Edible education

Unraveling some of the mysteries of digestive health

Gluten can cause dietary issues with some people.

Our bodies can be pretty incredible if we step back and take a good look at what they’re telling us. That’s especially true when it comes to what we cram into our pie holes each day. Ever feel bloated or gassy after eating? Maybe you have unexplained fatigue or muscle aches? The cure to what ails you might be as simple as taking a closer look inside your refrigerator.

But in this world filled with food labels like “gluten-free,” “dairy-free,” “non-GMO,” “organic,” “hormone-free” and “grass-fed,” how does one even know where to start?

“Eating organic is a good first step,” says Tara Skye Goldin, a naturopathic doctor and homeopath in Boulder. “The more pesticides and hormones and herbicides that we can avoid ingesting, it’s got to be better for the population as a whole.”

Goldin says she also urges her patients to avoid genetically modified foods as much as possible.

“Our food has been genetically modified — it’s different from what it was 100 years ago,” says Goldin. “People are reacting more to foods because they’ve been modified.”

Jane Reagan, a Boulder nutritionist with 20 years in the business, agrees.

“I think there has been an increase in food allergies, intolerances and sensitivities,” she says. “There are several theories as to the cause, the first being that we have more testing than we had in the past. There’s also greater awareness. But also our food sources have changed.”

Could this GMO world we live in be the cause of an increase in digestive issues? The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says no.

The FDA, which has created a system for ensuring the safety of genetically engineered foods, assures the public via its website that, “The foods we have evaluated through the consultation process have not been more likely to cause an allergic or toxic reaction than foods from traditionally bred plants.”

The FDA site explains, however, that the process is voluntary.

Organizations like the Non GMO Project have been working toward a requiring GMO labels. The FDA has gone only so far as to encourage voluntary labeling.

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One of Goldin’s mantras is, simply, “Gluten is evil.” She’s seen so many people’s health — digestive and otherwise — improve after eliminating gluten from their diets that it’s hard for her to think any other way.

“You don’t necessarily need to have Celiac to be gluten-intolerant,” she says. “A lot of people just feel better when they’re off of it. It’s always worth a try to pull gluten.”

Cheri King, a naturopathic doctor in Louisville, also recommends that her patients experiencing any of a wide range of unexplained ailments try eliminating gluten from their diets.

“Should someone living here in America be eating gluten free? Yeah, probably,” says King, whose Colorado Natural Health Center focuses on chronic ailments. “The hybridization of our wheat is causing this high-gluten wheat product and gluten — we don’t have the enzyme to digest it.”

King recognizes the wide array of options these days when it comes to what we put in our bodies. She urges people to do a self test to determine if gluten — or soy, or lactose — is the cause of their issues.

“One way citizens can wade through all these choices is to do a very simple elimination diet. Six weeks is generally the time frame,” she says. “Add it back a lot at each meal. For the first one or two days, eat a piece of toast at every meal. People usually find, ‘Oh, I have additional gas or bloating,’ or, ‘It affects my mood.’”

Nutrition counselor Reagan, who runs her own business, Essential Nutrition, and works at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Wardenberg Health Center, is cautious to remind people that there is a difference between a true food allergy, an intolerance and a sensitivity, though they often get confused. A food allergy triggers an immune response by the body and often manifests itself through hives, a rash or difficulty breathing. An intolerance is clinically referred to as a hypersensitivity and typically causes digestive-tract problems such as bloating and diarrhea. People can also be “sensitive” to certain foods, meaning maybe they can tolerate milk or gluten one time a day or a few times a week but not at every meal, Reagan explains.

“Someone who has Celiac has to abstain from gluten 100 percent. That is a lifetime gluten intolerance, which is genetically based,” Reagan says. “But then there are a lot of people who have gluten sensitivities. They may have GI [gastro-intestinal] symptoms, fatigue or a foggy head. Those people might also stay away from gluten and feel better.”

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When it comes to digestive health, the third thing that Goldin, Reagan and King all recommend is a good probiotic.

Probiotics are basically “good bacteria” that are present in our guts already, but may not be plentiful because of their susceptibility to antibiotics, according to WebMD. You’ll find them in foods such as yogurt or kefir, but naturopathic doctors Goldin and King say a supplement is the way to go.

“Probiotics enhance the immune system in a very complicated way,” says Goldin.

“There’s been so much research on gut bacteria and what it does for us in terms of weight loss and weight gain, how it can tweak our immune system,” King adds.

The three women agree that in this ever-changing world filled with genetically engineered foods, pesticides and antibiotics, it’s important to take a good look at what is in the food that we eat.

“Our lifestyle is so fast-paced and we have so much on our plates — we’re not always aware of some of the chemicals and other things that are in our foods that are affecting our health,” says Reagan. “I’ve seen many, many people improve their health by changing their foods.”

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