Posted on Health Tips

When people experience respiratory, digestive, or other health challenges, it is natural to seek out dietary solutions. Unfortunately, the prevailing confusion in this area provides fertile ground for misconceptions and counterproductive dietary fads. Among contemporary trends, avoiding gluten and/or dairy products are two of the most popular. Does elimination of gluten or dairy really help?  Do such recommendations rest upon fallacy or fact? As it turns out, though born of legitimate concerns, the impulse to discontinue gluten or dairy products is generally misguided, and may distract people from truly important steps that can help them to eat right and thrive.  

For most people, gluten is ok

Gluten is a protein found in many (but not all) grains, including wheat, barley, and rye.  People who have a condition called celiac disease must for sure avoid gluten, but for most other individuals, eating gluten is perfectly fine.

With celiac disease, consumption of gluten causes an inflammatory reaction of the lining of the small intestine. This leads to poor absorption of nutrients, abdominal discomfort, and other symptoms. The incidence of celiac disease has increased dramatically and is thought to be in the range of 1%. Physicians can often diagnose celiac disease using a simple blood test, and symptoms respond well to a gluten-free diet. People who have celiac disease must avoid eating gluten.

However, the great majority of adults do not have celiac disease, and for them eating gluten is fine.  The mistake most commonly goes like this. Many people are prone to respiratory and digestive problems, and at some point an individual accurately notices that the asthma, allergy, sinus flares, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, or other symptoms worsen considerably with consumption of breads, pastries, pizzas, muffins, and the like. This person then decides to go “gluten free,” all these foods are reduced or stopped, and symptoms dramatically improve.   She now completely eliminates all wheat and other gluten containing grain products, while depleting the retirement savings to fund the purchase of expensive, processed gluten free specialty food items.  Is this the right thing to do?

Not quite.  The individual in our example has fallen into a classic trap. Whole grains provide healthy fiber and nutrients, but people must know how to use them.  First and most importantly, toast all breads. In addition, people will tolerate flat breads, like pitta breads or tortillas, much better than puffy breads, which should be reduced or avoided. This also means people should avoid eating things like muffins or cakes.  These too will cause congestion and other health problems, not because of the gluten, but rather due to their moist, mucus producing qualities.  The very best approach: cook a whole grain like rice, barley, quinoa etc. as is, then serve alongside some protein and cooked vegetables for a delicious hot nutritious well-rounded meal.

Properly used, dairy products are healthy

People commonly notice that when they drink cold milk or eat some ice cream, they get a stuffy nose or upset stomach.  Does this mean we need to discontinue dairy products? 

Usually not.  Dairy products are either really good for you, or really bad, depending upon whether or not you follow a few guidelines.  In the case of cows’ or goats’ milk, remember two rules of thumb.  First, milk must be boiled, and consumed warm.  Boiling the milk takes it to a higher temperature than routine pasteurization, breaking down the protein molecules and making it easier to digest.  Secondly, combine milk with sweet tasting foods only.  Do not combine milk with sour, salty, bitter, or pungent foods.  We’ll consider grains to be sweet. You can consume warm milk combined with breakfast style foods, like toast or cereal, but you wouldn’t combine milk with lunch or dinner style foods, like a stir fry, or lasagna. Sticking to these guidelines will allow you to enjoy and benefit from this important nutritional source while avoiding respiratory or digestive problems.

Other dairy products can likewise be good or bad, depending upon how you serve them.  Clearly, though, cold dairy products are off the menu.  No ice cream, no cold yogurt.  Any cold dairy product will severely aggravate the respiratory and digestive problems to which so many people are susceptible.  You can make a delicious yogurt drink called lassi and drink it room temperature after lunch for a nutritious dessert that provides important probiotic support.  Avoid aged cheeses, but fresh cheeses, like cottage cheese are ok.  Serve cheeses at mid-day when digestion is strongest, and remember that for cheese, lassi, and most other foods, room temperature is ok, but nothing cold.

Follow these guidelines and most people will tolerate dairy products very well. 

How inappropriate gluten and dairy restrictions can actually be harmful

Whole grains and dairy products provide us with important nutritional support, and, if served correctly, most people will tolerate and enjoy them.  These major food groups constitute important components of a healthy balanced diet.  When eliminated, something must substitute for them.  Too often that “something” is processed foods, unwholesome foods, or some imbalanced diet plan. The elimination of grains and/or dairy can lead to an over-reliance on meat.   This habit increases risk of heart disease, stroke, and many types of cancer. Dietary restrictions render it difficult for people to attend and enjoy social events, causing unnecessary isolation. Food phobias generate additional expenses, owing to the purchase of processed specialty products.  We should understand what is healthy or not in an accurate way, and avoid cultivating a fearful or negative attitude toward wholesome foods.

Three important things to know about digestion and diet

You can optimize your diet now, and set the stage for a life of healthy eating and living, by cultivating these 3 dietary habits:

– Our digestion is naturally strongest at mid-day when the sun is highest in the sky. Make sure you eat a well-balanced nutritious lunch every day.

-Include lots of fresh fruit and cooked vegetables in the diet.   

-Avoid soft drinks, processed foods, and junk foods.  Sugar sweetened beverages must be avoided altogether. Such foods can lead to weight gain, diabetes, and other health consequences.

Following these simple rules will place you and your family on track for a natural, healthy, and sustainable dietary program.