Every time we eat, we can either choose to eat foods that help our bodies thrive, or hinder it on its course. Sticking to clean, simple foods that nature made not only helps us look better, but is also the key to that happy, energetic, thriving state that seems so elusive to so many of us. Around 30% of our bodies’ energy is used in the digestion process. When we consume overly processed foods that our bodies don’t recognize, a lot more energy is allocated to digesting these and flushing out their toxins. Think of it as a drain on our bodies’ resources, because this energy could be better used for thousands of other functions the body needs to perform. Poor digestion is a significant contributor to low energy levels, sluggishness, poor mood control, slow healing or recovery, and premature ageing, because digestion is using up the energy that should be going towards these things. There are more “healthy” convenience foods available to us than ever, but it’s become more difficult to figure out how healthful they truly are. Widely acknowledged nasties such as white sugar, MSG and trans fats lurk everywhere as their healthier-sounding alter egos. To add to that, allergies and intolerances to components like wheat, gluten, dairy, sugar and eggs are reaching epidemic proportions.
The benefits of avoiding wheat, gluten, dairy, sugar and eggs
How allergies and intolerances work ?
An allergy is a reaction by the immune system to a foreign substance it considers an enemy. Often, allergies are embedded in our DNA and so cannot be reversed. If you have an allergy, it means that a food doesn’t suit your entire system, which is why our skin and blood will react to this food too. Allergies are often immediate and measurable. An intolerance, on the other hand, is localized to our digestive system, ie the stomach has difficulty breaking down a certain substance. This often occurs when we overconsume a food, because we exhaust the tools our bodies use to break down said food. Symptoms of an intolerance can be subtle and difficult to trace back to the original culprit. Whereas we have been familiar with the concept of allergies for years, the epidemic levels of food intolerances has only been a recent phenomenon. This is because the modern diet is not varied enough and heavily features the mass-produced, subsidized commodities that we are now having trouble eating. Whether or not you have an intolerance, it’s a good idea to try to rely less on these common foods, and focus on a variety of fruit and vegetables as the base of your diet.
Cutting them out!!
The key to making substitutions for allergens in your diet is that it doesn’t need to be all-or-nothing. For most people, being rigid about what you can and can’t have doesn’t work. Even if you have the strongest willpower and the best intentions, life happens – we travel, get stuck, run late, get busy, don’t hear the alarm clock, and sometimes we just plain old can’t-be-bothered. I tell everybody that if you plan to eat well for the times in your week where you can eat well, it doesn’t matter about the few times when you give yourself a little more leeway. Whether that’s because you simply don’t have access to the healthier options, or because you decide that you want to indulge in your favourite meal tonight, it doesn’t matter. The overall picture of your diet is what will predict your wellbeing. As soon as you start to eat a little more “cleanly” than before, you will feel and look better, no matter where your starting point lies. This new way of eating will soon become your norm; stay in that zone until it feels easy and natural to you, and at some point you will feel inspired to take it to the next level. Don’t rush yourself or force yourself to clean up too fast – your body has an innate wisdom regarding what it’s ready for.
Wheat and gluten
“Gluten-free” is a huge selling point for food producers nowadays, but ask anyone to tell you what gluten is and why it’s best avoided, and you’re unlikely to get an answer. I’ve even come across people who work in this industry and can’t explain it – this is primarily because it’s a complex issue without one clear root “problem”. Gluten is a protein found in most grains, and it is the type of gluten found in wheat, barley and rye that mostly cause intolerance (these are wheat gluten, hordein and secalin respectively). The heightened gluten levels in our diet are down to two primary factors. Firstly, we overconsume it without even trying. Gluten is added to an unbelievable variety of common pantry products because it performs plenty of helpful functions. It is what gives bread its soft, doughy texture, so food producers used it to increase the mouthfeel of their goods, such as bottled sauces and ready-made baked products. It also acts as a preservative and can be used to increase shelf life. Extracting gluten and adding it to a food is relatively cheap and easy to do, so it’s a common solution. Secondly, modern wheat has been genetically transformed in order to increase its yield per acre. Gliadin, the component in wheat gluten that causes intolerance, has been re-engineered to make this possible, and has morphed into a much more aggravating hybrid than that found in wheat in the 1950s.
If you asked me which single change could make the most significant improvement to your health, removing dairy products would be it. A mammal’s milk is designed to help its infant increase in weight by up to eight times. It contains all the necessary goodness to help that calf, kid or foal grow. Once it has completed its growth, it stops drinking this milk. Where it is the ideal fuel for a baby mammal, dairy milk is not designed for human consumption. Think about it, we are the only species on earth that consume the milk of another animal – and continue to do so past our main period of growth! Dairy products are very mucus-forming in the human body, causing all sorts of problems like excess phlegm, weight gain and inflammation. Additionally, ask anyone you know why they think milk is good for them and they’re highly likely to tell you something about how you need the calcium in it for your bone health. Dairy products do contain calcium, and it makes sense to assume that consuming milk, yogurt, cheese and the like would increase your body’s calcium levels. However, this is only part of the picture. The body likes to maintain an internal environment with a slightly alkaline pH (the opposite being an acidic pH). This is the condition that allows it to function at its optimum level. An internal alkaline environment allows the necessary chemical processes to take place, whereas acidity is conducive to illness, fatigue, and free-radical formation. When faced with factors such as stress, pollution, inadequate rest and poor diet (all of which are acid-forming), the body will draw from its stores of alkaline minerals to counteract the effects of these factors on bodily pH. The alkaline minerals in the body are calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium, the most abundant of which is calcium, stored in the bones. Essentially, alkaline foods are those that contribute to your levels of these minerals, and acidic foods are the ones that deplete them. Dairy is not a preferred source of energy for the body as it is difficult to digest and encourages the production of mucus. It is thus a source of digestive stress which in turn is acid-forming. In order to neutralize the acidic nature of this process, the body pulls calcium into the bloodstream from its bones. So, even though dairy brings some calcium into your system, there is a net loss of calcium when consuming it. What’s interesting is that in countries where the indigenous people consume little or no dairy, the instances of osteoporosis are extremely low. In Japan for example, where the traditional diet consists mainly of fish, vegetables, sea vegetables, soy and grains, the disease is practically unheard of. In almost every non-Caucasian country, the number of osteoporosis cases has risen in direct correlation with the adoption of Western dietary habits over the last few decades. We have been told that we need milk for its calcium content, to the point where we have forgotten about all the plant-based sources of this nutrient – broccoli, collard greens, soy beans, sesame seeds, almonds, hemp seeds, figs, dates and apricots are all great options.
You may be surprised to see eggs in this list because they are supposedly full of health benefits – high in protein, a rare source of choline, Vitamin D and lutein. However, just because something is good for us in some ways, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t also bad for us in other ways. Farming practices that surround raising chickens for eggs are so questionable, that even if you’re an omnivore it’s best to keep organic, cage-free eggs as an occasional food in your diet. Eggs were not designed for humans to eat, and because our society is consuming them more than ever before, egg allergies are increasing to the point where they are now the second most common food allergen, behind milk. Adverse reactions are particularly high among children whose “purer” digestive systems find them hard to tolerate. If you never want to go without eggs because you love the taste, which is totally understandable, I think it’s best to reserve them for dishes where you can really taste them, and keep them out of your treats, where we can put plenty of other fun things in their place. Eggs are the most difficult thing to replace in baking because they perform three separate functions, so sometimes we need to substitute them with more than two or three different ingredients which perform these various roles – providing texture, helping the mixture to rise, and acting as a binding agent.
The health hazards of sugar are well known. High consumption of sugar has been shown to correlate with the big killers, IE heart disease, diabetes, heart attacks and cancer. While these are not necessarily factors I think about every day, I avoid white sugar because it throws our bodies off course; where the body likes to have even blood sugar, control of its moods and steady energy levels, sugar interrupts this preferred happy state. Ingesting refined sugars places such a heavy burden on the body that it has to work extra hard to stay happy. Having said that, it’s unrealistic to expect we will never again have a sweet treat. Luckily, there are amazing alternatives available to us nowadays that are much gentler on our bodies.