The debate about gluten has been raging for years. It’s really confusing. On the one hand, we’re told that only those who are diagnosed as Celiac should eliminate gluten from their diet. On the other, we hear stories of women and men who removed gluten from their diet without any diagnosis of Celiac Disease and felt a new lease of life. It’s easy to find countless articles online, recommending a gluten free diet to improve fertility.
So what do you believe?
Here’s my take on it…and it ain’t just about the gluten
Grains like wheat, barley, rye and spelt can cause problems even when Celiac Disease is not a concern. Wheat is often the main culprit, but other grains can be implicated too. Some of the issues include:
- A rapid effect on blood sugar levels – 2 slices of wholegrain bread can increase blood sugar higher than a bowl of rice or bar of chocolate. As well as the impact on insulin and indirectly the effect on reproductive hormones, having repeatedly high blood sugars leads to accumulated visceral fat (fat around your organs) diabetes and pre-diabates, insulin resistance, heart disease and all kinds of joint, skin & eye health issues.
- Triggering of an immune response in some people, caused by lectins in the grains, which can cause damage to the gut wall and raise inflammation
- Phytic acid contained in grains can bind to and inhibit absorption of minerals such as zinc and iron
- Grains are typically grown with high levels of pesticides, many of which mimic naturally occurring hormones and can disrupt reproductive function
- Gliadin, a component of gluten in wheat breaks down to an opiate like chemical. This chemical stimulates appetite and makes wheat taste good, often leading to over-eating and larger portion sizes.
- Gluten is the best known protein found in these grains, but there are over 1,000 other proteins that have the potential to cause damage to the gut wall and elicit an immune response. Even if Celiac Disease has not been diagnosed and you have no symptoms, it is still possible to have a problem with many of the other proteins found in grains.
It’s worth remembering that your fertility is not something you can separate from your general health. If your digestive system is not functioning happily, if you have problems with blood sugar regulation, if you have any kind of auto-immune condition…your fertility will be affected. Our culture tends to explain health issues (and pretty much any problem we encounter) by reducing the cause down to one thing. Our human existence doesn’t really work like that though. We’re beautiful, complicated, unique creatures and there is rarely a single reason for a health problem. Maybe gluten is an issue for you, maybe it’s not.
Consider the possibility that it could be any combination of issues and there is no single cause.
So what’s the answer? There is no straight answer (sorry). I finally bit the bullet about 6 weeks ago and have been eating grain free since then. I had resisted giving up grains until then because, well….I LOVE bread. Sourdough bread. Good bread. Real bread. The stuff that’s made by real bakers and takes hours of proving and rising and baking. I didn’t want to give it up because I love it so much. I also reckon that real bread, made properly using traditional methods can mitigate much of the potential damage. I felt I had to give it a go though, just to see if it cutting out grains made any difference…and boy did it.
About 2 weeks in, I began to notice some pretty major changes – I lost weight without really trying, mid morning and afternoon cravings disappeared, my ability to focus improved, I have more energy and my mood has improved. I wouldn’t have complained of any of these issues previously, but now that I’m feeling different, I realise that my normal had plenty of room for improvement! We all have different experiences, so I can’t promise that you’ll feel just like I do.
I’ll also let you in on a secret – I’m working on an 80/20 rule (80% of the time I am completely grain free, 20% of the time I’m not). I have not completely eliminated grains from my diet. Partly because I don’t want the stress of zero tolerance to undo all the good work I’m doing. I’m also aware that completely eliminating any food has the potential to cause food intolerances in the future. So, I allow the occasional slice of real bread of maybe even a home baked sticky bun sneak into my diet.
My advice is to experiment and keep an open mind.
- Try removing gluten containing grains from your diet for a period of 3 months, as you prepare for pregnancy (whether you are hoping for natural conception or intend to work with a fertility clinic) By removing wheat, barley, spelt and rye you are avoiding not only gluten but the other compounds that may be causing a problem.
- Avoid replacing your usual bread, pastries and crackers with crappy gluten free alternatives. Many of these convenience foods are highly processed and are not a nourishing alternative. Try this recipe for an easy flaxseed bread from Susan Jane White, it’s perfect toasted in the morning or spread with almond butter and a slice of apple as a snack.
- Notice how you’re feeling. Keep a food and mood diary, noting what you’re eating and how you’re feeling and sleeping. I’d be willing to bet you’ll notice an improvement.
- Be prepared for a change in appetite. A diet high in grains can stimulate your appetite, causing you to eat more and crave snacks. Starting your day with scrambled eggs, with some sundried tomatoes and chopped peppers will keep you full until lunchtime! Less snacking will reduce your calorie intake and also minimise insulin spikes – double bonus!
- Eat real, natural, unprocesed foods such as eggs, raw nuts (walnuts and almonds are wonderful) plenty of vegetables, wild fish when you can get it and free-range poultry and meats. Use healthy oils like butter, coconut oil and genuinely extra virgin olive oil. Eat small amounts of fruit and plenty of avocados, herbs and spices. It might feel a bit restrictive at first, but once you find recipes that work for you, this way of eating might just feel incredibly rich and exciting.
- Don’t go for zero tolerance, unless you have a diagnosis of Celiac Diagnosis or true allergy to a protein found in grains. Use my 80/20 rule and enjoy the very occasional, good quality mouthful or two of grain.
Won’t I develop deficiencies of Fibre, B vitamins and minerals like Selenium & Magnesium if I avoid grains?
Certainly not – if you replace those grains with real, nourishing foods like the ones I’ve listed above. If you choose to replace those grains with processed gluten free cereals and breads, then prepare for deficiency and ill health. Sticking with real, unadulterated food will provide plenty of fibre and other essential nutrients with a likely decrease in calorie intake and improved digestion to boot!
I’d really love to know your thoughts on this topic. Have you tried giving up grains? What have your challenges been? If you haven’t already tried it, I’m inviting you to give it a go now. Please share your thoughts in the comments below and let me know how you’re getting on!