Food and Stress
There are so many things to discuss about how food causes us physical and emotional stress that I was feeling overwhelmed with tackling this subject. Melissa owns the Facebook page The Gluten Revolution and always has great spot on information about the health effects of food and the impact of what we eat on our health so I asked her to write this guest post. Next week I will talk more about the emotional complications of food and stress. I would love it if you could give Melissa some Natural Mamma love.
There is a close association between the food we eat and the stress placed on our body. The old cliché “you are what you eat” always comes to mind, but by large most people are unaware of what it is they are eating. There has never been a more important time than now to understand exactly what is on the end of your fork and how it may be affecting your body.
For the first time in history, children’s lifespans are expected to be shorter than their parents. Chronic illness is on the rise and will continue to climb, and is reaching younger generations. The food choices we make can either give us vitality, or slowly drain our state of health. While we know that busy schedules, conflicts, financial and health worries are causes of stress, many people do not understand the profound effect that food has on our ability to cope with stress.
Food can cause physical stress in different ways:
- Unidentified sensitivities to food can actually cause mental, emotional and physical stress, and can be directly attributable to depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, psychosis, autoimmune disease, neurodegenerative disease, cancer and more.
- The Standard American Diet we’ve been handed by the USDA, American Heart Association, American Dietetic Association, agribusiness, and others, leave our bodies under-nourished and confused.
- The toxins contained in and on food place a physical burden on our bodies and disrupt our body’s normal processes.
Food sensitivities can be difficult to identify because they are different from an allergy.
- Food allergies can be more obvious, and cause the typical reactions like hives, itching, or more severe anaphylactic shock. Allergies can be detected by use of a skin-prick test, in which IgE antibodies are activated.
- Food sensitivities are caused by other immune antibody responses, and are not as easy to detect. There are tests available, such as the ELISA/ACT tests, but the tests can be expensive and may not be covered by insurance. Food sensitivities can cause anything from headaches to neurodegenerative disease.
First I’m going to pick on wheat, the biggest offender of them all, because it is very important for you to understand the severity of unrecognized gluten sensitivity (whether it be celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity), and to also understand all of the other issues outside of gluten.
Wheat (and other glutenous grains)
The most severe and grossly under-recognized food sensitivity is to gluten, the protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. It is linked to hundreds of diseases, ranging from ADD/ADHD, mood disorders, migraines, to cancer and everything in between. You do not want to continue eating gluten if you are sensitive to it, whether you are aware of it or not.
Common Signs of Gluten Sensitivity Include:
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Headaches or migraines
- Thyroid problems
- Autoimmune and neurological conditions.
Celiac disease is on the rise, yet largely undiagnosed. Most people who are gluten sensitive do not have celiac disease, but if you suspect you may have celiac disease, you should consider being tested before removing gluten from your diet. It is estimated that approximately 1% of the worldwide population have celiac disease, but most are still undiagnosed. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is a newly recognized medical condition. Estimates of people with non-celiac gluten sensitivity range from 30% to 50%!
Dr. Alessio Fasano, founder of the University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research, has found that everyone is affected by gluten, but to differing degrees. No one can properly digest it. When eaten, it releases a chemical in our bodies that opens the cells in our intestines, a condition known as intestinal permeability. Normally the cells lining our intestines form a tight barrier so that food molecules and toxins cannot escape into our bodies. When these cells open, small particles escape into the bloodstream, becoming foreign invaders to our immune system. In some people the gates close quickly after consumption. In others the gates remain open and symptoms appear, such as depression, anxiety, arthritis, ADD/ADHD, headaches, autoimmune disease, ataxia, encephalopathy, or any of the 300 signs, symptoms and associated diseases.
The issue of gluten sensitivity is so severe that it should not be ignored. Don’t assume gluten is not an issue for you – be proactive and be certain. Undiagnosed celiac disease and gluten sensitivity are very serious conditions, whether you recognize it or not. To those of us with the sensitivity, gluten is poison.
So what if you’re not gluten sensitive?
Don’t assume that wheat is good for you. While research is still is in its infancy, the current research is painting a very demented picture of the Golden Child of the USDA, AHA and ADA. According to Dr. William Davis, as documented in his book Wheat Belly, wheat is directly responsible for food cravings, obesity, heart disease, diabetes, pre-mature aging, erectile dysfunction and hair loss. Two slices of whole wheat toast actually cause blood sugar spikes higher than eating a sugar-laden candy bar!
Wheat is actually so perverse, it releases exorphins that bind to the opiate receptors in our brains, similar to morphine and heroine, making us crave it. Withdrawal symptoms have been reported in people who eliminate it. Any way you look at it, wheat is not a good food choice. It places an insane amount of stress on our bodies. Instead of a heart healthy label, it should come with a warning label.
Other Food Sensitivities and Intestinal Permeability
When we eat wheat and other foods that irritate our digestive tract, we create intestinal permeability. Many food sensitivities are thought to be a consequence of this condition. When our intestines become permeable, food particles and toxins are able to move into our body. As food particles leak out, our immune system identifies them as foreign and launches an attack. We become sensitized to food and particles that would otherwise be harmless. If these particles resemble our organs (gluten closely resembles the thyroid), our immune system may launch an attack against our own tissues, resulting in autoimmune conditions. If these particles cross into the blood brain barrier, mood disorders can develop.
Food sensitivities can have a direct impact on our mental and physical health. Our immune systems become overwhelmed and eventually, after continuous assault, start to function ineffectively. As it becomes inundated with putting out fires, inflammation takes over and our health begins to fade.
Standard American Diet
The Standard American Diet, or SAD, has created a perfect storm for chronic illness in our country. The promotion of whole grain/low fat diets has left our guts in distress and our brains starving for nutrients. Fat nourishes our bodies and brains and provides us with necessary nutrients and satiety. The promotion of grains and sugar-laden foods, feed the opportunistic bacteria in our guts, causing an imbalance of gut very important bacteria. Consuming grains and sugar in the amounts consumed today has also made us an insulin-resistant and overweight society. In other words, fat doesn’t make us fat, grains do!
The promotion of processed franken-foods, slapping on a vitamin and mineral content and heart healthy label, has misguided us into believing we can get our nutrition from depleted, laboratory created, chemically-laden food-stuffs. Our bodies work overtime trying to identify and process all the junk we have been putting into it, and attempts to do so while being starved of the foundation of nutrients it requires. Mark’s Daily Apple has a lot of great nutritional advice and guidance on what foods to avoid and why.
Antinuntrients and Other Toxins
Certain foods are high in phytates and lectins, which are considered anti-nutrients. Grains and legumes are generally low in nutrients and high in anti-nutrients.  The nutrients they contain are not readily absorbable because of their high phytate content. Phytates bind to nutrients, rendering them unavailable to our body. Lectins irritate our digestive tract. Since many of us are suffering from some level of intestinal permeability, removal of foods high in lectin content is advised.
Conventionally grown produce contains numerous pesticides. It is best to choose organic when possible. If it is not possible to obtain organic because of availability or budget, avoid the “dirty dozen”.
Even if you are not sold on the emerging science surrounding the dangers of genetically modified foods, the fact that they are heavily sprayed with the herbicide Round-Up should cause you concern. It has been shown to be toxic to human DNA in levels 450-fold lower than what is used in agricultural applications.
Avoid non-organic corn and soy.
Avoid products that list “sugar” as an ingredient, indicative of the genetically modified sugarbeet. Opt for a sugar-free brand or one that lists the type of sugar, i.e. cane sugar.
When buying meat, try to source out 100% grass fed, pastured or wild caught meat, eggs and fish. These animals have more nutrients because they have been fed their natural diet. Cows that have been able to graze on their natural diet of grass have a perfect balance of Omega 3:6, and are high in an antioxidant called conjugated linoleic acid. Contrarily, conventionally raised meat is full of toxins and is deficient in Omega 3’s. If you cannot find grass-fed meat, or if budget is a concern, find the leanest meat possible. Toxins are stored in fat, so by choosing the lean cuts you can reduce your toxin load. Conventionally raised animals are fed genetically modified corn and soy, so those pesticide residues are stored in the fat.
The Standard American Diet has put a horrific strain on our health as a society.
Most of us are walking around with some form of physical or mental stress, directly caused by our food supply. We have been given bad dietary advice by government institutions and our state of agriculture is in disarray.
Here is what you can do to improve the health of you and your family:
- Remove gluten from your diet and limit non-gluten grains or go grain-free.
- Limit or eliminate legumes, including soy and peanut. If you include these in your diet, ensure they are properly prepared. The best form to eat soy, if it all, is fermented.
- Eat more fat! It will not make you fat. Acceptable cooking fats are fat from grass-fed, pastured animals, coconut oil, butter or ghee. Other healthy fats include olive oil and avocado oil, but these should not be heated. Avoid vegetable oils (canola, corn, soybean). Here is a great guide to good and bad plant-based oils.
- If you tolerate dairy, choose full-fat dairy, and always buy pastured or organic.
- Avoid packaged, processed food-stuffs. These are full of non-food ingredients that were created in a lab for shelf life and profits, and not for your health or your gut.
- Opt for meat from grass-fed, pastured or wild caught animals, organic meat, or lean cuts of conventional meat, in that order.
- Buy organic when possible, and shop at your local farmer’s markets.
- Avoid genetically modified foods.
- Listen to your body! Many signs and symptoms can be directly attributed to something that was consumed. Healing the gut is of great importance.
- Above all, just eat real food.
Your challenge for the week, if you choose to accept it, is to identify the processed foods in your home and to move them into one spot in your house. This will help you easily identify the foods that blatantly cause stress to the body so when you eat them, it is a conscious decision. ANYTHING that comes in a package goes in that spot in your home. Fruits, vegetables meat, dry seeds, legumes, and unprocessed flours (unbleached) can be in your “real food” section (although, like she states in this post, it might just be best to go without the wheat).
By taking a more conscious approach to your food you will soon see what food is reducing your physical stress, and what food is CAUSING you stress. You are in control.
Is food causing your body unnecessary stress? How do you handle food stress on your body?
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