Breast Cancer Awareness

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pink ribbonAll the NFL teams are wearing pink! That’s because October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Sponsored by the National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc, this month-long annual campaign aims to raise awareness about the disease.

One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime. This no doubt means that someone you know has been or will be affected by the disease. While October may be the designated month for breast cancer awareness, you can get involved any time of the year!

  1. Create a plan: The best way to fight breast cancer is for women to have a plan to detect the disease early (when breast cancer is found early, the 5-year survival rate is 98%).   The NBCF recommends monthly breast self-exams, annual clinical breast exams and mammograms, and healthy lifestyle habits. They have even created an app that helps you keep track of everything! Encourage the women in your life to create their plan today.
  2. Learn more: The NBCF has created an online guide, Beyond the Shock, a resource for women and their families to learn more about the disease. This site includes some inspiring questions, question and answer forums, and explanatory videos, among other resources.
  3. Donate: Donate to NBCF or hold a fundraiser to raise money. Proceeds go toward providing mammograms for women in need.

Susan G. Komen is another well-known organization that focuses on breast cancer through education, research, and resources.

-Katie Huffman

Health Tips from John Wesley

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United Methodists are indebted to John Wesley for his habits of study and discipline that enabled him to create the writings and teachings that became our denominational traditions.  What may be less well known is that Wesley was also fascinated by the Primitive Physickhuman body; he conducted many an experiment on himself, eventually leading to his development of over 800 remedies for 300 unique ailments, which he recorded in his volume, Primitive Physick.

I’m not as willing to commit to Wesley’s medical recommendations as I am to the denomination he founded. After all, he did suggest rubbing the head with onions and honey to cure baldness and snorting vinegar to reverse a bout of lethargy. Nevertheless, Wesley offered some sound advice about specific areas of health, and in fact, was ahead of his time on certain points. Below are a few of his more helpful tips:

  • “Water is the wholesomest of all drinks; quickens the appetite, and strengthens the digestion most.”
  • “A due degree of exercise is indispensably necessary to health and long life.”
  • “Those who read or write much should learn to do it standing; otherwise it will impair their health.”
  • For coughs, “make a hole through a lemon and fill it with honey. Roast it, and catch the juice. Take a tea-spoonful of this frequently.”
  • Go to bed at 9pm and get up between 4am and 5am

Whether or not you follow John Wesley’s advice on how to cure your next headache, I think it’s important to remember the essence of his teachings on health: that “wholeness is the well-working of the body” and that balancing all areas of health is a spiritual process.

Below is a list of sources used for this post; they also offer additional information on Wesley’s views on health:

-Katie Huffman

Image from NeuroWhoa! blog via CC

Update: Pedaling to Stop Traffic

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The following post, written by Mark Andrews, is an update to the article he shared with The Connection in April, where he previewed his cross-country bike trip.  Rev. Andrews is a Spirited Life Group 3 participant and pastor at St. Luke’s UMC in Hickory.

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What a summer! On June 1, my wife, Denise, and I embarked on our journey across the country, me on my yellow, triple-crankset, Schwinn bicycle and Denise in our car, driving as my support along the way. We began at the waterfront in Edenton, North Carolina and ended at Sunset Bay State Park in Charleston, Oregon. The purpose of my expedition was mainly to take some time away from the parish, to refresh my spirit while pursuing one of my bucket-list items, but I also used this trip to raise funds and awareness regarding United Methodist Women’s efforts to stop human trafficking. While I fell short of my $40,000 goal, there has nonetheless been over $16,000 raised thus far — no small change!

Upon first getting permission for my leave, I was filled with giddy delight, but as the day for departure approached, I began feeling anxious about what I had gotten myself into. Was I physically up to the challenge? What if I failed? What would I say to my congregation? I began to worry about the challenge to which I had committed Denise and myself.

I started off the trip the way I do most projects, trying to get it all finished as quickly as possible. After the first two days of riding almost 190 miles, we arrived in Durham, North Carolina at our daughter’s home, physically and emotionally exhausted from trying to do too much. Lovingly fed and refreshed, I resumed the journey at a more moderate pace the rest of the way.

There were some more long-mileage days, but I averaged about 65 miles, or 100 kilometers, a day — fewer in the mountains of eastern Kentucky, more on the flats of the Kansas plains. But each mile brought “signs and wonders” at the beauty of the United States and the marvels of creation. Traveling on back roads and through small towns granted me a perspective on this country that one misses when driving on interstate highways. Never having traveled extensively, every day was an adventure, as I discovered Mark in mountainswhat was around each curve in the road, or exulted in the vistas just over every mountain and hill.

Denise and I learned to trust in the providence of God for safety, weather, food and lodging. My bicycle had no mechanical problems. I never even had to change a tire! We found a place to sleep every night, whether in a city park in a tent, in a church fellowship hall made available through the hospitality of its people, and a few hotels. There were a few dangerous and anxious moments in the journey, but all of them were overcome by God’s mercies.

What I enjoyed the most was the simplicity of each day. A recent book detailing Paul Howard’s epic bike ride is entitled, Eat, Sleep, Ride. That title pretty well summarizes the gracious gift this experience was for me. What seems so out of reach these days is at the same time what we need most — Sabbath, solitude, silence and simplicity. These were all characteristics of my time of renewal. I hope to incorporate what I learned this summer into my daily life and my weekly observance of Sabbath-keeping. And I’m still pedaling when I can.

-Rev. Mark Andrews

Photo taken by Denise Andrews in the mountains of Montana

A Spoonful of Sugar…Not So Nice After All

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Sugar has many aliases and, according to Prevention magazine, precisely 57 different names. Nowadays, sugar is ubiquitous and permeates much of our food supply, even in places you might least expect, like ketchup and barbecue sauce.

So where did sugar originate? Sugar cane was initially grown about 10,000Sugar Table years ago on the island of New Guinea where people picked and ate it raw. By AD 500, sugar was powdered in India and used as a treatment for various ailments, but sugar refinement was a covert process that eventually spread to Persia. The Arabs were the first to turn sugar production into an industry after Arab armies conquered Persia and marched away with sugar’s potent secrets.

By the time cane sugar reached the West (roughly 600 years ago), it was classified as a spice and purchased by European royalty, the only ones with the means to pay the exorbitant prices. Two hundred years later, slave labor on sugar cane plantations made it possible for the working class to buy sugar. The Industrial Revolution made sugar accessible to everyone and manufacturers now refine raw sugar into the white crystals available in our grocery stores.

How much sugar do we really consume? Below are some astounding statistics and, just to provide some context, one 12-ounce can of Coke has 10 teaspoons of sugar:

  • In 1822, Americans consumed approximately 1.8 teaspoons per day
  • By 2012, each American consumed 30.6 teaspoons per day, which equates to almost 3 ½ cans of soda
  • As of 2012, the average American child consumed a whopping 32 teaspoons per day, or almost 3/4 of a cup

Why do we want sugar? Essentially, sugar in the bloodstream “stimulates the same pleasure centers of the brain that respond to heroin and cocaine… In this sense, it is literally an addictive drug.” (National Geographic)

Several prominent scientists suspected that sugar might cause diabetes as early as the 1920s, but it wasn’t until 1972 that John Yudkin, a British physiologist and nutritionist, proclaimed the evils of sugar in a book entitled Pure, White and Deadly, which was written to send the message that overconsumption of sugar was leading to many diseases, including heart disease, liver disease, and some cancers. The book was based on a series of studies during the 1960s showing that high amounts of dietary sugar resulted in increased amounts of fat and insulin in blood, raising the riSugar Picsk for heart disease and diabetes. However, Yudkin’s message was overshadowed by Ancel Keys (click here to read the recent saturated fat blog for more on Keys) and other scientists who preached the theory that saturated fats caused heart disease and obesity.

Richard Johnson, MD, a nephrologist the University of Colorado in Denver, says that “every time I study an illness and trace a path to the first cause, I find my way back to sugar.” Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatrician and endocrinologist at the University of California at San Francisco, has proclaimed that the “food industry has contaminated the food supply with added sugar” that has become a poison.

- Holly Hough, PhD

References: Prevention; Forbes; Mind Body Nutrition; National Geographic; The New York Times (February, 2014); The New York Times (April, 2011); Mother Jones; The Huffington Post

Image by Uwe Hermann, via CC

Click to read Holly’s post, Saturated Fats: Friend or Foe?

A Time for Renewal, Part III

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This is the third in a special series on renewal leave by guest blogger Rev. Dianne Lawhorn.  Read the first and second installments.

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Guidelines for selecting helping professionals during a renewal leave:

Spiritual Direction- This form of support is helpful if your need is to work on your relationship with God. If you are feeling the desire for a more rich spiritual experience, a spiritual director can provide guidance in developing practices that will help you connect with God at a deeper level. A spiritual director can also help you to notice where God is at work in your life and discern what response might be called for. A Spiritual Director can provide a prayerful, companioning presence for this time in your life.

Counseling- This form of support is helpful if your need is for healing. If you recognize disappointment, disillusionment, or despair in your life, a counselor can help. Counseling is useful in uncovering what’s going on with you emotionally so that you might seek the healing you need. A counselor can also help you cope with situations and relationships that are causing you discomfort, allowing you to recognize and honor what you are feeling.

Coaching- This form of support is helpful if your need is to make an assessment of your current situation and to develop a plan of action for moving forward. Coaches can help you assess your strengths, growth edges, and vital needs. They can help you discover new possibilities for creating the life that you want. They are equipped to assist you with your plan for development and can provide accountability as you move forward.

A final step might be to think about how you want to continue in ministry. It would be good to think about what aspects of this leave time you can incorporate into your regular life. Deciding what rhythms you will keep from this valuable time away will be essential to sustaining the renewal you’ve experienced. It is important to think about how you are going to create space in your life to nurture that which contributes to your health and well-being.

Hopefully, your renewal leave will uncover some areas where you would like to pursue a greater degree of health. It’s important to remember that in order for us to become healthier, we must embrace a new way of being and a new way of doing ministry that small groupis life-giving to us. We must then walk forward into this new way, having been equipped with tools for a better way of doing life and ministry.

We all need accountability to make change a reality in our lives. Maybe it’s time to think about how you can create that accountability for yourself. Do you need to connect with a spiritual friend or ministry colleague on a regular basis to help you implement this new way of life? Perhaps you could create a support group of others who join together in sustaining this important life change?  Hopefully, this support will sustain you for years to come, making life-long transformational ministry a reality!

Dianne

Dianne Lawhorn is the Minister of Spiritual Formation for the Lydia Group which is a resource for spiritual wholeness offering formational teaching, retreat leadership, and spiritual direction.

Saturated Fats: Friend or Foe?

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For decades, we have been advised to steer clear of saturated fats. Several research papers published in the early 1950s implicated dietary fat as a key player in the development of heart disease. By 1961, the American Heart Association (AHA) published dietary guidelines that included reduction of saturated fats and in 1982, the Nutrition Committee of the AHA recommended no more than 10% of daily calories from fat.

So what are saturated fats? They are usually solid at room temperature and found in the foods we tend to like the most, that is, meat, cheese, ice cream, butter, and other dairyMeat Pic products. A few plant-based oils, such as coconut and palm oils, also contain saturated fats.

Scientists have recently revisited the role of saturated fats in cardiovascular disease and, as it turns out, the early studies may have been wrong. Authors of one paper published in 2010 and another in early 2014 analyzed data from a number of previous studies. The authors indicate that there is no relationship between dietary saturated fat and heart disease risk and, furthermore, the evidence does not support our current dietary guidelines that encourage “low consumption of saturated fats.” In fact, authors of a separate study found that a “low-carbohydrate diet was more effective for weight loss and cardiovascular risk reduction than a low-fat diet.”

Nina Teicholz, an investigative journalist, recently authored a book entitled The Big Fat Surprise (released in March of 2014) that corroborates the recent findings regarding saturated fats. Ms. Teicholz spent eight years sifting through previous research on the connection between heart disease and saturated fats. According to her, the research that was the basis for our current dietary guidelines was severely flawed.

The primary author, Ancel Keys, was a physiologist at the University of Minnesota in the 1950s. The story goes that Keys became interested in heart disease when he observed that American businessmen were experiencing high rates of heart attacks, Europeans had lower death rates from coronary heart disease when food supplies were low following World War II, and then-President Eisenhower himself had a heart attack, bringing cardiovascular disease to the medical forefront. Following a series of smaller studies, Keys developed his theory that fat, particularly saturated fat, caused heart disease, which came to be known as the diet-heart hypothesis.

In 1953, Keys published a very influential paper where he purported a “remarkable relationship” between fat and heart disease.  He presented data from the United States, Canada, Australia, England and Wales, Italy, and Japan supporting his hypothesis that consumption of fat causes heart disease.  Several years later, Jacob Yerushalmy, a biostatistician at the University of California at Berkeley, noted in a separate paper that, although the countries Keys selected supported the diet-heart hypothesis, data were available for 22 countries.  As it turned out, when data from all countries were analyzed, the causal relationship between dietary fat and heart disease disappeared.

Keys launched what came to be known as the ‘Seven Countries’ study in 1958.  He collected data on dietary habits and heart attack rates in the United States, the Netherlands, Finland, Yugoslavia, Italy, Greece, and Japan.  As a result, Keys reported that greater consumption of animal fat led to a higher rate of heart attacks. There were a few problems with his data, however.  Keys visited Greece during Lent when people abstain from eating meat, which would have skewed his data.  Additionally, the correlation between animal fat and heart attacks was not observed in Finland, Greece, and Yugoslavia.  Keys also intentionally left out countries such as Holland and Norway where residents eat a lot of fat but experience little heart disease.

In spite of the flaws, Keys’ research received a great deal of media attention and he ultimately persuaded both the AHA and the U.S. government that saturated fats Cheese Picwere the bad boys that caused not only heart disease but played a major role in the development of obesity and cancer as well. What followed are the national dietary guidelines that are still accepted today.

Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, at the Harvard School of Public Health, is one of many researchers who now believe that our current dietary guidelines need to be revisited. He says that “we can’t judge the healthfulness of a food [only] by how many grams of saturated fat it has.” Other experts aren’t buying the new findings. Walter Willett, MD, Chair of Nutrition and Mozaffarian’s colleague at the Harvard School of Public Health, says the conclusions of recent studies should be disregarded.

What does all of this mean for us? It is unknown when or if the current dietary guidelines will change and it will take more research and discussion to alter a long-held belief. If you have questions regarding these new findings and wish to revisit your own nutritional habits, please to talk to your doctor and/or a dietitian.

- Holly Hough, PhD

Please consult with your doctor before making any dietary changes.

References: American Heart Association; The Journal of Nutrition; Annals of Internal Medicine; American Journal of Clinical Nutrition; British Columbia Medical Journal; WebMD; Dr. Frank Lipman: Interview with Nina Teicholz; NBC News

Images by Flicker users Yamashita Yohel and Anne Hornyak, via CC

Click to read Holly’s post, A Spoonful of Sugar…Not So Nice After All

A Time for Renewal, Part II

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This is the second in a special series on taking renewal leave by guest blogger Rev. Dianne Lawhorn.  Read the first installment here.

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A renewal leave is an ideal time for you to develop rhythms that can be incorporated into your life when you return to work. You may never again have this opportunity to “try on” a new rhythm and see how it works for you. The rhythm I sought to embrace was to: eat healthy foods, exercise, get plenty of sleep, take a Sabbath, and have some fun! By doing these things over a short-term period, I was able to conceive of how this rhythm could become a reality over the long-term as well.

You might try incorporating a particular time every day where you can connect with God through a favorite spiritual practice. On my leave, my husband and I worked through the book The Cup of our Life by Joyce Rupp. This guide tea and booknot only provided readings but also included practices for prayer, reflection, scripture reading, journaling, and a commitment for each day. We found the use of this guide to be a great resource to us individually and as a couple!

A renewal leave is a wonderful time to reflect on your ministry journey. A book that I found very helpful in my reflection was Leading on Empty by Wayne Corderio. This book helped me better understand the challenges of life-long ministry and the effects it can have on our bodies, minds, and spirits. It also helped me learn how to navigate these challenges with greater ease.

A renewal leave is a great time to reflect on your personal life.  It’s a good idea to consider if the life you are living is the life you want to live. It’s a time for you to think about what changes might help you to more fully live into the desires you have for your life.

These questions may contribute to your reflection:

Where am I now?

What do I really want?

What is my next right step?

What is life-giving to me, helping me to give and receive love?

What is life-draining to me, hindering me from giving and receiving love?

 In this reflection, you may find needs that you don’t know how to provide for on your own. We all need help from time to time in processing what is going on with us at a deeper level. A book that I used to assist me in this discovery was Release by Flora Wuellner.

Renewal time is an opportunity to consider if you want to make use of a helping professional such as a spiritual director, counselor, or a coach. In the next article, I’ll provide some guidelines for selecting which resource you need at this point in your journey. You may even elect to participate in The Davidson Clergy Program, an excellent resource to build your resilience!  

Dianne

Dianne Lawhorn is the Minister of Spiritual Formation for the Lydia Group which is a resource for spiritual wholeness offering formational teaching, retreat leadership, and spiritual direction.

 

 

Image by Flickr user ienjoysushi via CC

What’s the Lowdown on Eggs?

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Are eggs making a comeback? For decades, we have been advised to limit egg consumption to reduce our risk of developing heart disease in spite of the fact that eggs contain beneficial substances like protein, Vitamins A and D, calcium, and choline (important for brain funEgg Picction). Eggs have gotten a bad rap, probably because just one yolk contains 187 mg of cholesterol, which is 62% of the recommended daily intake. While it is true that eggs are high in cholesterol, there is now solid research that shows no connection between eating eggs and heart disease.

For example, participants in the Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial that had a blood cholesterol level lower than 200 mg/dL ate more eggs than those whose cholesterol was greater than 220. In a separate study, individuals who ate two eggs per day for six weeks experienced no change in total or LDL cholesterol, or ‘bad cholesterol’.

The truth is, cholesterol is in every cell of the human body and is used to make hormones like testosterone and estrogen. The liver actually produces cholesterol and makes all the cholesterol your body naturally needs. There is no dietary requirement for more; however, when we eat foods high in cholesterol, the liver produces less of this natural cholesterol. So what foods are high in cholesterol?  Usually those foods that are also high in saturated fat, like animal products.  Since the American diet typically includes a lot of animal products, we consume quite a bit of cholesterol as a result.

Alice Lichtenstein, a professor of nutrition science at Tufts University, says that the major determinant of LDL (‘bad cholesterol’) levels is saturated fat and lowering saturated fat in the diet subsequently lowers LDL cholesterol.  While eggs are indeed high in cholesterol, they are low in saturated fat, which for many years has been accepted as the primary culprit in raising the risk for heart disease.  New evidence is surfacing, however, that shows no relationship between saturated fat and heart disease risk, a revelation contrary to long-held beliefs. Cholesterol Table1

So…based on what what we do know, how many eggs can you eat? Most experts agree that one egg per day is fine. The American Heart Association (AHA) no longer limits the number of eggs you can eat, but instead recommends limiting cholesterol intake to 300mg daily. People with diabetes who eat eggs may be at increased risk for heart disease, so if you have diabetes or very high levels of total and LDL cholesterol due to a genetic disorder, experts say it is best to limit your egg consumption to three yolks per week.

Perhaps it’s time to reevaluate eggs – they may be an egg-cellent choice after all!

- Holly Hough, PhD

Please consult with your doctor if you have concerns about your cholesterol or before making any dietary changes.

References: Journal of the American Medical Association; American Journal of Clinical Nutrition; The Boston Globe; Harvard School of Public Health: The Nutrition Source; Annals of Internal Medicine

Image by Flickr user Bryan Jones, via CC

A Time for Renewal, Part I

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This is the first in a special series on taking renewal leave by guest blogger Rev. Dianne Lawhorn.

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Often in our ministry, after years of service, we find ourselves in need of being recharged. Current statistics say that most of us will experience fall at Starretteministry fatigue at some point in our journey. We shouldn’t feel guilty about taking the time we need because all of us will need a break eventually. Recognizing the need for a break is actually a sign of health. Taking a break allows us to be renewed for the journey.

Thankfully, the Methodist Book of Discipline recognizes the need for this time and provides for it in the form of a renewal leave.  I took this time of renewal back in 2012 and found that it gave me a renewed sense of vitality and purpose in ministry. I needed some guidance, however, in order to discern how to structure the time of my leave so that I could receive the greatest benefits from it.   I wondered if you might find yourself in this place and might like some tips for shaping this time.

A renewal leave is a time where we really need to give ourselves a break! For most of us, our tendency to over-schedule and over-commit has led us to the need of a break in the first place.  So, we don’t want to bring this pattern into our leave time. For this reason, I devoted the first and last part of my own leave to rest. It was great for me to spend that time simply being still, with stillness as my only task or accomplishment for those days.

A renewal leave is the perfect time for you to get out of your environment, especially if you live in a parsonage. You might go to a place that you have enjoyed before, where you can connect with God and with yourself. You might want to spend a few days in the mountains, at the beach, or at a local retreat center, where you can spend some time alone in a peaceful environment that nurtures your soul.

If you are married, this is also a great time for you to connect with your spouse. During my renewal leave, my husband also took time away from his job so that he could share in my experience. We felt grateful to have that unstructured time together as a couple in a place that we both love!

This could also be a time to connect with family and friends. Maybe you could go to see a family member or friend that you would like to connect with whom you haven’t seen in years. Shared experiences with people who are important to us can certainly contribute to our well-being, which should be a goal of our renewal time. Sharing this experience with others can truly give us strength for our journey.

In next week’s post, I’ll offer some reflection activities and questions that might be helpful to consider for your renewal leave.

Dianne

Dianne Lawhorn is the Minister of Spiritual Formation for the Lydia Group which is a resource for spiritual wholeness offering formational teaching, retreat leadership, and spiritual direction.

 

 

Click to read Part II and Part III.

To Be or Not To Be Gluten-Free #4

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This is the fourth and final post in a series on gluten and gluten-free eating.  Click to read the first, second, and third installments.

The Final Verdict: If You can Tolerate Gluten, Should You go Gluten-Free?

More than half of gluten-free consumers don’t have a sensitivity to gluten and many are self-diagnosing, believing that gluten-free products will help them lose weight or feel better, even if they don’t experience digestive distress after eating wheat.

Do gluten-free diets lead to weight loss? Most experts say no. When manufacturers eliminate gluten from food, whBread Piceat flour is exchanged for a different type of flour, such as rice or bean. Gluten adds texture, but when that is removed, corn starch or xantham gum are added to give bread some shape. Gluten-free bread, for example, is often low in nutrients and supplemented with sugar and fat to enhance taste and softness.

Several prominent individuals have written and/or spoken extensively about issues surrounding wheat and gluten. Below are a few varied and sometimes conflicting viewpoints:

  • Mark Hyman, MD, author of The Blood Sugar Solution, says that wheat (not just gluten) not only triggers weight gain but leads to the development of diabetes, heart disease, depression, and many other illnesses. He says that modern wheat contains a “Super Starch”, or amylopectin A, that is used to make fluffy breads, such as Cinnabons. What’s the big deal? “Two slices of whole wheat bread raise your blood sugar more than two tablespoons of table sugar,” which increases your risk of diabetes.
  • Dr. Hyman and Dr. William Davis, authors of Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health, agree that wheat is addictive. Wheat proteins are digested into smaller proteins called ‘exorphins’, which “are like the endorphins you get from a runner’s high and bind to the opioid receptors in the brain, making you high and addicted”. (It should be noted here that wheat is not unique in this respect – foods such as milk, rice, and corn also contain exorphins.)
  • Daniel Leffler, MD, Director of Clinical Research at the Celiac Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, says “the average American diet is deficient in fiber” and if whole wheat is removed from our diet, the problem worsens. Other grains such as quinoa or brown rice can provide us with the necessary fiber, but preparation of these grains often requires more effort.
  • Alessio Fasano, MD, Director at the University of Maryland’s Center for Celiac Research, says that we do not have the enzymes to properly digest gluten. Dr. Fasano believes that gluten triggers an immune response in everyone, which can lead to autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis and irritable bowel syndrome.
  • Katherine Tallmadge, RD, author of Diet Simple, says that if yoVitamin Picu don’t have celiac disease, don’t go for gluten-free foods because you will be missing out on fiber, iron, folate, niacin, calcium, and Vitamin B12, among vitamins.
  • Donna Gates, creator of the Body Ecology Program for individuals with autism, advocates eliminating gluten from the diet as a means of treating autism.  Some experts theorize that children with autism may have an allergy to foods with gluten or casein (found in milk and dairy products).

All of these views carry more significance if you think about how much wheat most Americans eat. Many eat a bagel or toast for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, and bread or pasta (or both) for dinner. If you snack on cookies, cakes, or crackers in between meals, that’s a lot of wheat consumed in one day.

Keep in mind that gluten-free products such as cookies and cakes are still processed foods and, thus, higher in calories. Additional sugar in gluten-free bread and other products also means raising blood sugar and increasing the risk of diabetes. Processing and added sugar also result in a pricier product. It’s easy to pay more for something that isn’t very healthy, even if it’s gluten-free.

So now that you have the rundown on the major issues surrounding wheat and gluten…what’s a girl (or guy) to do? The bottom line is that you need to decide for yourself. If you want to experiment with eating healthier wheat and bake your own bread without additives, check your local area for farms that grow and grind organic wheat. Maybe the answer for you is to simply cut back on the amount of wheat you eat, but if you feel strongly about eliminating wheat and/or gluten from your diet, please talk to your doctor. It is also important to see a knowledgeable dietitian who can help you eat a balanced diet that has the fiber, vitamins, and minerals your body requires.

- Holly Hough, PhD

References: CBS News; Mail Online (the website for The Daily Mail, a UK newspaper); The Huffington Post; Authority Nutrition; Harvard Health Blog; Body Ecology; The Curious Coconut; US National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Health; Kitchen Stewardship; Foundation for Alternative and Integrative Medicine; Scientific American; WebMD; Autism Speaks

Images by Flickr users elana’s pantry and Colin Dunn, via CC