Viva Magazine Editor Lizzie Lowler interviews Elle Fox of CNM

I was recently advised by a nutritionist to eliminate gluten from my diet and I feel a whole lot better for doing so. But what is gluten and why is it such a problem for an increasing number of people? Elle Fox, from the College of Naturopathic Medicine, explains.

“Gluten is a protein that is found in quite a few grains. There are many reasons that it has become a problem, but we can boil them down to one main thing; human intervention. We’ve come a long way from the ancient societies who discovered that they could cultivate grasses for food. We’ve blended and combined modern wheat to produce something that is (supposedly) bigger and better, with greater yield and greater resistance to pests. But it bears no resemblance to the original steppe grasses that our ancestors were used to, and the gluten content is higher.”

Gluten gives bread its body and its springiness, but it is a complex molecule that is hard for our bodies to break down and modern food production methods don’t help.

“If you look at traditional societies, bread was not made in two and a half hours, as the bread you find in supermarkets is today. Now we use genetically modified yeast to make the bread rise very quickly, so there isn’t enough time for the micro-organisms to break down the gluten and starches. That’s why wholegrain sourdough, made over 24-48 hours, can be very well tolerated by people who are otherwise intolerant to gluten. The micro-organisms have started the digesting for you.”

Other even more harmful substances sneakily find their way into our food and further compound the problem, explains Elle. “We have also introduced pesticides and other toxins. For example, glyphosate – a weed killer and mould reducer – is sprayed on the crops many times a year and at no point is it effectively removed. So, when you pair a difficult to digest substance like gluten – which is effectively like glue – with a toxic agent like glyphosate, it hangs around in the gut. That sets off alarm signals from the immune system which lines the gut and you get local inflammation. Inflammation is a vital part of your immune system’s response to injury and harmful things that enter your body and can result in a number of things like pain, swelling, redness or warmth.

The gut is intimately connected with the skin and the lungs so reactions to specific foods might manifest as problems with the sinuses, the ears, the throat or the skin. And gluten is the major aggravator for sufferers of inflammatory bowel conditions like Coeliac and Crohn’s disease. Any amount will make them very poorly.”

Elle believes that many of these conditions are the inevitable result of a broken food production system and takes the naturopathic perspective that they can be greatly rehabilitated by healing the gut with good bacteria and by eating foods that are gut friendly.

“Processed food is not friendly to the body. At CNM we’re hoping to re-educate people that local food, organically grown and eaten in season is the best thing you can give yourself. It’s not grains that we should demonise but the production methods. It’s part of the larger problem, which is that the mass production of food comes at the expense of its nutritional value.”