Grains of truth
February 23rd 2017, 18:08
The BBC TV series Horizon has been exploring scientific issues affecting the British populace since 1964. It exposed whale meat in pet food in 1972, and examined the question (sadly, with insufficient evidence) of whether the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) jab causes autism.
With many more mindful about what they eat as the new year begins to bite, a programme entitled 'Clean Eating - The Dirty Truth' tackled an apparently fad diet being propounded by various 'clean-eating gurus', not only here in Britain, but in the US and Australia too.
Anyone tuning in to watch knew it wasn't going to be about some nice new recipes.
While I'd never come across the term 'clean eating' before the programme, I was very familiar with the 'gurus' who were the focus of the investigation, including Deliciously Ella, the Hemsley sisters and Natasha Corrett. They all have huge followings on social media and through sales of their recipe books—and, to me, they're all dynamic, inspiring people.
The centrepiece of the show was an attack on gluten-free, given that it was the common theme of the recipes offered by these clean-eating gurus. Yet, in a spate of very low-brow journalism, the show managed to dismiss Dr Bill Davis—author of
The New York Times no-1 bestseller Wheat Belly.
Dr Davis is a medically qualified cardiologist, who has seen large numbers of people benefit from excluding gluten, and is in touch with the emerging and supporting science.
We then moved to the labs of Dr Alessio Fasano—the widely acknowledged world expert on gluten-related disorders, and director of the Center for Celiac Research and Treatment at Massachusetts General Hospital—where we expected Fasano to convince viewers that the basic premise of eating healthy without gluten, as advocated by the clean-eating gurus, was scientifically sound.
But given the state-of-the-art video and sound editing—and biased journalism—that didn't happen. Fasano seemed to suggest that gluten was only a problem for those with a genetic predisposition, imbalanced gut microbes, faulty immune systems and leaky guts, leaving viewers thinking, 'Wow, there can't be many people with all four things wrong with them'. Horizon, like all gluten apologists, failed to reveal the intimate links between them.
In 2000, Fasano and his team (then at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore) found a protein they called 'zonulin', the only one known to regulate human intestinal permeability via 'tight junctions'.
They then went on to discover that gluten, a major grain protein in most of our diets, interferes with zonulin function, which evolved specifically to open gut tight junctions after ingesting nasty bugs in our food to allow the gut contents to leak into the abdominal cavity, and there expose them to our full battery of immune cells.
This should happen only occasionally—the less often, the better. But eating grains/gluten regularly, especially if you lean
towards greater sensitivity to it—faced by more than two in every five of us—and you'll soon suffer from a permanently activated, upregulated, immune system.
This becomes a more or less permanent state of low-grade inflammation, which underpins all chronic diseases—heart disease, cancer, obesity, type 2 diabetes, even Alzheimer's—and is exacerbated by a poor diet low in vegetables, fruits and fibre (the SAD, or Standard American Diet) and, in turn, imbalances the roughly two to 10 trillion gut microbiota on which our health and immunity depend.
All in all, the scene is set for gluten to become a major trigger for the huge—and increasing—incidence of chronic diseases worldwide.
That's why our Food4Health guidelines [healthy eating based on the nutrient-rich Rainbow Diet; see WDDTY December 2016, page 26] are entirely free of gluten. We can do without those grains—and expose ourselves to significant, unnecessary risk by eating gluten-containing grains as staples.
For a series with a history of uncovering scientific revelations, it's disappointing that Horizon failed to spell this out for its viewers. They could have covered Dr Fasano's book, Gluten Freedom (Wiley, 2014), rather than dismissing the issue out of hand.
Going gluten-free is no fad, especially when it's linked to eating real food made mostly at home from fresh ingredients with no bar codes.
It's also about getting in touch with our evolutionary heritage, as anatomically modern humans have spent only about one-tenth of our existence exposed to gluten-containing grains like wheat (spelt, kamut, farro, durum), barley, rye
Add to this the recent obsession with refining these grains to within an inch of their lives and not only is the gun loaded, but the trigger's been pulled, the bullet's been fired.
Run for your life—its quality depends on it!