I previously mentioned that avoiding gluten is one of my top daily doʼs for managing my auto-immune disease, Hashimotoʼs thyroiditis. “Gluten-free” is becoming quite the diet buzzword these days, so I wanted to dig into this a bit more and explore why going gluten-free is important for me and how it plays into my diet.
First, a little education…
What is gluten?
Gluten is the protein found in wheat and other grains like barley, rye, kamut and
Why I had to cut out gluten?
One problem is that gluten damages the gut lining and increases intestinal permeability. Say what?! You see, our gut has the important job of breaking down and absorbing food and nutrients. It does this using a mechanism called tight junctions, which only allows food thatʼs been properly broken down to get through. Gluten actually loosens these tight junctions, messing with your bodyʼs ability to absorb nutrients and allowing bits that havenʼt been properly broken down to get through, which can prompt an inﬂammatory response. We are learning that even without a true allergy to gluten, this effect on the gut can produce varying degrees of gluten-sensitivity and intolerance. Gluten-sensitivity can host a wide range of symptoms like fatigue, headaches, eczema & skin issues, GI problems, and depression. Over time it can contribute to an issue called leaky gut, (weʼll be talking about this more another day), which is the root of many health issues, including auto-immune diseases.
Gluten is particularly problematic for those with Hashimotoʼs thyroiditis. The molecular structure of gliadin, a component of gluten, very closely resembles the molecular structure of the thyroid gland. Once gluten/gliadin gets through those tight junctures,the immune system launches an attack. With Hashimotoʼs the immune system gets
confused and also starts attacking the thyroid gland, mistaking it for the gliadin intruder.
A constant attack on the thyroid causes the gland to under-function, leading to hypothyroidism. In fact, at least 80% of hypothyroid cases are actually caused by this auto-immune reaction. If you are hypothyroid and have not been diagnosed as Hashimotoʼs, I encourage you to get tested for thyroid antibodies and also try avoiding gluten entirely for at least 6 months.
So how has going gluten-free affected me?
100% gluten-free. It’s all still pretty new, and Iʼm deﬁnitely learning as I go, but I was about 80-90% gluten-free before I was diagnosed with Hashimotoʼs, and I know now that 80-90% doesnʼt cut it for me. I am working on cutting gluten out of my diet entirely, which takes a lot of awareness, label reading, and asking questions when I’m eating out. Gluten is hidden in a lot of foods (thereʼs a great article on that here) so I really have to be proactive when Iʼm grocery shopping or eating out to make sure everything is 100% gluten-free.
Eating out. Iʼve had a couple of slip-ups from not reading labels closely enough or forgetting to ask the server the right questions. One time I was eating out and I realized that a piece of chocolate was grain sweetened. Another time, I discovered that the sauce was thickened with ﬂour after I had eaten it. If you are going gluten-free, donʼt be afraid to take your time looking over labels in the store or asking your server lots of questions if youʼre eating out. It’s important!
Being a dinner guest. If I plan to eat dinner at a friendʼs house I try to make it very clear what kinds of foods I canʼt eat. Some of my friends are really catching on to this and have been incredibly helpful and supportive, which is so wonderful. If I think the options might be limited for me, I eat something before hand and also bring a gluten-free option.
My meals. Since going gluten-free, I have deﬁnitely found it easier to make a lot of my own meals. This cuts down on the confusion and I feel a lot better knowing exactly what goes into my meal. I have been experimenting with some gluten and grain free baking (still donʼt quite have the hang of that) but itʼs been a lot of fun learning and trying new things. Itʼs also been a great way to really embrace more whole foods. The fewer packages and labels I have to sort through, the better! And it feels great, too!
Breakdowns and Breakthroughs. Sometimes, I do have a hard time. I admit that even though I am completely aware of all the reasons not to eat gluten, sometimes I have a bad day and feel really frustrated, break down… and eat it anyway. This is happening less and less as I feel the beneﬁts of not eating gluten and notice how sick I get when I do eat gluten. My attitude is also shifting which is huge. At ﬁrst, I felt frustrated about the foods that I “canʼt” eat, but more and more I am feeling empowered to choose foods that really support me and make me feel good. As we like to say here at Clean, “Nothing tastes as good as being healthy feels!” True dat.
The more time I spend as a gluten free girl, the better I feel, and the easier it gets. I know itʼs worth it for me and absolutely necessary for my healing journey.
Tell us your experience.
Do you have any experience going gluten-free? Is it something youʼre thinking about?
Let us know what you think. I’d love to hear your comments below!
Jessi Heinze is a Wellness Coach for the Clean Program and has guided thousands of people through the program with warm and passionate support. She loves what she does and we love learning from her every day!
For more info on gluten and hypothyroidism: