Gluten-Free For a Healthy Core
Inflammation is known to be the precursor to most disease and dysfunction. Inflammation in the gut inhibits muscular function of the CORE and the deep core muscles as a result of the viscero-somatic reflex, putting the pelvic girdle at risk of dysfunction. Therefore, reducing inflammation and healing the gut is a key component to pelvic rehab and activation of the CORE. As a physical therapist specializing in core dysfunctions, I cannot ignore inflammation in the gut and provide my patients and clients with as many resources as possible, including a referral to a knowledgeable nutrition expert.
Gluten, the protein in wheat and other grains such as barley, spelt, rye, triticale, etc, is often at the heart of inflammation for many reasons. This can be the result of celiac's disease, food allergy and/or gluten sensitivity. Gluten is one of the top food allergens and is often recommended to avoid in persons with auto-immune diseases, joint pain and digestive issues. This might be due to glyphosate (the ingredient in Round Up) to increase crop production, according to many experts. Pesticides, additives and fertilizer is foreign to our natural bodies and the immune system responds by increasing white blood cell production, increasing mucus production from the mouth to the anus. This is a good reason to buy and eat organic fruits and vegetables, in addition to avoiding genetically modified organisms (GMOs). In addition, many people find their seasonal allergic reaction to environmental allergens such as trees, ragweed, pollen and more is lessened by avoiding gluten.
Many years ago, I was diagnosed with a wheat allergy after many years of experiencing headaches, chronic pain and constipation. I recognized that my musculoskeletal pain was driven by inflammation in my gut. It took me years to figure this out and research is confirming this phenomenon. I believe poor vagus nerve tone is involved with more sensory messages going to the brain from the gut. More on the vagus nerve in another blog. Initially, I focused on avoiding gluten, while depriving myself of other foods that I was sensitive to, including most dairy products. I avoided foods but I didn't supplement my diet with essential vitamins and minerals. Gluten-free packaged products, although convenient, can contain a lot of processed sugar and other ingredients that wreak havoc on the gut. At the time, I had only half the solution to heal my gut. Now, there is overwhelming evidence that healing a leaky gut, one cell thickness in the lining of the intestines causing essential nutrients to leak out of the gut and contributing to inflammation, is responsible for food allergies and many diseases affecting all systems of the body. Many experts believe a leaky gut can be remedied by avoiding gluten and balancing out the good and bad bacteria in the gut, also known as the "microbiome." In addition to avoiding gluten and pesticides, it is recommended to take a probiotic containing multiple strains of bacteria, eat fermented or cultured vegetables and/or yogurt that contains more than one live culture to restore the microbiome and heal the gut. I now add that nervous system regulation is a key component to gut health.
Ironically or purposefully (I believe nothing happens by chance), I was drawn to helping other individuals heal and recover from pelvic pain and chronic conditions that affect the core. I opened my private practice physical therapy clinic in 2009 and named it Healthy Core Wellness & Rehab. I cannot boast of a healthy core, even before having children. After a lifelong history of constipation and irritable bowel syndrome, five pregnancies, three reproductive surgeries and multiple falls and traumas as an active child, I am a work in progress, like many of you. I want to share with you what I have learned thus far so you can avoid making some of the same mistakes, some albeit expensive ones, and simplify gluten-free living.
1. Clean out your pantry and get rid of any temptations. Realize not everyone in your family is going to buy-in to your new way of living, but if you are doing most of the cooking, they will benefit too. When I switched to gluten-free, my husband lost inches on his waist, became less bloated and experienced less joint pain, even though he didn't think he had a problem with gluten. He does the majority of the cooking and shopping now and is gluten-free as well. Avoid any flour or products containing: wheat, durum flour, cous cous, graham flour, kamut, semolina, spelt.
2. Substitute baking and cooking with gluten-free flour alternatives including gluten-free flour blends, breadcrumbs and pasta. Generally rice, quinoa, corn and nut flour variations that are non-GMO are safe. I made the mistake early on not using a blend of flours and buying mixes that tasted horrible. Once I learned how to cook and prepare gluten-free food properly, it was an easy sell for my family and now no one knows the difference (except that my toilets are not clogged on a daily basis).
3. Avoid beer and some distilled liquors with the exception of maybe silver tequila (made with agave), Tito's vodka, hard cider and Omission beer. Celiac.com has a more comprehensive list of alternatives that are safe. Red wine contains resveratrol, known to help reduce inflammation, and may be a better choice, in moderation.
4. Avoid most hard candy with the exception of some of my favorites: Gin-gins, organic gummy bears and most plain high-quality chocolate. I have found most hard candy contains gluten and artificial coloring and have suffered from its effects unknowingly.
5. Ask for a gluten-free menu when eating out. Most restaurants now have a separate menu and if not, ask your server to consult with the chef. Realize there is a risk of cross-contamination any time you eat out or away from your home. Be careful of condiments such as ketchup, soy sauce and salad dressings and opt instead for mustard, horseradish, salsa, oil and vinegar or ask if the dressing was made inhouse and if it contains gluten.
6. Watch for hidden sources of gluten often disguised under the names, malt flavoring or modified food starch. Other sources of gluten you should avoid include: processed cheese (such as blue cheese), soy sauce, some prescription and over the counter medicines and vitamins, licorice, most gravies or anything not certified gluten-free; the FDA requires less than 20 parts per million in order for the label to boast of being gluten-free. Also note that wheat-free does not guarantee a product to be gluten-free.
7. Bring your own gluten-free food to parties, on trips, when traveling by plane. I have suffered from the negative effects of hunger and out of desperation eating something I shouldn't have. Unless I am familiar with the grocery store where I am going or the food that will be where I am going, I pack some my own food. I am fortunate that most members of my family (siblings included) are now gluten-free so get-togethers and parties are now easier for me to enjoy and I don't have to leave hungry.
8. Rotate grains in your diet. If you have rice one day, avoid it for two days, while incorporating other grains, if necessary, during this time. According to some experts, grains should be avoided altogether, but this is one area I struggle with. Moderation is key and admittedly, sometimes I tip the scales. I find it takes about 72 hours to clear the inflammation from my gut due to colon transit time.
9. Include probiotic foods or supplements in your diet. I have canned my own fermented cabbage (as seen in the above photo) and make homemade coleslaw and sauerkraut along with switchel, a homemade probiotic spritzer made with lime juice, fresh ginger, apple cider vinegar and seltzer (it's delicious). Other sources include pickles, cultured vegetable, fermented dairy products, Kimchi, kombucha and yogurt.
MY FAVORITE BRANDS
UDI's - comes in a variety of breads, pizza crust and muffins; the chocolate muffin version is one of my choices when I must have chocolate! Pizza Hut now offers Udi's gluten free crust as do most pizza shops.
Absolutely Gluten Free crackers. These are my favorite go-to snack and are a staple in our pantry. There are only a few ingredients, including tapioca, potato, palm oil, natural vinegar, honey, egg yolks and salt. I like that they are dairy-free and they are not hard like so many rice crackers I have tried.
Pamela's makes a gluten-free flour blend that includes guar gum to help the ingredients stick. It is sold in a larger resealable bag, is cheaper than some of the other blends and creates desserts and foods with a texture similar to regular flour.
Live G free cornbread, yellow cake and brownie mixes and other products are sold at ALDI's. I have these mixes in my pantry if I have to bring a sweet treat to a party.
Kinnikinnick and other products, including rice noodles, which has a similar texture to regular pasta. I like the long spaghetti style noodles best.
Jovial has a variety gluten free pastas, I believe imported from Italy, with texture similar to regular pasta.
Bisquick gluten-free mix makes great pancakes and waffles and can be used as a substitute in many other recipes.
Rice Krispie substitutes like Heinen's brand is made without malt flavoring, so I can enjoy making Rice Krispie treats with marshmallow cream.
Gillian's bread crumbs are free of wheat, soy and dairy, which is a plus for me, and we use it to replace bread crumbs in any recipe, such as baked chicken and meatballs.
King Arthur makes a gluten-free flour blend, pancake mix and other flour variations. I also found many recipes on their website, www.kingarthur.com, including one for making your own flour blend. To save money, you can make your own by buying the flours separately and mixing and storing the blend in an airtight seal in your pantry. Here's the recipe I use with Bob's Red Mill flours: You can add 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of xantham gum to the recipe as a binding agent.
6 cups rice flour (brown or white)
2 cups potato flour or starch
1 cup tapioca flour or starch
Let me remind you that I am not a nutrition expert and recommend that you find one to help you in your journey. There is a lot of information online and you can modify many recipes using gluten-free flour, cup for cup. Twenty years ago, being gluten-free was extremely difficult. However, now more people understand and have jumped on the gluten-free bandwagon for their health. Do your own research and don't just take my word for it. Best wishes in your new gluten-free life of discovering your true health potential. Here's to a HEALTHY CORE!
written by Janine Laughlin, PT - September 2015; revised January 2024