Shouldn’t we be eating bugs?

If you’re really going to follow a paleo diet, you ought to be eating bugs, “lots and lots of bugs,” Daniella Martin argues in her new book “Edible.”

The diet, after all, suggests we should eat more like early hunter-gatherers did, and what could be easier to hunt and gather than bugs?

(Martin uses the term “bugs” interchangeably with “insects” to refer to “terrestrial invertebrates.”)

The creatures are packed with protein and other nutrients. In some non-Western cultures they are considered a staple; in others, a delicacy.

If we’re willing to eat cows, why not crickets? It’s just a matter of acclimation, Martin argues, using herself as an example.

“I am a cautious person . . . and gastrointestinally sensitive. I’m allergic to alcohol and lactose intolerant, and breakfast cereal has been known to give me a stomach-ache.” Yet, one bite of a homemade wax-moth taco and Martin is converted into a culinary swashbuckler: “Delicious! Nutty, savoury, earthy,” she writes of her creation. Who needs to worry about a bowl of Rice Krispies when you can nibble on foods that get their crackle and pop from leg joints and carapaces?

In her breezy book, Martin, who also blogs about and makes videos on entomophagy (bug eating), writes not only of her personal metamorphosis but also on the history and science of the practice.

The book also has a thorough appendix about insect types and which ones to avoid eating (hint: the brightly coloured ones), how to farm your own (you can also order them online) and, of course, a recipe for that transformative taco – as well as other delectable vittles such as the Circle of Life Canapé, an hors d’oeuvre that features a “fig-chevre mound” topped with a sautéed grasshopper.

Martin is not the only one touting the benefits of insect-eating these days. And the argument for expanding the Western culinary appetite to include animals you might normally stomp on goes beyond personal health. Last year, the United Nations published a paper arguing that entomophagy was a vital way to help feed a growing world population in an environmentally sound way. Producing insects for consumption, for example, leaves a smaller carbon footprint than raising cattle.

The authors of “The Insect Cookbook” use the U.N. report as a springboard to their thought-provoking compendium of recipes. The beautifully photographed book opens with an endorsement of entomophagy from no less than former U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan, who suggests feeding some of the dishes to politicians.

If they like them, they can become the cuisine’s “best ambassadors,” he says. “They will proudly go around and say, ‘I ate crickets, I ate locusts, and they were delicious.’ They will use this to show how courageous and adventurous, and what leaders they are.”

Indeed, sampling a bowl of nutty mealworms, a plate of “bugitos” or a bite of “buglava” may be the most efficient test of a leader’s mettle – not to mention his or her stomach.

The Washington Post

Does coffee count toward 8 glasses of water per day?

Every day people around the globe drink 1.6 billion cups of coffee and around twice as many cups of tea.

They enjoy the taste and the fact that the caffeine wakes them up. But when we’re exhorted to drink six or eight glasses of water a day (a disputed figure that I’ve discussed previously), it’s usually emphasised that drinks like coffee and tea don’t count towards your daily liquid total because they’re dehydrating. Or so we’re told. What’s the evidence?

Although tea and coffee contain many different substances the one on which most research focuses is caffeine. Even then there is so little research on the topic, that one of the most frequently mentioned studies was conducted way back in 1928 with a sample of just three people. The three men were studied over the course of two winters. Sometimes they were required to drink four cups of coffee a day; sometimes they drank mainly tea and at other times they abstained or drank water laced with pure caffeine. Meanwhile the volume of their urine was measured regularly. The authors concluded that if the men consumed caffeine-laced water after a two month period of abstinence from both coffee and tea, the volume of their urine increased by 50%, but when they drank coffee regularly again they became inured to its diuretic effects.

Very large doses of caffeine are known to increase the blood flow to the kidneys and to inhibit the absorption of sodium which explains why it could act as a diuretic, dealing with the sodium which hasn’t been absorbed. But the exact mechanism is still a matter of debate.

But when you look at the studies of more realistic quantities of caffeine, the diuretic effect is not nearly so clear. A review of 10 studies by Lawrence Armstrong from the University of Connecticut concluded that caffeine is a mild diuretic at most, with 12 out of 15 comparisons showing that people urinated the same amount, regardless of whether the water they drank contained added caffeine or not.

So why do so many people think they need the loo more often when they’ve been drinking tea or coffee? As the review indicates, most studies give people pure caffeine added to water, rather than cups of actual tea or coffee as you might drink at home. Is there something about the combination of substances contained in coffee and tea that make the difference?

In a rare study where people drank nothing but tea for the 12 hour duration of the trial, there was no difference in hydration levels between them and the people who drank the same quantity of boiled water. When it comes to the consumption of coffee, one study did find a 41% increase in urine, along with a rise in the excretion of sodium and potassium. But these participants had abstained from caffeine before the study, so this doesn’t tell us what would happen in people who are accustomed to drinking coffee. 

A second study found no difference in hydration between those drinking water or coffee, leaving us with conflicting findings. Then came new research earlier this year from Sophie Killer at Birmingham University in the UK, who not only measured the volume of urine, but tested their blood for signs of kidney function as well as calculating the total amount of water in the body. The men in the study drank four cups of coffee a day, far more than the average coffee-drinker. Yet there was no evidence they were any more dehydrated than those who drank water alone. This research was funded by the Institute for Scientific Information on Coffee, whose members are coffee companies, but it has been published in a peer-reviewed journal and the authors confirm that the Institute played no role in gathering or analysing the data or writing up the research.

So although we might notice needing the loo more when we’ve been drinking coffee, the mistake is basing our observations on a comparison with the time we’ve drunk nothing, not with a similar amount of water. If you chose a glass of water instead of a cup of tea, you’d probably see the same effect.

Claudia Hammond

10 portions of fruit and vegetables a day

A healthy diet should include 10 portions of fruit and vegetables a day, doubling the five-a-day official advice, say British health experts.

The research, which involved a 12-year study, also found that vegetables were four times healthier than fruit.

The study, by University College London, found that eating large quantities of fruit and vegetables significantly lowered the risk of premature death. People who ate at least seven portions of fruit and vegetables each day were 42% less likely to die from any cause over the course of the study.

Why the Paleo diet must be taken seriously, even if more study is needed

Is it time to give the Paleo diet its due? If a new study is to be believed, then it might be about time to stop snickering and start paying closer attention to a nutritional regimen that was once labelled the worst, according to U.S. News and World Report.

In the new study, published by Swedish researchers in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a group of 70 overweight, post-menopausal women were randomly assigned to follow either a high-fibre, low-fat diet in accordance with the nutrition recommendations for Nordic countries, vs. a contemporary “Paleolithic” diet based on meat, eggs, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, but excluding grains, beans and dairy foods, as well as added sugars and processed foods. The participants met with dietitians individually and in groups at various intervals for the duration of the two-year study, and measurements of health status — weight, cholesterol, and blood sugars — were taken at the six-month and two-year mark.

Read more…

The researchers also discovered that canned and frozen fruit increased the risk of dying by 17%, andfruit juice was found to have no significant benefit.

The findings suggest that the five-a-day recommendation, suggested by the World Health Organisation and backed by the Government and NHS, is not adequate — although only 30% of people manage to eat that amount.

Experts said that even seven-a-day was not enough and that 10 would be the optimum number, as the protective effect continued to increase with higher consumption.

The study’s lead author, Dr Oyinlola Oyebode of UCL’s department of epidemiology and public health, said: “The clear message here is that the more fruitand vegetables you eat, the less likely you are to die at any age. My advice would be, however much you are eating now, eat more.”

Health experts called on the Government to subsidise the cost of fruit and vegetables, which they suggested could be paid for by taxing sugary foods.

The five-a-day guidelines were based on World Health Organisation recommendations issued in 1990, which advised consuming 400g of fruit and vegetables each day to lower the risk of heart disease, stroke, type-two diabetes and obesity.

Prof Simon Capewell, of the department of public health at the University of Liverpool, said the advice should be 10 portions a day. “Humans are designed to be omnivorous: a handful of nuts, seeds, fruit and the occasional antelope. We’re not meant to be eating junk food.”

Researchers examined the eating habits of 65,000 people in England between 2001 and 2013.

They found that seven helpings a day of fruit or vegetables could reduce a person’s overall risk of premature death by 42% when compared with people who ate just one whole portion.

People who ate between five and seven portions a day had a 36% reduced risk of death, those who ate three to five portions had a 29% decreased risk and those who ate one to three helpings had a 14% reduced risk.

Those with the highest intakes were also 25% less likely to die from cancer and 31% less likely to die from heart disease.

To implement a seven-a-day message would be really challenging for many in society and would require governmental support

“We need to urgently examine seriously the proposal to increase recommended intake to seven a day,” said Naveed Sattar, professor of metabolic medicine at the University of Glasgow. “To implement a seven-a-day message would be really challenging for many in society and would require governmental support such as subsidising the cost of fruit and vegetables, perhaps by taxing sugar-rich foods.”

The study also found that vegetables were far more beneficial than fruit. Each portion of vegetables lowered the risk of death by 16 per cent. However, each piece of fruitonly lowered the chance of death by 4 per cent.

The authors said the findings lent support to the Australian government’s advice of “two plus five” a day, which encourages people to eat two helpings of fruit and five of vegetables. Dr Alison Tedstone, the group’s director of diet and obesity, said: “Our focus remains on increasing overall consumption of fruit and vegetables to meet current recommendations.”

Sarah Knapton

The study was published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

10 Things everyone can learn from the Paleo diet

I hate meat. I’ve been vegetarian all my life. I remember a few years ago at a Pizza Hut when they mistakenly brought out a “meat lovers” pizza instead of “veggie lovers” pizza. I think I threw up a few times that night.

So, naturally, when I learned out about the Paleo diet and its emphasis on bacon, bone broth and lamb legs, I was turned off. All I could picture was a burly caveman with a club in one hand and a hunk of meat in the other. (No thanks!)

But I also knew that although, I was plant-based, I was not always in the best of health. (Muffins and smoothies, anyone?) So I started to read about Paleo and realized I was learning a ton by just absorbing certain parts of the diet. Seriously, these 10 things changed the way I eat and move forever.

    1. Eat like your great (or great-great) grandparent.

While I had a hard time picturing myself as a cavewoman, I thought about my ancestors and the foods that they might have favored. Bottom line: throw away the “modern” convenient packaged foods. Literally, go into your pantry, fridge, office desk, or kitchen and throw away everything that comes in a package. If you’re nervous (like I was) just put it away for two weeks. If you still want it later, you’ll have it there.

2. Cut the sugar.

In the Paleolithic era, refined sugar was non-existent and anything really sweet was difficult to get. This one is the hardest for most people because our taste buds are used to constantly craving sweet.  And everyone has a different tolerance level—you may be able wean it entirely or you may use dried fruit or natural sweeteners like Stevia (not exactly Paleo) sparingly.

3. Try ditching dairy for 30 days.

Add it back after 30 days. If you don’t feel as good, keep it out of your diet. Dairy is one area where vegans and Paleo folks say about the same thing: it’s inflammatory (for many).

4. Try going off wheat for 30 days.

Same advice as above. For me, this was life-changing. I do have wheat in bread or pasta at restaurants once in a while and then, when I feel terrible, I realize why I stay off it 90% of the time.

5. Stop counting calories.

For example, a 100-calorie pack of cookies is still … cookies. If you focus on foodquality, and not quantity, it makes being healthy a hell of a lot more fun. Plus it works.

  6. You can’t out-exercise a bad diet.

When I was younger, I thought I could just exercise an extra hour and “burn off” the cookies. To my dismay, it doesn’t work that way. I strongly believe that it’s 80% about your diet and 20% about the exercise. The Paleo lifestyle has a strong emphasis on diet—that’s why people lose weight on it.

7. Don’t fear the fat.

I’m pretty sure that we didn’t have fat-free muffins in ancestral times. So what can you do? Start using more avocado and coconut in your meals. Healthy fat is filling and nutritious! The processed and trans-stuff are the problem.

8. Eat as many vegetables as possible.

So it turns out that in the Paleolithic era, people ate mostly plants.  And not surprisingly, plant-based folks agree! Eating greens several times a day is a point where all diets intersect.

9. Enjoy treats in moderation.

Think about it: in the Paleolithic era, when fruit ripened in one tree, they shared the fruit with everyone in the clan. Even just 50 years ago, desserts and other treats were not as commonplace as they are today. The point? Treat a treat like a “treat.” Friends’ birthday’s, farewells, baby showers or horrible days at work don’t ALL have to end with a slice of cake.

10. Move.

No, entry into the 2014 CrossFit games isn’t a prerequisite for following the Paleo diet. Whether it’s yoga, CrossFit, running or weight lifting, moving your body helps digestion, mood, and manages your weight. All day movement with burst of sprints is probably the MOST effective exercise out there but honestly it all works as long as you are doing something.

So, instead of organizing a big brawl pitting vegans against Paleos so we can figure out who “wins,” let’s just learn from each other and pluck some universal tips.  That way you can label yourself whatever you want or not label yourself at all.

Amy Shah

Post-menopausal women & paleo

The Paleo Diet ditches highly refined and processed foods, in favour of more whole, fresh foods. This, in turn, increases phytochemical, vitamin, mineral and fiber intake.

A new study published by the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that a Paleolithic Diet verses a high-fiber, low-fat diet significantly reduced more weight in post-menopausal women. Other studies have found that the Paleolithic way of eating shows more promise than a high-fiber, low-fat diet with glucose control for Type 2 diabetes.

The Paleo Diet excludes dairy, grains, legumes and, dare I say, chocolate and beer. The theory behind these exclusions stems from a focus on eating food only availability during the Paleolithic period. Excluded foods such as dairy, grains and legumes still are considered healthy with no strong research findings to show otherwise. If you kept these foods in your diet, try to eat them in their most natural state (such as whole grains).

The bottom line is that the Paleo Diet has a lot of upsides, but remember that everything can be good for you in moderation. Quinoa, a vitamin-rich grain, is still a power food in moderation, as is dark chocolate. Happiness lies in finding that balance by listening to your body’s cues.

Valerie Pampuch, Gundersen Health System

Insect protein: Meet the new caveman craze

Would you chirp to add this to your diet?

March 30, 2014

Paleo diets ranked as the most popular search term in 2013, and the caveman weight loss plan continues to attract fans. What’s new in 2014, however, may not appeal to everyone: Insects. Increasing the “ick” factor in the weight loss world, high protein bugs have become the hottest new Paleo diettrend, reported Outside magazine on March 28.

“People have been eating insects for eons,” said insect advocate and caveman diet guru John Durant, author of “The Paleo Manifesto: Ancient Wisdom for Lifelong Health” (click for details).

He considers insects high on the list of excellent sources of protein, pointing out that they are whole foods and regular fare for the world’s hunter-gatherers.

“It checks all the boxes,” declared Durant.

And food companies are climbing on the crawly, creepy bandwagon to manufacture goodies made from insects.

“We combine the crickets with almond butter, a little bit of dried fruit, and a touch of honey,” said Gabi Lewis of Exo.

It doesn’t taste like crickets at all—whatever crickets taste like.

On their side: Rome-based U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization spokespeople, who issued a report expanding on the potential of insects for nutrition, reported the New York Times recently.

Among the advantages posed for Paleo dieters who want to hop over to the cricket kingdom:

  • Scientists report that small grasshoppers contain enough protein to rank with lean ground beef.
  • Insects offer fiber, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, selenium and zinc.

Before you get buggy trying to find these little caveman-approved crunchies, we investigated ourselves in the spirit of our hunter-gatherer ancestors.

Here’s what we found:

3 Ways to make cauliflower rice

Cauliflower Rice

I used to think I ate fairly healthy, but lately my daughter and daughter-in-law, Britta & Kaitlyn, are making me question that assumption! They are both on a healthy-eating mission and, dare I say, teaching this “old dog” some new tricks?! Case in point…today’s post about Cauliflower Rice. Who knew one of my favorite vegetables (that admittedly I don’t eat enough of) could be used in so many different ways and in so many different recipes!? Once again, not ME! Thankfully Kaitlyn is going to educate ALL of us today!

Kaitlyn writes:

One of my major obsessions passions in life is healthy eating. I’m not always the best at actually executing a perfectly healthy diet, but I loooove to research healthy recipes and diets. It’s a joke between my husband and I that I constantly start conversations by saying “So I was reading this article…” He knows that any sentence that starts with those words will end with me telling him something he should or should not be eating.

One of the things I’ve seen all over food blogs and social media lately is cauliflower EVERYTHING! It’s such a trendy vegetable right now – kind of like kale. Turns out it’s trendy for good reason!

While cauliflower is an extremely versatile recipe ingredient, it also has a whole host of health benefits. It’s high in vitamin C, potassium, fiber and folic acid, and, for those watching their weight, it’s also extremely low in calories – one cup only has about 27 calories (compare that to 204 calories in a cup of regular white rice!) Check out this article for a more in-depth look at the health benefits of cauliflower.

Cauliflower crust

Jillee did a post back in 2012 on how to make a cauliflower pizza crust that turned out great! I’ve wanted to try out some other ways of using cauliflower for ages. This week I finally got around to making cauliflower rice! As I’m apt to do, I read a whole bunch of blogs to figure out the best way to make it. I found three general ways of cooking it that I decided try out.

But before you can cook the cauliflower you have to turn it into “rice.”


Start by cutting the stem off the cauliflower and then chop the crown into smaller pieces.

Next, you can either use a blender/food processor or a cheese grater to “rice” the cauliflower.

I tried both and decided that the blender or food processor is the far superior method. I put a handful of cauliflower into my Blendtec, pulsed it a few times and it was done! The cheese grater worked fine but it made such a mess. Cauliflower is so crumbly that I ended up with little pieces of it all over the counter after using the grater.

At this point if you don’t think you’ll be able to eat the whole batch you can freeze some of the cauliflower. I got this idea from Alyssa at She suggests freezing it in 2 cup portions.

Now it’s time to cook our “rice!”

Like I mentioned above I tried 3 different methods.

First up, the oven method.

Spread your cauliflower out in single layer on a cookie sheet. Bake at 475 for 15-20 minutes, flipping the cauliflower one time.

I couldn’t ever get my cauliflower to really dry out. I think I should have dried it out a bit before cooking because it ended up kind of steaming in the oven. But it still browned up a bit and tasted great.

Next up, the microwave method.

Put your cauliflower in a microwave safe dish and cover. Microwave for 2-3 minutes.

This ended up being my least favorite method. The microwave steams the cauliflower and it ends up tasting exactly like tiny little pieces of steamed cauliflower. Not that there is anything wrong with steamed cauliflower, but it’s not really the result I’m going for when making cauliflower rice.

Finally, the stove method.

I read quite a few more complicated stove recipes that involved adding onions, chicken broth and seasonings, but I wanted something as simple as possible.

I just heated a couple tablespoons of olive oil (coconut oil would be great too) in a pan and then added my cauliflower. I sautéed the cauliflower until it dried out a bit and had golden brown edges.

This was by far my favorite method! I loved the flavor that the oil added. And the cauliflower browned up so nicely. The texture was much better than the oven or microwave batches.

Now, even though I thought it turned out delicious I will say that it does not taste exactly like rice. It definitely still tastes like cauliflower. But the texture makes it a perfect rice substitute in a lot of recipes. From what I read you’ll generally want to use it with drier foods. Cauliflower tends to really suck up liquid so it’s not a great substitute in casseroles with heavy sauces.

I made Cauliflower Fried Rice for dinner last night and it was a hit! I added some grilled chicken to bulk it up a bit and make it a more complete meal. Even my husband liked it and he tends to be very leery of “healthy” food. His words were, “I can tell it’s not rice, but I don’t care!”


What causes lactose intolerance?

Lactose intolerance is simply the body’s inability to digest lactose. Lactose is a disaccharide, or a molecule made up of two types of sugars, in this case, glucose and galactose. Most people have an enzyme (a protein molecule that breaks down other molecules) lactase in their digestive systems. This enzyme breaks down lactose into glucose and galactose. The body can then absorb and use these sugars for energy. When someone has a lactase deficiency, lactose cannot be digested and remains in the digestive system causing a wide range of unwanted symptoms, including abdominal pain, gas, diarrhea, nausea, and a bloated stomach.

When you eat any food, your body has to process it. You can think of your digestive tract, that path between your mouth and your anus, as a system that is essentially outside of your body, just contained within it. It’s the job of your digestive system to break down the foods we take in, allowing the nutrients to “cross-over” into the different body systems and organs for use as fuel. Each different part breaks these foods down differently. For example, the mouth chews it up into smaller parts. The stomach uses enzymes and acids to further break it down. The food then goes to the small intestine where most of the nutrients that come from our food (proteins, fats, and carbohydrates) get absorbed into the bloodstream by a process called diffusion. What is left over is then passed to the large intestine whose main job is the absorption of water that remains in the indigestible residue of food.

Lactose, for the most part, gets broken down by lactase in the small intestine. If this is done quickly enough, and completely, then no lactose reaches the large intestine. If lactose does reach the large intestine, it will begin to ferment creating lactic and other fatty acids (ahhh the cause of the burning, stabbing pain your watery stool invokes is revealed). Several types of bacteria (called intestinal flora) will also begin to digest and use the sugars. Their resulting metabolism can create the unwanted flatulence submarine dwellers everywhere fear! The longer the lactose stays in your colon, the greater the problem becomes. So pray your colon works quickly!

The question then becomes, how does one develop the lactase deficiency that causes lactose intolerance? There are two types of lactase deficiencies, primary and secondary.

Primary lactase deficiency (sometimes known as Congenital Lactase Deficiency), for the most part, begins after age 2 and develops slowly over time. Before the age of two, children have a much higher level of lactase in their digestive tract. This is thought to help them better digest breast milk from their nursing mothers. After the age of two the body begins to produce less lactase, presumably due to the decrease in milk consumption. As a person develops, the symptoms begin to reveal themselves in late adolescence and early adulthood.

If you suffer from primary lactase deficiency, blame your parents! Researchers have now identified the gene (specifically chromosome 2q21), most likely, responsible for lactase deficiency and as such is thought to be passed on from your parents. Although extremely rare (in one study, since 1966, only 42 patients in Finland have been diagnosed), primary lactase deficiency can happen before the age of two.

Secondary lactase deficiency is the result of injury or illness affecting the small intestine, or the body’s ability to make lactase. Some common causes include chemotherapy, celiac disease, or Crohn’s disease. So not only do you have cancer and have to be treated with a poison, but you might not even be able to enjoy a nice cup of warm milk to settle your nauseated stomach! The fates can be cruel!

Bonus Facts:

There is good news on the lactose intolerance front. The mutated gene responsible is recessive, meaning both your parents would need to pass on the mutated gene for you to have the problem. Over time, as long as people don’t take examples from British royalty and procreate with family members, we should hopefully see the affliction steadily be reduced in the general population.

In the United States, about 33% of the population is lactose intolerant, or around 40 million people. 75% of Adults have a decrease in their body’s lactase activity. If you are Asian-American, you have a 90% chance of being lactose intolerant. Here I thought that Yo-Yo Ma’s pained look and constant fidgeting while playing the cello was from the intensity with which he rocks. It appears I could be wrong!

Premature infants, especially those born before the third trimester, are much more likely to have a lactase deficiency. Lactase levels do not begin to increase until the third trimester.

There is a common misconception that people with lactose intolerance cannot drink milk. The U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has found that people with lactose intolerance can generally tolerate up to 1 cup of milk (about 12 grams of lactose) without any symptoms. They can handle about 2 cups if they spread that intake throughout the day. This means that most can consume their daily recommended level of dairy products. So long as they don’t imbibe it all at once! Although, I used to know a girl who would get seriously ill if she had even a single small slice of lightly cheesed pizza, due to an extreme case of lactose intolerance, but in the general case, most people who are lactose intolerant can handle a bit of dairy every day.

Should you have symptoms that include abdominal pain, diarrhea, excessive flatulence, or bloating, you might not necessarily have lactose intolerance. You might have Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Unlike lactose intolerance which is caused by a deficiency in a specific enzyme for a specific food, IBS is the result of an abnormally functioning small and large intestine. The intestines move food through by contracting and relaxing layers of smooth muscle known as muscularis mucosa, and muscularis externa. This will happen at normal intervals depending on a few factors like what we eat; how much we eat; and how fast we eat. All this happens because the brain sends signals to the muscle to help mediate how fast and hard to contract the muscles. When these signals are stressed (like from an infection) they become more active and cause the muscles to contract more, or abnormally. The result is the uncomfortable symptoms that cause unwanted, infrequent, or just plain crappy trips to the bathroom.

If you should go to your doctor with these common symptoms, he might want to perform tests to diagnose which ailment you might have. To do this, they will try and “rule out” lactose intolerance by testing your stool for acidity. As we’ve talked about previously, lactose can create excessive acids in your colon. Should your stool contain this, and possibly excessive glucose from the undigested lactose, you might have lactose intolerance. Congratulations! Another test that can determine if you have lactose intolerance is a hydrogen breath test. Undigested lactose will create an abnormally high amount of hydrogen that can be detected on your breath or in your blood. The most common test is known as the elimination test. This involves not eating for a given number of hours and then consuming a drink containing at least 50 grams of lactose. The patient is then monitored for symptoms.

Should you be lactose intolerant, the average time it takes for symptoms to appear after eating enough lactose is 30 minutes.

Not being able to consume milk, or milk products, can lead to other deficiencies within the body such as calcium and vitamin D deficiencies. Because of this, people who do not consume milk products are often times put on calcium and vitamin D supplements by their doctor.

Is gluten actually bad for you?

These days, just casually strolling down a grocery aisle, one can find a multitude of gluten-free products. From gluten-free whole grain bread to gluten-free beer to gluten-free Betty Crocker chocolate brownie mix, the market for food items without gluten has exploded over the past decade. But is gluten all that bad for you? Should a normal person avoid gluten in their diet.

What’s the deal with the gluten?

Gluten (meaning “glue” in Latin) is just a name for a group of proteins most often found in grains like wheat, barley, and rye. The term ‘gluten’ actually refers to two families of proteins: glutenins and gliadins, which exist in the mature seeds of these grains. Gluten is sticky, stretchable, elastic, and can act as a thickening agent in products besides food, like toothpaste and hair gel. While our ancestors were hunter/gatherers, about 10,000-12,000 years ago (probably beginning in Western Asia) we began transitioning to a more grain-based diet via cultivation and advancements in agriculture.

As is the case with non-human milk, our digestive systems sometimes have problems with these relatively recent introductions to our diets. For those who have trouble digesting milk, they are lactose intolerant. A similar problem exists for people who have gluten sensitivities. While there is still some debate on the issue, it’s thought that the majority of those that are sensitive to gluten have celiac disease (aka coeliac disease outside of America). (Note: having a wheat allergy does not necessarily mean you are sensitive to gluten. Many people are allergic to wheat for non-gluten related reasons.)

Celiac disease is an outright (so far incurable) gluten intolerance- even a small amount of gluten can trigger an autoimmune response within the body. This causes the rejection of the proteins instead of the absorption of them. The reaction damages the villi (hairlike elements) lining the small intestine. If left untreated, this can cause inflammation, diarrhoea, bloating, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers, intestinal cancer, anemia, and other nutritional deficiencies, sometimes leading to death.

Celiac disease affects approximately one per cent of the U.S. and U.K. populations today (and is generally thought to have similar numbers elsewhere in the developed world). This is 4-5 times as many people than were diagnosed around the mid-20th century. There are several theories why cases of celiac disease are on the rise. While your first thought might be that increased screening might be the culprit, rather than an actual rise in the prevalence of the disease, it should be noted that according to a study done by Dr. Joseph Murray of the Mayo Clinic which looked at blood samples from the 1950s, its was confirmed that celiac disease is indeed on the rise, with results showing approximately a fourfold increase today vs. the 1950s.

So what gives? In 2011, executive directors at the University of Chicago celiac disease center speculated that improvements in sanitation and hygiene in developed countries have put our bodies more at risk because our bodies have not needed to learn how to fight certain microbes off, perhaps contributing to the issue. Another possible explanation is the increase of gluten and complex carbohydrates in our diet; it’s been said we are in a state of “gluten overload.” There is also a theory that the introduction of infant formula and the drastic reduction in breast-fed babies may be a contributing factor. Breast milk contains, among many other beneficial elements, bifidobacteria, which helps protect infant intestines from damage. While in the 1950s infant formula was the primary nutrition for about half of all babies in the United States, today, despite all widespread medical recommendations to the contrary, only 12% of babies in the U.S. are exclusively breastfed for at least the first 6 months of their lives, which is the bare minimum span generally recommended.

It is also thought that genetics plays a role. According to a 2003 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, the odds of having the disorder jumps to 2.5 per cent if a member of your extended family has it — an uncle, cousin, so forth. If a member of your immediate family has celiac disease, it goes up to 4.5 per cent. Ethnicity and heritage can also determine if you are more or less prone to celiac disease. People of African, Hispanic, or Asian descent are less prone, closer to 0.5 per cent.

With all of this newfound research and fear around gluten sensitivities and celiac disease, it’s no wonder that companies have begun to market so many gluten-free products. But most doctors will say, unless you are the one per cent with celiac disease, going gluten-free is an unnecessary step.

In fact, according to a paper published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, “Gluten-Free Diet: Imprudent Dietary Advice for the General Population?”:

The number-one reason consumers cite for buying gluten-free products is that they are perceived to be healthier than their gluten-containing counterparts…. Despite the health claims for gluten-free eating, there is no published experimental evidence to support such claims for the general population. In fact, there are data to suggest that gluten itself may provide some health benefits, and that gluten avoidance may not be justified for otherwise healthy individuals.

As cardiologist Dr. Arthur Agatston stated,

[People who go gluten-free] consume gluten-free packaged products that are often just as high in saturated fat, sugar and sodium as other junk food, and these products often contain high-glycemic refined ingredients like white rice flour or fillers like potato starch that can affect your blood sugar and trigger cravings.

Studies also show that gluten-free diets can cause deficiency in iron, folate, thiamine, calcium, vitamin B12, and zinc. Of course, humans got along just fine without such intake of grains and vitamin enrichment not that long ago in our history, and most of us do eat too much in the way of grain (particularly refined wheat) based products; so eating a more balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, and protein, rather than what many of us consume- grains, grains, and more grains- is generally advisable beyond a discussion of gluten.

In any event, while a total gluten-free diet isn’t recommended for most of the population, and evidence of any benefit of such a diet is scant, the gluten-free industry has skyrocketed over the last decade. In February 2014, the New York Times reported that sales for gluten-free products, which are generally much more expensive than their gluten-filled counterparts, topped ten billion dollars in 2013. Additionally, eleven per cent of households in the United States purchased gluten-free products in 2013, up from five per cent in 2010.

Gluten sensitivity and celiac disease is rising across the world, but even today only a small percentage of the population is affected by it. No matter, because if we have learned anything, it’s that if there is money to be made, many companies will capitalise on it, and the significant markup on gluten-free product is certainly a great way to make money- even if it means convincing people they should be buying something that they don’t really need… which is kind of what much of business and marketing is all about, so nothing unique here.

As with most such things, unless you have a specific allergy against something, it seems portion control and the age old “moderation in everything,” rather than going with some fad diet, holds true once again. It’s almost like much of the business side of the nutrition industry is setup just to introduce new profitable fads every so often rather than just teaching simple, good nutrition that science has had mostly nailed down for quite some time.

On that note, I highly recommend you read this piece: Who Invented the Food Pyramid and Why If You Follow the U.S. Version You’ll Be Eating in an Extremely Unhealthy Way. If you guessed that the nutritionists involved in the development of the U.S. Food Pyramid were a tad upset about what it became after lobbyist had their say (including significant changes made thanks to the wheat industry), you’d be correct.

Bonus Facts:

A large percentage of “gluten-free” products are not actually gluten-free. They simply contain a level of gluten that is deemed harmless (usually considered to be under 10 mg per serving). The problem is that “10 mg” is kind of an arbitrary number based on few reliable studies.
Aretaeus of Cappadocia who lived around the first or second century was the first known person to document celiac disease, thinking it was a problem of not enough heat in the abdomen, perhaps from drinking water that was too cold, among other things. He thought that this lack of heat resulted in inadequate digestion of food. He called it a “Cœliac Affection” from the Greek “κοιλιακός” meaning “abdominal.”
It wasn’t until the 1940s that Dutchman Dr. Willem Karel Dicke discovered that wheat was causing the worsening of symptoms in people with celiac disease. He observed this thanks to a famine in 1944 resulting in a shortage of bread, which in turn resulted in his patients afflicted with this disease getting better and death rates dropping to near zero. Once the famine was over, the death rate went back to what it was before. A few years later, it was discovered that it was the gluten in the wheat that was the culprit.
It has been proposed that a gluten-free diet may be beneficial to those on the autistic spectrum. Despite being widely touted by certain individuals treating autistic individuals, a variety of studies have been done conclusively demonstrating that there is no benefit to autistic children who don’t have digestive problems.
Sometimes celiac disease symptoms do not crop up until later in life or could be confused with other conditions. Therefore, the US Department of Health and Human Services says the only way to know for sure if one has celiac disease is through blood testing and intestinal biopsy. A reliable blood test that requires only 24 hours for results was announced in January 2014 by the University of Melbourne in Australia. *The future is now.*