Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Unintended Consequences of Our Gluten-Free/Whole Foods Diet

Back in October I blogged about our family going gluten-free.  You can read all of my posts on it here. I am a scientist by background and an avid reader, and thought we have always eaten  pretty healthy, our new food journey started after I read Wheat Belly.  I realized that my family was showing some symptoms of wheat sensitivity and thought eliminating what are often junk carbs and increasing our vegetables/fruits would not be a bad thing.

After a few months we were feeling great with less aches and pains. Imp had no more abdominal issues and my husband's life-long lactose-intolerance was gone.  I had lost a bit of weight, but I think that was due to cutting out some junk food (Nutella and potato chips).

Then I started looking around me and realizing how many overweight people were in my life and in my town.  Back when I was in public school in Texas in the 70's and 80's we had one "fat" girl in our class of 300 students.  Looking back, she was not even that large, but all of my classmates were what was considered "normal" then.

Today we blame junk food and inactivity for all of our overweight kids and adults.  But I was the  generation of Kool-aid, Ding Dongs, Cheetos, Cokes, and purple Tang.  And video games were just getting big (all of my friends had an Atari or Intellivision set), simple keyboard computers were just coming out, and plenty of hours of stupid sitcoms were on television every day.

Personally our family ate quite well with junk food an occasional treat and we rarely ate out.  We also were an active family who spent quite a bit of time outside.  But I had plenty of friends with working moms who lived on junk food and spent many hours in their dark bedrooms playing video games or trying to write BASIC computer programs.  And they were not fat or even what  we would consider over-weight these days.

Now I have friends with kids who are active in sports and don't live on junk food, yet are having weight issues. I go to our local parks and we are the "skinny family", and if you have seen us we are not what you would consider underfed (I know I have some corn-fed marbling).  So you have to ask, what is going on?  How is our food different than it was in the 70's and early 80's?

I ended back up at the library and on Amazon for more nutrition research and found a goldmine.  I eagerly read every book I could on healthy nutrition like The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four MealsIn Defense of Food: An Eater's ManifestoPandora's Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American MealThe Unhealthy Truth: One Mother's Shocking Investigation into the Dangers of America's Food Supply-- and What Every Family Can Do to Protect ItselfSalt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked UsThe Great Cholesterol Myth: Why Lowering Your Cholesterol Won't Prevent Heart Disease-and the Statin-Free Plan That Will, and Ignore the Awkward.: How the Cholesterol Myths Are Kept Alive. Then I started reading blogs like 100 Days of Real Food, and watching videos like Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead, Forks Over KnivesFood Inc.

Phew, after hours and hours of research I was exhausted.  Some books/videos were better than others, some had questionable points/science, but after thinking over everything I came to realize that we are what we eat.  And what we eat really determines our health.  And whether it is salt, sugar, corn syrup, trans-fat, GMO corn, soybean oil, new chemicals and dyes in processed foods, etc.,  some of our food is different than when I was a kid enjoying my Oreos.

So I decided that our family was going to start eating simple, whole foods that did not have ingredients that I would not use in my own kitchen. We gave up most processed food (including empty calorie gluten-free products), eat more vegetables and fruits (organic and local if possible), snack on nuts, and include in our diet some whole organic milk products (from grass-fed cows when possible), organic chicken, grassfed beef/lamb/pig, and wild fish.  We  have cut out most sugars and use ripe bananas to sweeten our baked goods (made with almond flour) and occasionally use honey/maple syrup.

After a few months we feel great!  But something happened to my husband and I that we did not expect.  My husband has been on blood pressure medicine for many years.  He is thin, exercises often, and has always eaten pretty well.  But back in his 20's he was diagnosed with high blood pressure (over 130/90), told by his doctor that it was hereditary and diet/exercise were obviously not going to help, and so he was put on meds.  Even on the bp meds he was running high-normal.

The last month or so he started to feel tired and draggy and hadn't been exercising as much.  The first thing we blamed was our new healthy food choices.  Maybe we needed something we were not getting in our diet.  Then he decided to take his blood pressure and found it was very low (under 110/60).  Shocked, he took it a few more times and then passed the blood pressure cuff to me.  I usually run around 128-130/85-90.  My blood pressure was 110/64.  It has never been that low and I had not even been exercising much those last months.

My husband stopped his low-dose bp medicine and has been monitoring his blood pressure daily and it is now in a very healthy range range as is mine, so he is completely off all medications.  And we feel great.

I googled blood pressure and gluten to see what was going on.  After doing much reading, I think our blood pressure is so great due to our healthy, low-carb diets.  Maybe gluten has something to do with it, but nutrition is such a crazy science that it is impossible to determine anything without doing a huge human trial with specific food eliminations.

Needless to say, we are going to stick to our healthy whole-foods diet.

I have heard arguments that a whole food diet is expensive and I personally have found this not to be true.  I spend less at the grocery store now then I did when we were eating a "normal" diet.  Most of the organic/grassfed foods we eat are more pricey, but we eat less (except in the case of fruits/vegetables, we eat more of those).   Unprocessed food is usually very affordable and we eat out less.  I do have to cook more, but I make simple tasty meals (love this cookbook:Well Fed: Paleo Recipes for People Who Love to Eat).  And fruits and vegetables are great raw.

We aren't following any "diet" but we are still gluten-free.  I love the Paleo cookbooks, but I feel diary and carbs like organic potatoes are fine in limited amounts.  And we do have junk food on occasion as long as it is gluten-free. The kids went to a birthday party yesterday and gorged themselves on a gluten-free cupcake and bowl of ice-cream.  They are not used to processed sugar and they were bouncing off the walls.

I wanted to mention that the kids are not suffering at all.  Imp is excited he doesn't get acid reflux and stomach aches when he eats and Duke is old enough to read labels and is excited to point out when canned peaches have two sugars added (corn syrup and regular sugar) and that processed food has a long list of unpronounceable chemicals that his mother used to use in her lab experiments and required a mask and gloves to handle.  They strangely seem proud that they are eating healthy and often are a bit judgmental when we are shopping at the grocery store.  Imp does not hesitate to point out, loudly, when someone next to us has a cart filled with white bread, chips, candy, and soft drinks.  We have had the "talk" that we live in a free country and people can eat whatever they want.  ;-)

So there goes our experiment on healthy eating, and I will continue to let you know about our evolving diet and health consequences   I hope this post will inspire you to go out and do some investigating if you haven't been feeling your best lately.  :-)

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  1. I am a big proponent for whole foods and while we aren't gluten free here, I don't buy many processed foods. I'm always talking down refined sugar (hard because my husband has a big sweet tooth) and talking up fruits and veggies. Good for you and your family, and thanks for the update!

  2. You've tried and tested what you learned and I guess that's what everyone needs to do for themselves, it seems we humans don't want to be told what's good for us. I follow a diet very similar to yours , mostly raw and refined sugar free! Green Smoothies and Juices keep my sweet tooth happy. And I make my own delicious chocolate with cacao powder and butter mixed with yacon syrup,honey or agave - fun to make with the kids and you can add things to it you love, nuts, raisins etc. (a little of my chocolate is so satisfying so gone are the days when I binged on the commercial brands). Thanks for a wonderful Blog :)

  3. I was glad to read your article. We've been eating more consciously as well. Like you, I've found myself spending more time in the kitchen and learning to cook in a different manner than the way my mother did. Glad to hear it's paying off for you health-wise!

  4. I find this post so encouraging! I just read parts of it to my husband. We have always wanted to eat healthier, and we do somewhat, but not as much as we would like. I totally agree with everything you said here. It's just so hard to switch over. I would love to make homemade granola bars instead of buying Clif bars and things like that, but I work full time outside the home so it's so challenging to find time to make homemade snacks all the time. But I try when I can.

    Keep us posted on how these changes are benefiting your family. Congrats on the lower BP, that's awesome!

  5. RIGHT ON! I am so glad going gf has led you and your whole family on a journey to better health. :) I've been gf for several years now, and I recently had a conversationi with my younger son about how different overweight is now as compared to when I was in school. We sat on our rears just as much as kids do today, and ate at McDonalds and Pizza Hut, yet go find a high school annual from 1982 and compare it to one from recent years. You will see a *drastic* difference in the way young people look. You didn't hear of young kids with auto-immune diseases like you do now, either, and it's not because they weren't diagnosed; it wasn't the dark ages.

    Cooking real food is not hard, but you do have to find cookbooks that don't rely on a can of this and a can of that. I had to learn to cook that way originally because I live in a place where the store closes early (yes, I said THE store) and doesn't have much selection, so I had to learn to plan ahead using biweekly shopping trips. Then I was diagnosed with food sensitivitites, and admit to walking around the grocery store reading labels and crying. Now my health is so much better that I don't regret a moment of doing without premade foods. Well, other than french bread. I really miss french bread. :)

    You gave some good suggestions, and I love that you gave good references for people to educate themselves. You go girl!

  6. I completly agree with everything you have said above. Me and my family follow a healthy way of living. Tasting many ideas of protein cocktails and smoothies. Loving them! Nice article! Great blog too! I will follow you! Thanks!

  7. My family too has gone while not gluten free, we have gone to a whole foods diet. We all feel great as well and my kids too are please now that the griping stage is over (I have a few teens in the house) Once the teens realized they were losing weight, they jumped on the bandwagon with the rest of us.

  8. Thank you very much for the informative post! I had never heared of paleo before, googled it and even found a few German paleo cookbooks!
    I`ve been on gf diet for over 12 years and very happy with it and with my health since then!
    Right now I`m trying to avoid sugars and I just got the avareness of how many fruits from all over the world, but not from my country, are in my supermarket.
    You have been a great inspiration to me with this post. I will try to change my foods and my daughters, too. KEep us updated!
    And thanks for the wonderful blog!
    A. from Germany

  9. I found your page after looking for a correlation between lowering blood pressure and GF. I must share, after one week GF (and having been tested twice) my bp went from 160/87 to 124/76. I'm actually pretty astounded. I started GF due to thyroid issues and am extremely excited about the results thus far.

  10. Wonderful blog and super informative. I stumbled upon your blog because I was looking for a correlation between BP and gluten. Just like your husband I was diagnosed with BP (10 yrs ago) and was told it was my genes and meds would be the only way to go.

    Your blog is encouraging as it indicates sometimes a nondescript allergy could be causing BP issues. Would definitely like an update if at all possible.

    Thanks for the great info!

  11. I love reading these comments. It is so interesting to me how our diet affects so much.