Monday, October 31, 2011

Gluten Intolerance

Do you have trouble with your stomach hurting frequently?  Do you think of it as "just part of getting older?"  Have you had digestive problems for years and just learned to live with it?

Oftentimes health problems creep in so gradually that we just adjust ourselves to them and are barely aware that there is a problem there, or we think that everyone is having problems, so why should I be any different?

An increasingly common cause of tummy pains is gluten.  Gluten is the elastic protein in certain grains (wheat, barley, oats, rye) that makes for a well binding dough.  It helps to trap air in the dough and makes for lighter bread, and malleable dough forms for pasta.  Unfortunately, it also is sticky and gummy and adheres to the tissue lining of the digestive track.  Over time the immune system picks up on its presence and in its attempt to eliminate it creates inflammation, which is where the hurt comes in.   For the relatively small number of people with Celiac Disease gluten is a true health nightmare.  You do not have to have Celiac Disease, however, to have gluten intolerance or digestive inflammation.  Anyone having digestive problems - Irritable Bowel, Crohn's Disease, just nebulous abdominal pains -- would benefit from at least giving a gluten-free diet a try.

Giving up gluten is no simple matter, however.  Wheat flour is used in a surprising number of ways.  Most people find the giving up of bread and pasta a major impact on their ability to eat.  Fortunately, the numbers of gluten intolerant people has increased so much over the past few years, that stores are carrying a lot of gluten-free products.  (If you are overweight though, be cautious to read labels for fat content and adjust portion sizes accordingly.)

I'd suggest going off all gluten for two weeks and see how your tummy pain is.  If you then add wheat back, your tummy will definitely let you know if gluten is the problem.  Then you have a choice.  You can put up with the pain; or you can eliminate gluten for an extended period of time.

NatureWords for your body, peace for your soul,

Friday, October 7, 2011

Expanding Your Food Horizons

Food and water are the two substances, in addition to oxygen, without which humans cannot live.  Clean water is a tremendous problem throughout most of the world, but not so much so here in the U.S.; we have a much more profound problem with food.  I'm not going to talk about obesity or diabetes, those are getting lots of press.  I want to talk about some more general health issues with food that apply to everyone.

The personal emotional dynamics with food are substantial.  Food is like a lifelong mate.  Think about it.  Food sits with us at every meal and every snack.  It's there when we are alone, or when we are with others.  It's there when we're home or when we're out; at work or at play.  We take it to bed with us, go on dates with it, encourage others to join with us in it, we pack it and carry it in the car and everywhere else we go.  Food participates in everything we do - privately, as well as socially.  One of the most common talking points with other people is what foods we like or don't like; and the cause for those personal preferences remain mysterious and largely unknown.  What we like is just what we like.  If we have the foods we like, we're happy.  If we don't get the foods we like we get to feeling deprived and even unloved.  When too many foods we don't like get forced upon us we can even feel tortured, depressed, and hate life's circumstance that forces "this yuck upon me!"

Everyone has about 20-25 foods that comprise more than 90% of one's daily diet.  We reach for the same things week in and week out, and even though we might complain a little bit about getting bored with "the same old thing," we don't really want to change it up too much.  Changing our basic diet creates something akin to a relationship issue.  We feel abandonment, emptiness, stress, sorrow, loss, deprivation.  Eliminating certain key foods from our standard set creates a downward spiral, and before we know it we're living out a Lifetime Movie - "I'm just going to starve myself because without my mashed potatoes (insert favorite food) I just don't want to eat anything... I'd rather die!"  I think this reaction may be close to universal.  Yet, there are thousands of foods available.  Supermarkets are stuffed to overflowing with a greater and greater diversity of foods from all over the world.  So, what's up with our inability to expand our diets?

Take a look at the 20-25 foods you eat most often.  Look seriously at their nutritional content.  I would hazard to guess that as many as half of the foods you commonly consume have little nutritional value.  Broadening our diet to include more nutritionally dense foods is an essential longevity health-skill.  While most of us have all heard of "comfort foods" -- as though there's a really select group of things we need for comfort -- the fact is probably that all the foods we consistently reach for are comfort.  Eating itself is all about comfort.  So the question really becomes, how do we create the positive associations with other foods such that more nutritionally dense foods transform themselves into "comfort foods?"

I don't really have any proven suggestions, but these four common-sense ideas might help:
  1. Find a partner, preferably someone you really like, who is willing to experiment with you in expanding dietary horizons.  Experiment with different diets and different foods together and compare notes about how you experience eating differently.
  2. Pick a couple favorite activities and adopt an "off-your-list" (OYL) healthy food that you eat every time you do that activity.  If you include a friend who joins you for the activity and the food, the positive association will probably be all the more powerful.
  3. Learn the health benefits present in other "off-your-list" (OYL) foods and while you are eating those other foods talk to yourself A LOT about everything that particular food is doing for your body.  (I have used this and found it comes in time to create a craving for the new foods.)
  4. Try to avoid trying new foods under stressful circumstances.  Choosing stressful times to try new foods is likely to only associate stress with that food.
If any other ideas come to mind, why don't you share them under the comments here?

NatureWords for your body, peace for your soul,