The Brain / Food Connection

I read a lot on food and nutrition.  It absolutely fascinates me.  I could easily read for hours and hours on the topic every day if only there were more hours in the day.  Since Celiac disease has become a part of our lives I have become increasingly aware of the effect that food has on mental health as well as physical health.  I hope that one day I will get up the nerve to tell our story publicly.  I think that most bloggers, whether intentionally or not, tend to portray their lives as maybe a bit more rosy than they really are.  Maybe it is human nature to want to hide the flaws but I think it is a rare and wonderful thing to come across someone who lays it all out there for all to see and learn from.  This blogger did just that.  I was in awe of her honesty.  She has an amazing story to tell about recovery from bipolar disorder.  I applaud her bravery. 

Earlier in the week came this article from BBC news.  Depression is linked to processed food.   Antidepressants are among the top 3 most prescribed drug classes (along with analgesics and antihyperlipidemics) and we are eating more processed food than ever.  It isn’t really a surprising link is it?  This is one area I can speak from personal experience.  Food does have an enormous impact on mood.

Just today, like icing on a cake, I find this article.  It’s called “Gut Microbes Influence Behavior”.   The first line reads: Mice lacking normal gut bacteria show differences in brain development and behavior.  It’s a fascinating read. 

Did you happen to read the timeline for the movements of the Tuscon shooter in the hours that led up to the shooting?  He made repeated stops to convenience stores.  What do you think he was buying?  I think we could probably guess.


Coconut Palm Sugar – Friend or Foe?

Do you know about palm sugar or coconut sugar or coconut palm sugar?  I didn’t until a commenter here told me about it.  That truly is the coolest thing about blogging; the sharing of information.  I had never heard of it so I had to do a little reading up on it.  Now I am wondering how I didn’t know about this.  It’s good stuff.  It is made from the sap from the flowers of a date palm.  It is actually good for you. Here are some things I have learned.

  •  Here is a link that compares its mineral content to other sugars.  Impressive I must say.  Honey…. disappointing.
  • The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) has reported that coconut palm sweeteners are the single most sustainable sweetener in the world.
  • It hasn’t yet been commercialized so it is still farmed by small farms as opposed to gigantic corporations.
  • Coconut sugar has an extremely low glycemic index.  It’s 35!!!  This is amazing.  A low GI is important for everyone, especially diabetics.  It is also helpful for weight loss.

Those are all really great things.  There are however some negatives.  You need to read a bit between the lines to see them.  The information was originally circulated by the Philippine Food and Nutrition Research Institute.  The Philippine government has a whole lot to gain by having coconut palm sugar portrayed in a positive light.  I re-read the same original research over and over on several different web sites.  They are all the exact same.  It’s like there is only one source of original information.  My concern was the amount of fructose in coconut sugar.  Fructose is what does the damage to your liver over time and that in turn causes a plethora of illnesses, namely diabetes.  If you haven’t watched the video by Dr. Robert Lustig about fructose yet, here is the link to see it.  It is sooooo worth the time.  The articles explained the fructose content like this: 

Coconut palm Sugar is naturally low on the Glycemic Index (GI), which has benefits for weight control and improving glucose and lipid levels in people with diabetes (type 1 and type 2).  Coconut palm sugars are rated as a GI 35.   By comparison, most commercial Agaves are GI 42, Honeys are GI 55 and Cane Sugars are GI 68.


The major component of coconut sugar is sucrose (70-79%) followed by glucose and fructose (3-9%) each.  Minor variations will occur, due to differences in primary processing, raw material source, tree age and variety of coconut.


Now that all sounds good, right? However, sucrose is 50% glucose and 50% fructose.  Let’s do some simple math and look at the actual fructose content. 

70/2 = 35  —–>  35 + 3 = 38%  (not too bad)

79/2 = 39.5   —–> 39.5 + 9 = 48.5% (pretty close to the same amount of fructose in table sugar)

So the actual amount of fructose can range from 38% to 48.5%  (High Fructose Corn Syrup is 55%)  In addition to the fructose content, it is not low carb.  It is a slow carb.  Unfortunately for me this means that I need to use this in moderation instead of like the free for all like I was really hoping.   While I do think it is far and away the best choice for a sweetener (I really don’t care for stevia which probably is best), it’s not the loop-hole I was hoping it was.   

How does it taste?  Awesome!  It is much like honey except less floral and more caramel.  I have been using it like I would honey by melting it a bit with some oil.  The price?  I got it at a local Asian market for about $1.40 a pound.  If you buy it online I saw it for as much as $8/lb!  Some brands from Thailand are whiter than the rest which are anywhere from brown to beige.  Check the ingredients list.  Many of the whiter ones have table sugar added to them.  It comes in hard discs or in jars.  The sweetness and flavor will vary in each batch. 

If you have more information on coconut palm sugar please post a link in the comments.  What are your thought?  Have you tried it?

Our McDonald’s Experiment

i'm not lovin' it

To some it may be hard to believe that our 3 kids have no McDonald’s memories.  Our oldest was diagnosed with Celiac Disease when she was 2 so she doesn’t ever remember eating there.  We don’t have cable or satellite TV so they don’t see the commercials either.  Since the diagnosis of both my daughter and my husband we never eat there so the kids have no idea what it’s all about.  We have nicknamed the restaurant McGluten’s.  I am aware that they do have a couple of items on their menu that are gluten free but it is things like salad and yogurt.  Ummm, no thanks.   So when I found  myself out doing errands a couple of days after Christmas with my 4 year old (who has never shown any reaction to the limited amount of gluten she has eaten in her life) I decided to do a little experiment.  My daughter was complaining of being hungry.  No problem.  I never leave home without something to eat in my purse.  Well never except for that day.  I had been sick so I guess maybe I wasn’t thinking clearly.  Maybe that was why I took the easiest option and took her to McDonald’s.  Millions of other parents do it so why not?  As we got into line I asked her what she wanted.  She said “What do they have here?”  The guy in front of us looked back at us, laughed and said something about being surprised that she didn’t already know what she wanted.  I told her what the choices were.  I had to explain what a McNugget was.  She finally decided on those with fries and an apple juice.  We took the kid’s meal to the table and sat down.  She was so excited to get her lunch in a colorful box.  She immediately asked if she could take the box home.  You can imagine her reaction when she opened the box to find not only her lunch but a toy.  She shrieked loudly that “Someone put a toy in here!”  The two tables near us giggled over her excitement.  I told them that it was her first time there.  They  looked at me like they couldn’t decide if I was joking or not.   I wondered for a moment if she would now be begging to come back regularly.  Had I just opened a huge Pandora’s box?   Once the excitement of the toy subsided she remembered she was hungry.  She dug in.  She ate a grand total of one and a half nuggets, one taste of the sauce, one solitary french fry and all of her apple juice.  I asked her why she didn’t want to eat anymore and her response was one that made me proud.  She said, “I don’t like it.”   Yay!  Score for REAL FOOD!  Since that day she has asked to go back once.  She wanted another toy but not the food.  

I have said it before and I will say it again.  Celiac disease has been a good thing for our family.  Prior to CD I never once considered what I put in my mouth.  I assumed that all those things that I couldn’t pronounce on the ingredient list were food and were safe and benign.   I loved McDonald’s.  We ate out every day, sometimes more than once a day.  I had absolutely no idea of the close relationship between food and health, both physical and mental health.  While CD does in fact make life far more complicated at times and it certainly would be better not to have it, those are things that I can not change.  I choose to focus on the many positive things that have come of it.

I’m Famous For My Bread, AGAIN!

Okay, that may be overstating the case a tad.  I wrote a while ago about how a friend of mine, Stephanie, entered my bread recipe in a gluten free baking contest.  She has CD as does 2 of her 3 kids.  Her only sibling and her father also have it.  Stephanie’s  sister, Kristen, is a dietician.  She was on TV this morning on a local morning news program in Nebraska.  She spoke about CD, symptoms, diagnosis, testing and it’s impact if it goes undiagnosed.  I thought she did an amazing job.  It’s hard to do those kind of interviews and say everything you would like to get said.  I think she did a great job at explaining it and why it is important to get tested.  Here are the links to the clips.  Right at the very beginning she talks about my bread recipe and how it came to be.  In the second clip she shares the bread she made and brought with her to the set.  It of course got great reviews from the hosts.  (The program also left a link to the recipe.  Unfortunately, they called it gluten free whole wheat bread instead of whole grain bread.  I am sure they will fix that since there is no such thing as gluten free wheat.)  There was also a link to my blog at the end.  Pretty cool, hey?!  As I have said before. I am not trying to make money from my blog or my recipe.  I just think it is a great thing to be able to share something with people who need it.  Mostly though, I am incredibly happy to see that Celiac Disease is getting more and more press.  One in 100-133 people have CD.  97% of those people don’t know they have it.  Only 1 in 6 people with CD have symptoms even though their small intestine is being destroyed.  If you have a blood relative with CD there is a 1 in 22 chance you have it.  (I think that statistic is WAY off.  I would bet the number is closer to 1 in 2)  If you have any auto immune disease, such as CD, you are more likely to have another, especially if you continue to eat gluten.  Many doctors still think that it is a rare childhood disorder.  Getting screened is as easy as one little poke!  CD often goes hand in hand with ASD (autism spectrum disorders), Type I Diabetes, IBS, depression to name a few. 

Thanks again to Stephanie and Kristen (and their mom for starting this whole TV thing) for doing such a great job of bringing awareness to CD and to my bread recipe.   You guys are awesome!

 Once again here is the original recipe.   And here is the simplified version.

Against the Grain

Here is an excellent article from Columbia University.

Some quick stats: 1 in 100 people in the US have CD. 97 of those people don’t know they have it. Only 1 in 6 people who have CD have typical gastrointestinal symptoms. Many are completely asymptomatic. Untreated CD can lead to cancer, diabetes, and a host of other autoimmune diseases. 80% of medical research in the US is done by drug companies and because CD is treated without drugs there is very little attention given to the disease. Most physicians receive their continuing education from drug reps. Physicians taught in the US are still taught that CD is a rare disease of childhood.

Celiac Disease: It’s More Than Just The Trots

Let’s say that someone in your family had a history of breast or testicular cancer. Then one morning you are in the shower and you feel a lump in your breast or testicle. What would you do? Would you go see your doctor to be evaluated? Of course you would, right?! You wouldn’t sit at home and try to ignore the lump. You wouldn’t say, “my breast/teste is too important to me so I don’t want to find out what this lump is because that may mean losing it.” That could possibly be suicidal, right? Well, Celiac Disease is no different. Untreated Celiac Disease can cause conditions that can be fatal. It should not be ignored. Good nutrition is the basis of health and Celiac Disease prevents good nutrition. In CD, even minute amounts of gluten (which is found in more than just “flour”) will destroy your small intestine. It will cause damage even if you are not having symptoms. Your small intestine is where all the vitamins, minerals, protein, etc is absorbed. They are absorbed by tiny little finger like projections called villi. Celiac Disease flattens and destroys those villi making it impossible to absorb the nutrition you need to stay healthy and fight disease. Gluten will eventually cause disease, debility and yes, even death in a person with CD. CD is an auto immune disease. It is not an allergy, a sensitivity or an intolerance. It needs to be taken as seriously as cancer. It is more than just the inconvenience of a few extra trips to the bathroom.

I talked to a woman a couple of weeks ago and she was saying that her friend has a daughter with CD. “But she (the young girl) has so many other health issues that (the mother) just lets it (the CD) go.” She said that the diet was just too hard and the child’s symptoms weren’t that bad so they just don’t worry about it. I could not believe what I was hearing. Clearly it isn’t completely the mothers fault that there is a Grand Canyon’s worth of education missing in this family. That mother has no idea that most, if not all, of the child’s other issues are a result of her Celiac Disease and just because she wasn’t having diarrhea did not mean that it wasn’t an enormous problem. The woman told me that this poor little kid has crippling Rheumatoid Arthritis. It is so bad she can’t even walk up stairs. It is heartbreaking to me that the mother doesn’t know that RA is also an autoimmune disease and that it was likely triggered by untreated CD. Why didn’t the girl’s doctor educate the mother? Maybe it was because he didn’t know. When my husband was diagnosed they weren’t looking for CD so we had no idea what was coming. We were completely unprepared. The day he got that diagnosis the doctor handed him his biopsy results and said “you need to go on a gluten free diet, permanently.” That was it. No further education. Done. He just got instructions to follow up for another biopsy in one year. When my friend was diagnosed this March, her GI doctor told her that “at least you can still have Mexican food.” (I can’t even count the number of ways that this is wrong.) Again, no education, no referral to someone who could educate.

The newest research says that 1 in 100 people have CD and that if you have a blood relative that has CD, you have a 1 in 22 chance of having it. Mark my words here and now: those numbers are inaccurate and the true number is much, much higher. Of all the people I know that have CD, they are not the only one in their family who has it. If you have a family member that has CD you NEED to be screened. Saying that the diet is just too difficult or you don’t have the time to do it or that you love your bread or pasta or whatever too much, isn’t a good enough reason to not get screened. You need to ask your doctor to have the appropriate blood work done. If he/she refuses then find another doctor. Some doctors still believe that CD is rare. You need to be screened even if you don’t have diarrhea. Some people have constipation. Some people have both and some people don’t have a single symptom and do not feel sick. That doesn’t mean that they don’t have the disease or that the gluten that they are ingesting is not damaging their body. It may just mean they don’t have symptoms yet. When you do get your blood drawn keep in mind that a negative result does not mean that you don’t have CD and are free and clear forever. It just means that you don’t have enough antibodies in your blood on that day. That could change in a month or a year or never. The point is, you won’t know if you aren’t screened. There is a grey area or continuum in CD diagnosis, meaning that there is a period of time from when the disease starts to when antibodies can be detected in your blood. That period of time is different for everyone. So, if you have symptoms or if you have a family member who has it, you should be screened regularly. If you have any autoimmune diseases (Type 1 diabetes, Arthritis, thyroid disorders etc) know that autoimmune diseases tend to come in groups. Meaning, if you have one you are at greater risk to have another.

I wonder about the number of kids that are on the autism spectrum (Aspergers, ADD, ADHD etc). There was a recent study just released about about the incidence of autism. Turns out it is much more prevalent that previously thought. I bring this up because I am absolutely positive that had we not had the diagnosis for my husband; my oldest daughter would be diagnosed with ADHD. When she ingests gluten she has more behavioral symptoms than GI (although she does have those too depending on dose). She gets hyperactive, defiant, belligerent, aggressive, angry, sad and volatile. It is horrible to see and our hearts break for her when this happens. I wonder if we would ever have gotten a diagnosis of CD if it weren’t for her daddy’s diagnosis since she doesn’t present with “typical” symptoms. Prior to eliminating gluten from her diet her only other symptom aside from the behavioral stuff was that she was small.

The previous mentioned friend had both her daughters tested and one was positive. Other than just being small, she had no symptoms. My friend encouraged her family to get tested. They did. Both her father and her only other sibling both have it. Now, I am no statistician but that does not work out to 1 in 22. It’s the same in my immediate family. 2 of our 3 kids have it. There are many in my husbands family that likely have it too. His mother and her father, though not diagnosed, in retrospect likely had it too. They both died in nursing homes with atypical Alzheimer dementia with a long history of bowel issues and depression. My husband is one of seven children. One other has an “assumed celiac” diagnosis and others report symptoms but have not yet been screened. That’s not 1 in 22 either. That is only a few examples of many I could site.

Here is a list of possible symptoms of CD. Here is a list of conditions that are associated with CD. Here is a list of conditions that are probably associated with CD. Yes, it’s a huge list and like I said, some people have no symptoms at all because the damage has just started. Don’t wait until you have a laundry list of those ailments and don’t wait until you have cancer. If you have a family member who has CD you must be screened and your children must be screened. Screen now and screen often. And pass on the message!

****If you are the owner of a gluten free / Celiac blog, please consider linking this post to your blog to help spread the message. Help me to increase Celiac awareness. Thanks****

Nutrition and Behavior – Video

This video is fascinating. Definitely worth the time to watch. It talks about the effects of diet on brain function. Dr. Blaylock has summarized a ton of studies in this presentation. It really is making me look at food in a different way. Please take the time to watch and let me know what you think.