By Jane Birch
This page is an addendum to three articles published in Meridian Magazine. Before reading this page, I recommend interested readers first study these articles (including the footnotes):
Here are other articles I’ve written on carbohydrate and low-carb diets:
Addendum to Meridian Articles
I will not be going through the “evidence” presented against grains point by point. This evidence inevitably includes truths, half-truths, and incorrect ideas, along with a lot of suppositions. Science has not and will not investigate every claim since the burden of proof is on those who propose new theories that challenge the established claims backed by the current weight of evidence. So far, no one has produced scientific proof that any grain, including wheat, is harmful to the widespread population. It is therefore most reasonable to include “wholesome” (not highly processed) grains (including those with gluten) in one’s diet (unless you are part of the small minority of people who don’t do well with wheat or some other type of grain).
No doubt science will slowly shed light on many topics related to grains, but those who believe grains are fundamentally harmful will continue to come up with new theories as to why they are harmful. This issue will continue to be hotly debated long after all of us have all left this earth. In fact, it is likely not possible for science to conclusively prove that gluten, wheat, and/or grains are either good or bad for humans. The topic is too broad, too complex, and contains far too many variables for a complete resolution. But this is true for most topics in nutrition. Nevertheless, I believe the scientific evidence (which is certainly backed by the Word of Wisdom) suggests that the vast majority of people do very well on grains. While a small minority of people will continue to have problems with some grains, others could become partly or fully tolerant by allowing their bodies to heal on a whole food, plant-based diet.
Below I include the following:
Considering the evidence as a whole: whole grains are healthy.
We have to consider the evidence as a whole and make our best judgment, and the evidence as a whole unquestionably favors the health benefits of whole grains, including wheat. The evidence for the health benefits of whole grains are well-established, with an exemplary track record. Not just science, but also history (and of course scripture) supports this claim. The fact that some people feel better when they do not consume gluten, wheat, and/or grains does not invalidate this evidence.
Wheat is the main source of calories for millions of people around the world. Many people are enjoying vibrant health on a whole food, plant-based diet that includes wheat, gluten, etc. For most people, it is not eliminating the gluten makes the difference, it is eliminating the processed foods and animals foods.
See references below: George Mateljan Foundation (2001–2014); Jonnalagadda, Satya S., et al. (2012); McDougall, John A. (2008); McDougall, John A. (2009); Travis (2013); Whole Grains Council, “Health Studies on Whole Grains” (a collection of about 200 research articles documenting the benefits of grains).
In the hierarchy of facts, the fact that wheat may not suit every person’s constitution is not a concern to the majority of humans.
There is a huge variety of correct facts we can state about wheat, but some facts are much more important than other facts. This issue, like most, is not black and white. No grain is perfect (nor is any fruit or vegetable), but no staple grain (including wheat) is a danger to most people. If you have celiac disease or are gluten intolerant, these facts take precedence over the fact that wheat is overall health-promoting to the majority of humans. But if you are in the majority, the fact that a few people do not do well on some grains is not an important dietary fact for you and should not impact how you eat.
On the other hand, the demonstrated health benefits of a whole food, plant-based diet is one of the most important dietary truths for everyone, because this is an optimal diet for a human being. The evidence supporting this comes from science, history, and the word of God in the Word of Wisdom. Up to 80% of chronic illness can be prevented by adhering to a whole food, plant-based diet.
Focus on the most important truths!
The attack on grains is a distraction from the real problems.
We are getting distracted from the real problems. What has been scientifically proven are the health benefits of healthy whole grains for the vast majority of people and the damaging effects of animal foods and processed foods. The most serious issues in our diet have to do with the high amounts of animal foods, processed foods, fat, and sugar in our diets. These are the foods that are promoting the high level of chronic disease, obesity and other illnesses in our society. These are the health issues impacting the vast majority of Americans, and, as we export our diet around the world, a good percent of the rest of the world.
Compared to the other issues in our diet, the problems with gluten are very small. And in fact, the high animal/processed/fat/sugar foods in our diets may very well by causing the problems with gluten in the first place.
See references below: David, Lawrence A., et al. (2014); Doucleff (2013); Gaesser & Angadi (2012); Greger (2012); Jones & Tuttle; Jones (2011); Harriman (2013); Velasquez-Manoff (2013); Zhao (2010); Zhao (2012).
Yes, wheat has changed, so have all other modern foods. Change is an inherent part of life and central to the Plan of Salvation.
Yes, wheat has changed, so have strawberries, apples, tomatoes, carrots, and all other foods. ALL foods have changed. If you insist on eating only the foods as they existed in the Garden of Eden, that might be tricky. Even if you find the Garden, I understand there is an angel guarding the entrance. God drove Adam and Eve out of the Garden and told them:
cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life . . . In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground. . . . Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. (Genesis 3:17, 19, 23)
Apparently, the foods in the Garden are not the foods we are supposed to be eating as God drove Adam and Eve out and told them to till the earth and eat the bread of it all the days of their life. No doubt Adam and his descendants did all they could to tackle the thorns and thistles of this lone and dreary world and increase the productivity of the plants they grew, and I’m sure God inspired them in their efforts.
Wheat, along with every other plant on this earth, had been evolving for thousands of years, and long before the 19th century. In fact, the wheat the first colonists brought to America did not grow well here because it was not adapted to the American environment. Fortunately, the early settlers could rely on corn while they worked on wheat varieties adapted to their new conditions. It was a “slow, laborious, and expensive process.” It is reasonable to assume that God blessed them in these efforts to get wheat adapted to the American environment, just as it is reasonable to assume He blessed 20th-century scientists as they attempted to “improve” the wheat to increase grain production to feed more of God’s children.
Even without the intervention of humans, change is an essential part of life. Change is not inherently bad. God inspires many changes. How do we know that the changes in wheat, which have enabled more wheat to be grown at a cheaper price, were not primarily inspired by God to feed more of His children? If there are downsides, might not the advantages far outstrip them? We can’t automatically ascribed evil intent to those trying to increase the productivity of plants. Human beings have been doing this with every plant food ever since they could. Part of being successful in agriculture is doing what is possible to increase productivity. Trying to improve plant foods is not an evil act, unless it is done with ill intent or to purposely deceive. While it is true that some interventions produce less healthy side effects, it is a much more complex calculation to weigh the advantages with the disadvantages.
The fact that the wheat has “changed” and some people can’t tolerate it is not evidence that the changes are a result of the “evils and designs” of “conspiring men.” I have no doubt that the grain industry has its share of people who are motivated by greed, but increasing the production of grain is something that we have to understand must be central to God’s work in the last days. Central to the Plan of Salvation is coming to earth to obtain a body. Billions more spirits have come to this year in the last 100 years, dramatically increasing the size of the world’s population and necessitating that we must have a way to feed all these people. The estimate is that we’ll have to increase food production by an additional 66% to meet the demand by 2040. Grains are the way God has ordained for His children to get the bulk of their calories. Increasing the productivity of wheat and other staple grains is key to feeding God’s children and allowing them the opportunity to experience earth life. Without grains to feed the people, many fewer spirits could experience earth life. No other food source is capable of supporting this number of God’s children.
See references below: National Wheat Improvement Committee; Thacker (2013); Cara Rosenbloom, RD, “Wheat Has Not Changed.” (2015)
There is no healthier food source than grains to serve as the “staff of life.”
We need a concentrated source of calories. Fruits and vegetable are not enough for most people and not sustainable worldwide. All other sources of concentrated calories are not healthy choices. Meat has many demonstrated negative health impacts, and the Lord asks us to use it sparingly at most, so animal foods are not a good source for the bulk of our calories. Highly processed foods can be a source of high calories, but these are also obviously not the best choice. The fact is, there is no other source of calories besides grain that can sustainably support the world’s population. The Lord’s solution will be one that feeds the poorest of the poor among us. Only grains and other starches are capable of doing this.
Wheat is the staple food for 35 percent of the world’s population, and provides more calories and protein in the world’s diet than any other crop. If we stopped developing wheat, how could we ever feed the world’s population?
See references below: National Wheat Improvement Committee (n.d.); McDougall (2012).
Many who attack grains most vehemently are not trustworthy guides.
Those most vocal about promoting a gluten/wheat/grain-free diet are the same people who also promote a diet high in animal foods and/or foods filled with fat. The evidence for the health benefits of a whole food, plant-based diet are much stronger than the evidence for a gluten-free diet. Why do they find the evidence against grains so compelling when so many people thrive on grains? And why do they dismiss the evidence against the consumption of animal (and other high fat) foods when the scientific evidence demonstrating the problems with these foods is much deeper and backed by history and evidence from all long-lived, healthy populations?
The fact that a low carbohydrate, high protein diet directly contradicts the Word of Wisdom should make us much more skeptical of the dietary claims of those leading the wholesale attack against grains and much more open to counter evidence. The tricky thing is, there will always be enough particles of truth in all that these people say to make it seem they are telling the truth and to convince many they must be right. Use the Word of Wisdom as your guide.
Don’t get misled by books like Wheat Belly and Grain Brain and blogs by people pushing a low-carb or Paleo agenda. They have some good things to say. Not everything is bunk, but the amount of half-truths and falsehoods are so great that they overwhelm and distort whatever truth is there.
We Latter-day Saints need to understand that the attack against “carbs” in our society is specifically an attack against grains, the very food our God has ordained to be the “staff of life.” Read what Mark Sission, one of the leaders in the Paleo movement, says in response to a question about bread being the “staff of life.” Note that because he does not have the Word of Wisdom he does not realize that the foods we have are not here just by chance. He does not realize that the Savior of this world ordained grains to have a special role in our diets.
[Question] “I could never give up bread. And aren’t grains the staff of life?”
[Answer] For the past several thousand years of human history, bread has been a staple food. The ancient Egyptians baked it. The Greeks and Romans made it. You probably grew up with it. It was – and is – cheap and filling. Today, because billions simply need calories from wherever they can get them, grains are the ticket, the “staff of life.” But it’s not like we’ll wither away into nothingness, all because we failed to heed the biological dietary necessity to eat grains ordained by some higher power. Grains aren’t the staff of life in an inherent sense, but rather because they’re cheap, reliable, and easy to work with. They provide calories and a modicum of nutrients to people who absolutely require those calories, regardless of any nutritional downsides. Having joint pain and bloating because you ate some whole wheat, while unpleasant, is better than dying of starvation because you refused it. . . . An unfortunately large number of people are forced to subsist on grains as a staple, because they’re cheap and plentiful and calories are scarce, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best way to eat. Grains aren’t necessary if you have access to plenty of fresh animals and plants. (Sessions, 2012, emphasis added)
Another group of people that tends to be critical of grains are people who support a raw diet. Raw food is great, of course, but unfortunately there is no long-term scientific or historic evidence that supports a high raw diet (much less 100% raw diet), and the anecdotal evidence is very uneven. Like a low-carb diet, a raw food diet is unrealistic for supporting the world’s population, even so, I think a high raw whole food, plant-based diet can be compatible with the Word of Wisdom as long as grains remain “the staff of life,” the staple of the daily diet.
See references below: Jones (2012); McDougall (2008; 2009; 2012; 2014); National Wheat Improvement Committee (n.d.); Travis (2013).
There are many reasons why people might feel better not eating wheat.
The most obvious reason people report problems consuming wheat is that they have celiac disease or are allergic to wheat. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) is much harder to diagnosis as there are no standard diagnostic tests for it. Currently we rely on people to diagnosis themselves based on how they feel when they eat wheat or other grains containing gluten. The problem with self-diagnosis is that there are so many confounding factors that we really do not know what it means when someone reports feeling better when they do not eat wheat. Is it the wheat? Is it the gluten? So far, we have too little data to know. There can be many explanations.
People are not eating gluten is isolation. We don’t eat “carbs” or “gluten.” We eat food. All food contains thousands of different types of molecules. And it interacts with the other foods we eat, with our bodies, and with the environment. There are millions of variables to study in order to understand if and how wheat/gluten are factors. It will be decades before science is able to sort this out. Below are a few current hypotheses as to why some people feel better not eating wheat.
Giving up wheat often means giving up junk foods. Wheat/gluten are in a lot of foods, including a lot of junk foods (highly refined foods with added fat/sugar like donuts and cookies). Even whole wheat foods are often loaded with fat/sugar. If a person gives us wheat and does not substitute their former junk foods with similar gluten-free junk foods, the person may feel better not because they have given up wheat but because they have given up the junk foods associated with wheat.
Giving up wheat may be accompanied with other positive health changes. Some people who decide to give up gluten also decide to make other changes they feel will be better for their health at the same time: an overall better diet (e.g., less fat/sugar and more whole foods), exercise more, sleep more, stop smoking/drinking, reduce stress, etc. When many changes happen within the same few weeks, it is hard to sort out the cause and effect.
Our beliefs are as powerful as material causes and can results in the same negative reactions (the “nocebo” affect). Careful studies have shown that people who believe they have eaten gluten report the same negative affects on their bodies even though if they did not actually eat any gluten. The power of suggestion is very strong.
Our relatively clean lifestyles may be leading to increasing autoimmune reactions of many kinds. This is the idea that our environment has become so clean and sterile that our immune systems no longer have to fend off so many bugs and infections, especially when we’re young. As a result, our immune systems start to overreact to things that should be harmless, such as wheat or peanuts.
Changes in our micro-biome (gut bacteria) may account for the problem with wheat. These changes can be caused by a variety of factors: use of antibiotics early in life, increased use of antibiotics, environmental factors, and of course a less than an optimal diet over a lifetime. The use of antibiotics both either humans or in farm animals can create drug-induced changes in the composition of our gut microbiota and also disturb the mechanisms of mucosal immune tolerance, resulting in food intolerances.
Chemical-induced changes to our immune system. “The introduction of many chemicals (with endocrine-hormonal effects) in modern foods and the massive use of pesticides on crops over the past 50 years may have either modified our immune system – rendering people more sensitive to new plant proteins – or altered the permeability of the intestinal barrier, resulting in a higher exposure of the intestinal immune system to allergenic plant proteins. This may explain the parallel increase in the prevalence of food allergies.” (Boettcher & Crowe, 2013).
Increased exposure to antisecretory medications (proton pump inhibitors). This has been shown to be associated with subsequent diagnosis of celiac disease.
The too early addition of gluten to infant diets and less breastfeeding.
Changes in baking procedures. Factors like shorter fermentation times and greater addition of gluten to bakery products (especially due to increased interest in whole grains) could play a role.
See references below: Aubrey & Barclay (2013); Biesiekierski, et al. (2013); Catassi (2013); Gaesser & Angadi (2012); Harriman (2013); Jones (2011); Jones (2012); Jones & Tuttle (n.d.); Kasarda (2013); Levinovitz (2013); Nijeboer, et al. (2013); Volta, et al. (2013).
We must use both study and faith to discern the truth.
With so much confusing evidence, how do we discern the truth and make the best dietary decisions for ourselves and our families? Of course we should use the Lord’s words as a framework for evaluating all other evidence. The problem is, we interpret what the Lord says based on our prejudices. This is inevitable, but by going back and forth between the Word of Wisdom and what others are saying, while seeking the guidance of the Spirit, we can learn the truth.
But note that the Spirit can lead us to the truth only as,
1. We sincerely desire to know the truth; and
2. We are willing to conform our lives to that truth.
I know many saints who, when it comes to dietary truths, prefer to remain in the dark. Wonderful, intelligent, deeply spiritual friends of mine feel what I am saying about good nutrition is true, but yet beg me to not to say anything more, because they don’t want to feel compelled to change. To some degree, we all (certainly myself included) prefer to remain in the dark about some things, whether it is regarding the Word of Wisdom or some other counsel from God. We are all learning line upon line, but hopefully we can at least acknowledge our weakness, be patient with each other, and strive to do better.
Allow me to add my testimony here: I know from personal experience that following the wisdom in D&C 89 turns out to be no sacrifice at all. The blessings are so great that any “sacrifice” or inconvenience is swallowed up in joy. I know that the Lord’s counsel in the Word of Wisdom is meant of us in our day. He needs more of us to pay heed to these words. We are so blessed to have this treasure!
Haven’t studies demonstrated the harmfulness of gluten?
The highest standard in dietary research is the randomized controlled double-blind placebo study. In 2013, gluten was put to this test. When researchers isolated pure gluten and gave it to people with significant gluten intolerances, it had no more affect on them than did a placebo.
Of course, gluten is only one substance out of thousands in wheat. There are lots more tests that could be done. Each one is very time-consuming and expensive. It is a very difficult, long, and taxing scientific issue. While all that is going on, let’s pay attention to the science, but let’s pay even closer attention to the Lord’s words in the Word of Wisdom.
What about GMO wheat? Isn’t that evidence of evil?
Although neither the supporters nor the denouncers of GMO foods have yet cleared the bar on establishing the health risks of genetically-modified food, I am not a fan of GMO products (and I have donated to the campaign for clear labeling of such foods). But while it is true that many of our foods are now genetically modified, that fact is: wheat is not. Notwithstanding plenty of misinformation on the Internet and even from experts “there are no GMO-type (genetically engineered) wheats used commercially in the United States” (Kasarda, 2013). US farmers have insisted on this to not damage their ability to sell their wheat to countries that don’t allow GMO foods.
Isn’t a staff a crutch, so aren’t grains, the “staff of life,” made for times of need?
The “staff of life” is an English idiom. An idiom is “an expression that cannot be understood from the meanings of its separate words but that has a separate meaning of its own” (Merriam-Webster). Some well-meaning Latter-day Saints have attempted to use one of the words in this idiom to interpret the idiom as a whole, thus misunderstanding how an idiom functions in our language. They point out that a staff is a support, a type of crutch, something used only in time of weakness and necessity, and they conclude that grain as the “staff of life” is to be used only as a support, in times of need, and not as a staple food. But as the definition of the word idiom explains, you can’t understand the meaning of an idiom by focusing on the separate words in the idiom, because the idiom as a whole has its own meaning, apart from the separate words. Think of other idioms in our language; they are unintelligible by simply studying the meaning of the individual words:
open a can of worms
pulling your leg
had a cow
It does little good to simply study the individual words; you have to understand the idiom as a whole by studying how it is used.
The idiom “staff of life” is the same. It cannot be understood by simply defining what the word “staff” means and then hypothesizing the meaning of the idiom. We understand the idiom by seeing how it has been used. Scholarly research clearly shows that the idiom “staff of life” has had a well-defined, consistent meaning throughout the long history of the English language. It clearly refers to a “staple food” (Oxford). The word staple means “having the chief place among the articles of . . . consumption” (Oxford). The Oxford English Dictionary illustrates this with examples beginning in 1638, but you can search the phrase “staff of life” on-line and find the same results (be sure to place quote marks around the phrase when you search for it).
When the Lord ordained grain to be the “staff of life,” he declared that grains should hold the chief place among the foods we consume every day. Some people are persuaded that soaking, sprouting or fermenting grains is better, and that may be fine, as long as the bulk of calories in the diet are still are coming from grains. Grains include grasses like wheat and rice, but corn and legumes (like beans, lentils and other pulses) can technically also be classified as grains. Other high-starch foods like roots/tubers (potatoes, cassava, yams and taro) are also staple foods in various parts of the world.
With so much “evidence,” shouldn’t we believe there must be something to all of these concerns?
I hear people claim, “What they say about gluten/wheat/grains makes so much sense! They cite lots of scientific data!”
We should have no disagreement with the evidence that a small minority of people have problems with wheat and/or other grains. The evidence here is conclusive, and there is no doubt some people don’t do well consuming grains. This is not the debate.
The problem is that a many good, clever, intelligent people believe gluten, wheat or grain are bad for the general population. Many stalwart, intelligent Latter-day Saints find their argument compelling. I’ve also read their arguments and fully agree that they sound compelling (especially before you have studied all the counter-arguments). But it takes much more than a compelling argument (no matter how scientific it sounds) or even the consensus of a lot of intelligent people to establish the truth.
Consider this fact: There are all kinds of wonderfully brilliant, even good people, who use quite compelling narratives to describe all the “absolutely airtight” reasons why the Mormon Church cannot possibly be true. There are also a lot of very intelligent, good (even wise) people who can’t imagine how anyone with any sense could possibly believe in such “nonsense” as the Mormon Church after carefully evaluating this “evidence.” No matter how much “counter-evidence” we come up with, they will always have more well-crafted rebuttals. Frankly, if we were not so intimately knowledgeable about the other side of the story, what they say might sound very convincing to us, too.
This is the way it is with anything truly important in life. The only non-controversial “facts” are those with no personal implications. A Talmudic saying provides this insight, “We see the world not as it is, but as we are.” This is the nature of the world we live in. God allows for multiple, persuasive stories so that we can use our agency to choose not just what we will believe but also what we “see” as evidence. You’d think with something as fundamental as religion that we could use evidence and reason to determine the truth. This is not how the world works.
We’d like to think that the subject of diet was more like math and science than religion, but that is not the case. Due to the complexity of the subject, our deep physiological and psychological connection to food and the mythical and cultural significance of it, diet and nutrition will always be more like religion and politics than it is like math. There will always be multiple, almost-equally compelling narratives for us to chose between.
It is much easier to construct a compelling-sounding narrative by not using the evidence carefully than it is to construct a compelling narrative while being very careful and true to the evidence. This is because the data is usually never that clear-cut or conclusive. The best science usually makes for very dry, technical reading, but bloggers and other non-scientists can make their stories quite fascinating because they don’t have to pay close attention to all those dry, technical facts. But the fact is, no one (including the scientists) has all the facts, and whatever tales we tell are a combination of facts and interpretations.
Why not eat a gluten-free diet to be safe?
Unless you have a specific problem with wheat, it is not a good idea to give up wheat. Here are some reasons:
1. It is expensive (gluten-free products often cost more)
2. It is time-consuming (gluten is in A LOT of food, and avoiding it is not easy: God bless those who need to do this; we should support clear labeling!).
3. A gluten-free diet can be worse for many people, “Much of the growth in gluten-free products comes from bread and baked goods, and snack foods, things that people really miss when they go gluten-free. Does this mean these products are as good tasting or as good nutritionally as their whole wheat and whole grain counterparts – definitely not…many of these products are not made using whole grains and because many are made with starches they are not enriched or fortified and are often higher in fat.”
4. Many people who are “gluten-sensitive” are also sensitive to other foods. While it is easy to take out the offending food, the number of foods that an individual may find safe to eat might continue to dwindle. In the meantime, the person may only be removing a symptom and not getting to the cause of the problem. Simply avoiding certain foods may be postponing the search for the real answers.
See references below: Harvard School of Public Health (n.d.)
What about all the anti-nutrients in grains?
I would not worry about phytic acid, lectin, and other “anti-nutrients” identified in grains. These are non-issues. Most plants have something or other that, when taken in isolation or in excess, could be harmful or lead to harm. Many foods have naturally-occurring arsenic, for example. Taken in a high enough dose, it is obviously a poison, but that does not mean we need to avoid all foods that have some arsenic in it. (In fact, arsenic is an essential nutrient for some animals and may even be beneficial to humans in small amounts.)
I like what Dr. McDougall says about phytic acid, for example:
Grains are loaded with minerals; therefore, the more grains you eat the more minerals you consume. Phytic acid, also plentiful in grains, is considered an anti-nutrient because of its ability to bind with minerals, such as zinc and calcium, and prevent their absorption. Two often-cited examples of zinc deficiency are among people living in small communities in rural Iran and Australia (Aborigines). Multiple nutritional factors, not just phytic acid, were involved in both examples. Consumption of large amounts of unleavened bread seemed central to the development of zinc deficiency. Once the bread is leavened, then the activity of phytic acid is reduced, and zinc becomes readily available. Soaking, germination, boiling, cooking, and fermentation all inactivate phytic acid and free up minerals for absorption. In real-life situations, for otherwise healthy people, the consumption of grains in recommended amounts has had no adverse effect on mineral status.
Phytic acid actually has many beneficial health effects—you won’t want it out of your diet. It acts as a powerful antioxidant and has been shown to reduce blood sugar, insulin, cholesterol and triglycerides. Phytic acid is linked to a reduction in heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and other chronic diseases in people. (McDougall, 2008)
How could something God declared as “good” now be found to be “bad?”
Personally, I am not surprised that the general society is attacking the very things our God has told us are “good.” God’s words are always under attack from the world. In fact, these attacks against that which God has ordained as “good” should alert us to the fact that much of the so-called scientific speculations they hypothesize are to be taken with a grain of salt.
If you find you are sensitive to certain foods, it is easy to get caught up in an endless chase to figure out the answers. There are so many variables at play that it can take years to sort them all out. If you just give up gluten or tweak your diet in other ways without changing to a fundamentally better diet, you may be in for a very long chase after what is causing your problems. Some people are now finding that they are sensitive to all kinds of foods and that what they are sensitive to keeps changes. No one can say what will be the certain answer to your specific issues, but I believe the Lord’s counsel in the Word of Wisdom is a great place to start. Here are some suggestions:
1. If needed, get tested.
For a very small number of people, celiac disease and/or specific food allergies are real. You may want to get tested. (Note, you need to be consuming gluten in order for the tests for celiac disease to be valid.) (Dr. McDougall on celiac disease)
2. Eat a 100% whole food, plant-based (WFPB) diet for at least 2–3 months. During this time, avoid the foods you are sensitive to.
Whether or not you have celiac disease, food allergies, or food sensitivities, many chronic medical issues will be resolved (or greatly ameliorated) by turning to a Word of Wisdom WFPB diet. By giving this diet a 100% try for a good 2-3 months, you can quickly eliminate a lot of confounding variables. Regardless of your health situation, a whole food, plant-based diet is an excellent foundation for healthy eating for the rest of your life. When done right, there are no negative side effects, only positive ones.
Here is how to get started:
a. Use resources on this site to study the WFPB diet: Whole food, plant-based diet resources
b. Study these guidelines: Whole food, plant-based guidelines
d. Avoid the foods you feel you are sensitive to while you are trying the diet to give your body a chance to heal before trying them again.
e. Study D&C 89. Live worthy and follow the Spirit. Pray always!
3. Try a “low FODMAP” diet or an “elimination diet.”
If you still experience significant problems after a 2-3 month period on a WFPB diet, either of these diets can help identify which foods might be the source of the issues and by eliminating them, allow the body time to heal.
A low FODMAP diet is often used with people who have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), but it can be useful for those with similar symptoms arising from other digestive disorders. In a tightly controlled clinical study, participants reported marked improvement in their gluten sensitivity with a low FODMAP diet (Biesiekierski, et al., 2013).
An elimination diet is used to try to eliminate all sources of possible food irritants and then introduce new foods slowly enough to adequately identify which are causing the problems:
4. Get more help from an expert.
Most people can resolve their issues using the above steps, but a few will need personal, customized assistance. I recommend seeking help from those who are expert in a whole food, plant-based diet.
5. Study other resources that might be useful to people with food sensitivities.
Food Allergy Survival Guide: Surviving and Thriving with Food Allergies and Sensitivities by Vesanto Melina, Dina Aronson, and Jo Stepaniak.
“Curing Leaky Gut Syndrome” (Video) by Dr. Michael Klapper.
“Food Sensitivities: What’s a Vegan Supposed to Do?” by Dina Aronson, MS, RD
Burgess Laughlin: Dermatitis, Arthritis, Bursitis, Tendonitis, Iritis (Experience of an individual with multiple severe food sensitivities)
Aubrey, Alison & Eliza Barclay, “Doctors Say Changes in Wheat Do Not Explain Rise of Celiac Disease,” NPR The Salt (September 26, 2013).
Biesiekierski, Jessica R., Jane G. Muir and Peter R. Gibson, “Is Gluten a Cause of Gastrointestinal Symptoms in People Without Celiac Disease?” Current Allergy and Asthma Reports 13, no. 6 (December 2013): 631–638. “Recent randomized controlled re-challenge trials have suggested that gluten may worsen gastrointestinal symptoms, but failed to confirm patients with self-perceived NCGS have specific gluten sensitivity. Furthermore, mechanisms by which gluten triggers symptoms have yet to be identified. This review discusses the most recent scientific evidence and our current understanding of NCGS.”
Campbell, T. Colin & Thomas M. Campbell, The China Study (Dallas, TX: Benbella, 2006). This book is the single best book analyzing the health benefits of a grain-based whole food, plant-based diet. It references hundreds of peer-reviewed research studies.
Catassi, Carlo et al., “Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity: The New Frontier of Gluten Related Disorders,” Nutrients 5, no. 10 (2013): 3839-3853. This paper presents the major advances and current trends on NCGS (Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity).
Chandler, Julian et al., The South in the Building of the Nation: Economic history, 1607-1865, (Richmond, VA: The Southern Historical Publication Society, 1909): 219. The adaptation of European wheat to the American environment was a “slow, laborious, and expensive process.”
Consumer Reports Magazine, “Will a gluten-free diet really make you healthier?” (November, 2014).
David, Lawrence A., et al., “Diet rapidly and reproducibly alters the human gut microbiome,” Nature 505 (23 January 2014): 559–563. “The short-term consumption of diets composed entirely of animal or plant products alters microbial community structure and overwhelms inter-individual differences in microbial gene expression.” These changes help the body to adapt to different diets but the adaptations to animal foods are not overall good ones for the human body. See also: Doucleff, 2013.
Doucleff, Michaeleen, “Chowing Down On Meat, Dairy Alters Gut Bacteria a Lot, and Quickly,” NPR The Salt (December 11, 2013). Switching to an animal food-based diet quickly changes the trillions of microbes living in the gut (in negative ways). See also: David, et al., 2013.
Gaesser, Glenn A. & Siddhartha S. Angadi,“Gluten-Free Diet: Imprudent Dietary Advice for the General Population?” Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 112, no. 9 (September 2012): 1330–1333. “Despite the health claims for gluten-free eating, there is no published experimental evidence to support such claims for the general population. In fact, there are data to suggest that gluten itself may provide some health benefits, and that gluten avoidance may not be justified for otherwise healthy individuals. . . . Indeed, there is some evidence to suggest that a gluten-free diet may adversely affect gut health in those without celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. Additional research is needed to clarify the health effects of gluten, and potential consequences of avoiding gluten-containing grains.”
George Mateljan Foundation, “Whole Wheat,” whfoods.org website (2001–2014). Summary of research supporting the health benefits of whole wheat.
Greger, Michael. Short reviews of the scientific literature on gluten: “Is Gluten Bad For You?” [1:47 min. video]; “Update on Gluten” [1:04 min. video]; “Is Gluten Sensitivity Real?” [6:43 min. video]; “Gluten-Free Diets: Separating the Wheat from the Chat” [5:29 min. video]; “How to Diagnose Gluten Intolerance” [3:38 min. video]; “Gluten Sensitivity Put to the Test” [essay]; “How a Gluten-Free Diet Can Be Harmful” [essay]; “What To Do if You Suspect Gluten Problems” [essay].
Greger, Michael, “The Leaky Gut Theory of Why Animal Products Cause Inflammation”[3:49 minute video], (July 4, 2012) and “The Exogenous Endotoxin Theory” [2:16 minute video] (July 5, 2012). A single meal of animal products causes endotoxemia (bacterial toxins in the bloodstream). Further, “the endotoxemia that follows a meal of animal products and results in inflammation and stiffened arteries may come from the food itself rather than from one’s own gut bacteria.”
Greger, Michael, “Alzheimer’s Disease: Grain Brain or Meathead?” [3:22 minute video] (July 2, 2014). Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are associated with higher meat consumption while dietary grains are strongly protective. Vegetarians appear to be 2-3 times less likely to be affected by these diseases.
Harriman, Cynthia, “Wheat – Don’t Shoot the Messenger,” Whole Grains Council webiste (October 16, 2013). Current research from a top-level international scientific conference that although the “complex gluten proteins are extremely challenging for our bodies to digest . . . when we’re healthy, 99% of us can consume gluten without any problem. When our digestive system is already compromised by antibiotics, stress, inflammation and a steady diet of processed food, however, some of us discover we’re no longer up to the challenge of digesting gluten. It’s not because the wheat has changed, but because we have.”
Harvard School of Public Health, “Health Gains from Whole Grains,” The Nutrition Source. A brief summary the growing body of research which shows the health benefits of whole grains and other less-processed sources of carbohydrates.
Jones, Julie & Michele Tuttle, “Gluten and Health: The Connection Between Gut Health, Food Sensitivities and Allergies,” Wheat Foods Council website. Discusses various reasons why some people are sensitive to certain foods.
Jones, Julie, “Wheat, Gluten and Health: The Science Behind Gut Health and Food Intolerances,” Wheat Food Council (2011). “The microbiome is currently being studied extensively. The Human Microbiome Project is an NIH funded project with the goal to characterize the human microbiome and correlates changes within it to human health. So far, studies have shown a link between gut bacteria and allergies, disease risk, and even memory skills. Even more interesting, changing the internal bacteria can alter behavior in mice. Mice and rats without any gut bacteria are more vulnerable to stress, and swapping gut bacteria between different strains of mice have led to complete personality changes!”
Jones, Julie, “Wheat Belly—An Analysis of Selected Statements and Basic Theses from the Book,” Cereal Foods World 57, no. 4 (July-August 2012): 178–189. An analysis of the book Wheat Belly by William Davis. While Davis gets a few things right, he gets most facts wrong or distorts them.
Jonnalagadda, Satya S., et al., “Putting the Whole Grain Puzzle Together: Health Benefits Associated with Whole Grains—Summary of American Society for Nutrition 2010 Satellite Symposium,” Journal of Nutrition 141, no. 5 (May 2011): 1011S–1022S. This symposium “brought together researchers to review the evidence regarding the health benefits associated with whole grains. Current scientific evidence indicates that whole grains play an important role in lowering the risk of chronic diseases, such as coronary heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, and also contribute to body weight management and gastrointestinal health. The essential macro- and micronutrients, along with the phytonutrients present in whole grains, synergistically contribute to their beneficial effects. Current evidence lends credence to the recommendations to incorporate whole grain foods into a healthy diet and lifestyle program. The symposium also highlighted the need for further research to examine the role of whole grain foods in disease prevention and management to gain a better understanding of their mechanisms of action.”
Kasarda, Donald D., “Can an Increase in Celiac Disease Be Attributed to an Increase in the Gluten Content of Wheat as a Consequence of Wheat Breeding?” Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 61, no. 6 (January 11, 2013): 1155−1159. A study of the gluten content of wheat resulting from wheat breeding since 1920 revealed no clear evidence of an increase in the gluten content of wheat during this time period. Kasarda is “probably the leader cereal chemist who has studied gluten and celiac disease over the last 50 years.”
Levinovitz, Alan, “Hold the MSG: Gluten and MSG intolerance may be only in your head. That’s nothing to be ashamed of,” Slate website (July, 9 2013).
McDougall, John A., “For the Love of Grains,” The McDougall Newsletter (January 2008). McDougall discusses the evidence that humans are grain/starch eaters and answers various criticisms others have made of grains/starches.
McDougall, John A., “Introduction to New McDougall Book — The Starch Solution,” The McDougall Newsletter (February 2009). McDougall presents the case that human beings are built to be starch/grain eaters, why starch is vital to our healthy, and what happens when we replace starch with animal foods.
McDougall, John A., The Starch Solution (New York: Rodale, 2012). This is probably the best book on the critical role of starches like grains in the human diet.
McDougall, John A., “The Smoke and Mirrors behind Wheat Belly and Grain Brain,” The McDougall Newsletter (January 2014). McDougall points out the significant scientific flaws of two popular anti-grain books.
National Wheat Improvement Committee, “Wheat Improvement: The Truth Unveiled,” USDA website. This is a concise response to claims made by Dr. William Davis (author of Wheat Belly). Points out the important role in wheat development to meet the demands of a growing population. This demand will increase by 66% by 2040.
Nijeboer, Petula et al., “Non-celiac Gluten Sensitivity. Is it in the Gluten or the Grain?” Journal of Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease 22, no. 4 (December 2013): 435-440. “Many important factors regarding this relatively novel condition remain to be elucidated; no discriminative markers to support a diagnosis of gluten sensitivity have been identified yet and its pathogenesis remains obscure. Here we review the current knowledge on NCGS, and outline potential pathogenic pathways of different gluten related disorders in order to gain clues about the pathophysiology of this novel condition.”
Pennisi, Elizabeth, “Girth and the Gut (Bacteria),” Science, 332 (April 1, 2011). Intriguing insights into the role the gut bacteria may play in obesity. (See also, “Gut Flora & Obesity” [2:47 minute video].)
Cara Rosenbloom, RD, “Wheat Has Not Changed” on Food & Nutrition (July 6, 2015).
Sission, Mark, “Is Going Grain Free Healthy?” Mark’s Daily Apple blog (May 22, 2012).
Thacker, Darshana, “My $1.50 a Day Challenge: Eating a Plant-Based Diet on an Austere Budget,” Forks Over Knives website (September 10, 2013). “The main lesson I learned is that to feed a hungry world we need to focus our resources on simple starchy staple foods, which provide the highest number of reasonably nutritious calories for the least amount of money.”
Travis, “The Asian Paradox: End of the Line for Low Carb Diets?” The McDougall Newsletter (August 2013). This article is significant for gathering a number of scientific studies that demonstrate the superiority of a high-carbohydrate diet over low-carb diets. This is supported by evidence from health large populations, like the Asians who have traditionally eaten a high-carbohydrate diet.
Tsai, Franklin & Walter J. Coyle, “The Microbiome and Obesity: Is Obesity Linked to Our Gut Flora?” Current Gastroenterology Reports 11 (2009): 307–313. Discusses the enormity of the microorganisms in the human body, their various critical functions in the body, and the possible relationship to obesity.
Velasquez-Manoff, Moises, “Are Happy Gut Bacteria Key to Weight Loss?” Mother Jones (April 22, 2013). “Imbalances in the microbial community in your intestines may lead to metabolic syndrome, obesity, and diabetes.” We can strengthen our bodies by eating a diet high in fiber, which is only found in plant foods.
Volta, Umberto, et al., “Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity: Questions Still to be Answered Despite Increasing Awareness,” Cellular & Molecular Immunology 10, (2013): 383-392. “From a clinical point of view, non-celiac gluten sensitivity is characterized by a wide array of gastrointestinal and extraintestinal symptoms that occur shortly after the ingestion of gluten and improve or disappear when gluten is withdrawn from the diet. These symptoms recur when gluten is reintroduced. Because diagnostic biomarkers have not yet been identified, a double-blind placebo-controlled gluten challenge is currently the diagnostic method with the highest accuracy. Future research is needed to generate more knowledge regarding non-celiac gluten sensitivity, a condition that has global acceptance but has only a few certainties and many unresolved issues.”
Whole Grains Council, “Health Studies on Whole Grains.” A collection of about 200 research articles documenting the benefits of whole grains.
Zhao, Liping, “The Tale of Our Other Genome,” Nature 465 (June 17, 2010): 879–880. Diet can shape the gut bacteria and thus “override” the effects of our own genetics. “You are what you eat” because what humans eat determines which bacterial species and strains thrive in our gut, and this affects the gene composition of our second genome and therefore our health.
Zhao, Liping, “My Microbiome and Me,” Science 336, no. 6086 (June 8, 2012): 1248–125.
Last updated March 2, 2016