because wheat was bad for us in its traditional form.  But , along with corn, soybeans, and other crop foods, wheat  has been modified in the lab to become something poisonous to our bodies.    Or perhaps, our bodies just can’t handle all the toxins and we are all walking around on overload.  The  impact  genetic modification has had on our food supplies and our health is best left as a topic for another day.

I base a lot of  my dietary beliefs on the fact that I come from a long line of individuals who lived to be damn old eating sugar,  bread and cake at birthday parties.

D0 you know what they didn’t eat? They didn’t eat chemicals.   They didn’t eat high fructose corn syrup, preservatives or petroleum based food additives.    They didn’t eat hydrogenated fats.   There was no plastic in their foods because it was dehydrated, fermented, stored in burlap bags or canned in glass jars.     But my family also skipped a generation and  my parents were kind of hippies.    I think that sort of food preparation has been, for the most part, been erased from cultural memory.   Many foodies out there miss the boat when they tell  young people to eat like their grandma ate.   Because I’ve seen how my husband’s grandma cooks, and I don’t think Franco American Spaghetti out of a can was what Michael Pollan had  in mind when he penned  that recommendation.

There are some things that we try to avoid:

1.  High Fructose Corn Syrup,  Additives,  Preservatives, Food Dyes   Basically if it isn’t a plant derivative, I don’t want to eat it.

2.  Processed, packaged foods that have a shelf life longer than my batteries.

3.  GMO’s ; especially in the form of the grains that I bake with.

4.   Hydrogenated fats

5.  White foods (sugar, rice, flour, etc)    We do use organic, unbleached flour when we bake but I always try to mix it with whole grain flours.

6.  Soy, unless it has been fermented.

Things we try to include in our diet:

1.  Organic food ; especially grains  and legumes in an attempt to avoid GMOs.

2.  Nourishing Beverages; including smoothies,  nourishing infusions,  chai made from nourishing dried roots, and bone broth.

3.  Foods we’ve made from scratch.

4.  Variety —  I can think of many different kinds of grains, legumes, seeds and nuts we have in the house for cooking with right now.    I tend to think we eat far more different kinds of vegetables than your average household does, although I admit I am currently struggling with the kids and their  eating their veggies.

5.  Spices – Since my days of running around renaissance faires, I have know about medieval cookery and its generous use of herbs.

Sometimes though, we cheat and I don’t really make any apologies about it.   I think you are setting yourself up for failure if you are too restrictive about anything.  Failure just leads to feeling guilt and stress.    I don’t need that in my life.

I am pretty sure that there are many ways to eat healthily.  Which diet you choose is not the issue,  what is important is actually taking the time to think about what you eat, how much you are eating and why you eat it.   I don’t think most people do that, and that is what is wrong with the standard American diet.