Dinner with the Kings of Gluten: Lessons From Their Plate
Sometimes hard work and discipline pay off. So I was thrilled to be invited to LA last week to join the University faculty and lecture to several hundred health professionals at a high profile conference on the nexus between the GI tract and health. Months ago when I accepted the invitation to speak from wellness guru Dr. David Blyweiss of Boca Raton, Florida I had no idea what lay ahead. Soon after I learned that I was joining the top docs in the world on the topic of gluten and health. My wife could only shake her head and smile when she saw the flier. Dr. Alessio Fasano, originally from Salerno, Italy is the head of the Center for Celiac Disease Research and Treatment at Harvard Medical School. His research lab has been unlocking all the biochemical secrets of this disorder for 20 years. Dr. David Perlmutter, world renowned neurologist from Naples, Florida and author of the soon to be released Grain Brain, was speaking. And Dr. William Davis, a colleague of mine in the field of cardiology and author of the phenomenal book Wheat Belly, nearing 1.5 million copies in print, was on the program. And me. Oh my.
The conference was superb. I spoke on the connection between gluten and the heart, reviewing data on a weakness of the heart called a cardiomyopathy, an abnormality of heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation, and damage to arteries called endothelial dysfunction all linked to gluten sensitivity. Even more interesting was the faculty dinners afterwards. The conversation flowed as fast as the wine, one night a superTuscan and the next an amarone. As you might expect from the task of serving some of the world’s experts on the relationship between food and health, the wait staff took great care to take the orders down carefully. My vegan requirements were met with ease. And the $64,000 question. When the bruschetta arrived loaded with fresh tomatoes and sliced oregano, did all of us shun the bread and feast only on the toppings? The Kings of Gluten in a private moment when no one was watching. Actually, not all the faculty pushed the bread side. I will not tattle on anyone, but there was a clear split at the table with some adhering to a rule of never having bread and other gluten containing foods and the opposing viewpoint that reducing the amount of wheat was sufficient without a total ban. Much can be learned from observing that dynamic at the table.
What have the Kings of Gluten recommended? Dr. Davis was interviewed on MBG in May and described his experience seeing improvements in cholesterol profiles and cardiac risk parameters in patients following a completely wheat and gluten free diet. He emphasizes that a partial reduction in these food items is not enough. He also stresses that it is not all about gluten. Other components of wheat, such as amylopectin A, are highly addictive and cause a tendency to overeat bread and related food items. He is not a fan of the gluten free food item craze and stresses single food items and a return to farm to table eating. Dr. David Perlmutter has observed that wheat, carbs and sugar can all have adverse effects on brain function and are to be avoided in order to reverse or prevent Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and other neurologic degenerative disorders. He advises a ketogenic diet high in healthy fats and protein and low in carbohydrates of all kinds, including whole grains, to feed the brain its preferred fuel. He has seen malignant brain tumors shrink on a diet very low in grains. Dr. Fasano does not recommend a wheat/gluten free life for all, stressing quality of life. He has said that if there are concerns for wheat sensitivity, Celiac disease must be excluded by blood tests and intestinal biopsy. If Celiac is excluded, then a trial for days to weeks of a gluten free diet is reasonable and a rapid response is expected if sensitivity is present.
After my time with the Kings of Gluten I would recommend the following steps:
- Cut back. Breakfast cereals, bagels, muffins and donuts are the Breakfast of Champions but provide calorie dense, nutritionally poor starts to our days. Sandwiches at lunch and dinner continue that trend. Explore breakfast smoothies with greens and berries. Sample lunches made on collard wraps or gluten free tortillas. Say no to the bread basket at a restaurant.
- Get checked. If you are experiencing unexplained medical issues, consider whether undiagnosed Celiac disease is to blame and get checked. Antibody testing and intestinal examinations can determine if you have the full disorder.
- Consider a gluten free elimination diet after the above steps have been taken for several weeks to a month. Avoid highly processed gluten free products and look for whole foods.
Commenting on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, author Nischala Joy Devi has said that brahmacharya or energy moderation leads to the conclusion that “whatever disturbs the mind and body disturbs the spiritual life– it’s all one energy.” The Kings of Gluten taught me to consider whether wheat and associated gluten containing foods were disturbing my body and spirit. I hope you consider it in yours too.