There’s a lot of information out there about avoiding different types of foods. How do you know if you should or not? Today I’m sharing the 3 reasons why I’m gluten & dairy-free.
While Sean and I sat at our favourite coffee shop this morning, him with a single shot americano with cream and I with my almond milk matcha latte, I decided I should write a blog post about why I’m gluten- and dairy-free for those of you who have asked me about the foods I don’t eat and why.
I have IBS. Let’s start with that. If you’re not familiar with my history, you can read about my gut health story that involved the development of post-infectious IBS after a C. difficile infection I had.
I grew up eating a lot of gluten and dairy. In retrospect, this was not a good thing, but do I think that gluten and dairy are inherently bad things for us to consume? Not necessarily. But I don’t think they’re necessary additions to our diets, either. What I do think is that it’s important to understand what your body does and doesn’t respond well to.
After my C. diff infection and the growing list of foods I stopped being able to tolerate, I began to avoid gluten and dairy for the 3 reasons I’m about to list. But know that I am not prescribing this as a way to eat for every person that reads this. The reality is that we all have different bodies with different needs.
3 Reasons Why I’m Gluten & Dairy-Free
1. Leaky Gut
Supporting the integrity of my gut lining has been the primary focus for my health over the past few years. Gluten, the lectin (protein) found in grains such as wheat, barley, rye, spelt, kamut, and a few others, can lead to the microscopic formation of “holes” in the digestive tract by causing the tight junctions (the tight spaces between each individual cell that forms the lining of our GI tissue) to separate. This is also known as leaky gut.
Leaky gut exacerbates symptoms of an already sensitive or damaged gut (in my case, from an infection) and due to increased permeability, undigested particles directly enter the bloodstream which elicits an immune response. This is how we see can autoimmune conditions develop.
There are a number of factors that can contribute to the development of leaky gut. Individual food triggers such as dairy (which I personally poorly tolerate), alcohol, allergies, as well as stress and pharmaceuticals are a few other culprits. Gluten isn’t the only problem, but it’s a big enough one for me to choose to avoid so that I can continue to facilitate healing and support overall gut health as best I can.
A big turning point for my journey with IBS was following the Low FODMAP Diet, a style of eating that involves limiting certain foods that contain carbohydrates (sugars) that ferment easily in the gut. These sugars create a boatload of symptoms like gas, bloating, and in my case, diarrhea.
It just happens that most gluten-containing foods such as traditional pasta, bread, bagels, crackers, etc. contain high levels of these easily fermentable sugars. So naturally, I felt better avoiding those things. The good news is that over time I’ve been able to re-introduce some high FODMAP foods (such as avocado), but I still have limits of what I can and cannot tolerate.
Lactose, the sugar found in milk, is also very high FODMAP, although dairy is something I’ve avoided long before exploring Low FODMAP. I try not to recall the time that I decided eating copious amounts of goat cheese at a gathering with friends was a good idea. It wasn’t.
3. Decreased Inflammation
When I was on a strict paleo diet (absolutely no grains or legumes) during the worst period of my gut health, I reaped the benefits of drastically reduced levels of inflammation in my body. My skin was the clearest it had ever been in my entire life (acne is an inflammatory condition), and the extremely painful menstrual cramps I used to experience, ceased.
Honestly, it was crazy how noticeable these changes were, and I 100% attribute them to not only avoiding gluten, but excessive amounts of grains, even ones that are gluten-free.
Since that time I’ve re-introduced some grains such as rice, buckwheat (technically a seed), and corn (basically a grain). I did this mainly because they’re Low FODMAP and I wanted to experiment with tolerating them, which I do, really well actually. Unfortunately though, I notice increased breakouts and more period cramps (nothing horrific, but still strange, right?) so I try not to go overboard with them in my diet and I still make plenty of paleo meals.
Aside from dairy upsetting my stomach in general, it can also promote inflammation so it’s something I would prefer to limit my intake of (not necessarily cut out completely) even if I wasn’t running to the bathroom or keeling over with gas pains after consuming it.
Should You Avoid Gluten or Dairy?
The answer to this is it entirely depends. I know countless people who digest dairy really well and it’s a perfectly fine part of their diet, supplying them with protein and minerals (calcium is another story that I’ll talk about another time) and enjoyment. While I’d recommend opting for organic dairy when possible and not eating buckets of ice-cream regularly, if your body responds well to dairy, then enjoy it!
For others, gluten, dairy, or both, contribute to major digestive symptoms, exacerbate existing autoimmune conditions, or quite literally need to be avoided due to things like Celiac Disease, lactose intolerance, or allergy. If you’re not sure exactly what’s best for you, I encourage you to work with a healthcare practitioner to conduct testing if necessary and guide you in the right direction.
I avoid gluten and dairy, but I will mention that there are occasional times (note: occasional) when I say f%#& it, I’m gonna have a bite of that cheese. Or a piece of Sean’s glutenous croissant. Why? I don’t know, because I feel like it. I’m not Celiac, I know that small amounts don’t create symptoms for me (actually, if anything, I’m way better with bread than I am with cheese), and I am very careful with my diet a majority of the time. I do however have every intention of preventing major digestive flare-ups, so indulging in these things isn’t commonplace.
A couple weeks ago I took it upon myself to buy a container of Greek yogurt and eat a big spoonful of it, for no other reason than being curious if I could tolerate it any better now. The result? Better than I anticipated, but an upset stomach nonetheless.
All that being said, I really enjoy the gluten- and dairy-free creations I make in my kitchen. Whether it’s a paleo pasta dish or blueberry muffins, I really don’t feel like I’d “rather” be eating gluten or that I’m missing out on chocolate milk.
There is nothing more important here than listening to your body. Intuitive eating, paying attention to your unique signs and signals, and practicing self-compassion and self-care is truly one of the best things you can do for yourself.
I hope this answered some of the questions you may have had about my diet, and if anything, I hope you learned a thing or two!