Gluten: Good for Gluttony?

For a month Mary Farnham experienced unexplained stomach and abdominal cramping, nausea, and intolerable indigestion. At times the pain was so severe, "I couldn't even stand up because my stomach hurt so bad," she said. After multiple tests with a Gastric Oncologist, Farnham found out not only was she lactose intolerant, but she also had Celiac Disease.

According to Lily Nichols, a registered dietician at Rainbow Acres Natural Foods in Santa Monica, Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disorder whose only treatment is a gluten-free diet.

Gluten, a protein found in certain grains such as wheat and all its varieties, barley, and rye, has become more and more commonly intolerant or allergic to many people, says Nichols. Because it has the same symptoms as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Inflammatory Bowel Disease, and other digestive disorders, Celiac Disease is commonly misdiagnosed.

However, Nichols explained that there is a difference between being allergic to gluten, which is Celiac Disease, and being gluten intolerant.

"Gluten intolerance is not necessarily an immune response," said Nichols, "it's just your body doesn't do a very good job of breaking down gluten and you get digestive upset."

Having both celiac disease and being lactose intolerant, Farnham was faced with a dietary challenge, but doesn't mind the adjustment. "I made it easy for myself and I'm just going vegan," she said. Two weeks into her new gluten free and vegan diet, Farnham reports a complete difference in her health with no more cramps or abdominal pains.

Gluten can be difficult to avoid because it is found very commonly in most popular food items like pizza, pasta, bagels, and breads. Fortunately for Farnham and others facing the same problem, organic and natural food stores like Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, organic food store Co-opportunity in Santa Monica, and Rainbow Acres provide healthy as well as tasty alternatives.

Though you may consider any other grain, seed or nut besides the aforementioned ones, Nichols recommends taking into account the issue of cross-contamination.

"Technically oats are gluten free, but they are easily contaminated. They are often processed in the same facility as wheat and other things. They're sifted through similar silos that are right next to the other guys…almost always cross-contaminated. So, it's ideal if you can get them certified gluten free on the label," said Nichols.

A combination of vegan and gluten free diets has sparked a newly popular movement in food called the Raw Food Movement. Those who become members of this movement are typically called "Raw Fooders" and take on a lifestyle that excludes any animal products in their diet and any food cooked over 120 degrees.

This vegan and gluten free lifestyle has become popular enough to promote new restaurants like Rawvolution on Main Street, and Planet Raw on Broadway in Santa Monica.

Juliano, owner of Planet Raw, is proud to say he opened "the first organic, vegan, raw restaurant on the planet." He opened his first raw food restaurant 22 years ago in Chicago, then one later in San Francisco and now another Santa Monica. Not only is Planet Raw gluten free, but Juliano reports the food is also 100 percent starch free.

Though the food may be higher in price in comparison to fast food, Juliano believes that the health benefits outweigh the cost.

"It's no secret," he said. "Raw foods cure diseases."