I am not dogmatic about food, I’ve never been the kind of nutritionist who told allll my clients they had to stop eating dairy/gluten and feast on a diet of sunlight and rainbows. After spending most of my 20s on either the Paleo, low FODMAP, SIBO Biphasic, low Histamine and The Autoimmune Protocol diets in an attempt to feel human again I know a thing or two about how it feels to eat a seriously restrictive diet. It ain’t fun or free. Processed and less than ideal foods will find their way into your eating sometimes. I try to focus on building habits so that most of the time you are eating nutrient rich, anti-inflammatory and delicious foods rather than handing out lists of no-no foods.
Let’s settle the gluten debate for good. Stick with me here, as always an individual approach is required, there are no blanket rules which means I need to explain a few things first.
If you don’t have Hashimoto’s disease keep reading anyway, I know you’ll get something out of this discussion.
Wheat is the darling of the Australian diet, we eat it in our cereal & toast for breakfast, we make sandwiches & wraps for lunch and we eat pasta & pizza for dinner, not to mention cakes, muffins, focaccia, dumplings, pies, pancakes and snot block. It’s a staple.
So there are two things I need you to understand first…
ONE/ Wheat – you’ve changed, you aren’t what you used to be. Literally. The modern wheat we consume today has been modified and cultivated to contain more of some types of gluten and a larger yield per acre. This is to increase profitability and to give us that white fluffiness we’ve all come to associate with the word ‘bread’. Other factors include the additives in supermarket bread and the pesticides/insecticides/fungicides use in the farming of modern wheat which means that the bread hitting our stomach these days is vastly different from bread in the past.
TWO/ Another fact to consider is that broadly speaking our microbiome diversity is dwindling across the generations. Extreme hygiene practices, over use of antibiotics, unhealthy lifestyles and processed food has seen to that. If you’re thinking, hold up what the heck is the microbiome you can read about it here. But basically the gut microbiome is the bacteria that dwell inside our intestines and confer many health benefits. The lower the diversity the more opportunistic, pathogenic bacteria can overgrow. This causes inflammation in the cells that line our gut and a decline in digestive power, gut health and function. This leaves us prone to reacting to foods and developing food intolerances and is a significant part of the aetiology of autoimmune disease, including Hashimoto’s.
So, let’s get this straight. In Australia and most of the western world, you aren’t consuming the same wheat your great grandmother ate and your gut probably isn’t as healthy either. This might be why you feel like more and more people around you are discovering their digestion is a lot smoother when they avoid gluten and why celiac disease has been on the rise since the mid twentieth century. And yes, it’s definitely a bit of a fad too.
There are a few perfectly good whole foods that are higher allergens and more reactive for sensitive people with compromised gut health (most of us if you haven’t been paying attention). Gluten and dairy are at the top of the list that also features foods like soy, eggs and nuts. This is why so many people don’t tolerate them and why some practitioners and Integrative GP’s have come to the conclusion that NO ONE should be eating them. I think it’s a lot more nuanced than that.
Should I be eating gluten if I have Hashimoto’s Disease?
For starters you are at much higher risk of Celiac disease if you have Hashimoto’s and vice versa so it’s essential you at least see your GP to get celiac gene testing (HLA DQ) if you experiencing any digestive symptoms after consuming gluten or any other symptoms you can’t explain for that matter as celiac disease symptoms are broad. If that is positive then you can go from there with further testing.
Gluten is a protein with a similar molecular structure to thyroid tissue. The theory behind why those of us with Hashi’s feel so much better off gluten, why antibodies can go down and why thyroid function can improve drastically is that molecular mimicry is causing gluten proteins in our system to ramp up the autoimmune attack on our thyroid leading to thyroid inflammation, tissue destruction and stronger symptoms. My personal and clinical experience as well as medical studies suggest that a gluten free diet may improve your symptoms, thyroid function and reduce or stop the autoimmune attack. I find that my clients who adopt a gluten free diet have increased energy, less bloating, reflux and other digestive symptoms, healthier bowel motions, clearer heads, better moods and are able to lose weight much more easily. Because if gluten is keeping you in a state of inflammation then you’ll find weight loss extremely difficult.
Skeptical? Try removing gluten for as little as two weeks, that is enough time for you assess whether it is playing a role in your symptoms. Clinically, I’ve never had a Hashimoto’s client not improve when they go gluten free, to the point where they are convinced it is not for them and require no further encouragement to stay off it. If going gluten free feels impossible, I get it. I’ve been there and I cried a lot. Then when I found out my son was also gluten intolerant, I cried some more.
What should I do next?
My best advice is to look to protein as the basis of your meals to keep you satiated and don’t rely too heavily on gluten free breads and alternatives from the supermarket. I only eat GF Precinct bread because it’s wholegrain, low Glycemic load and won’t contribute to weight gain and fatigue due to disregulated blood sugar. So for example, if you normally eat a chicken & salad white bread sandwich for lunch, ditch the white bread, increase the chicken portion, keep the salad, add satiating fats like an olive oil dressing and have a slice of GF Precinct bread or a small serve of brown basmati rice on the side instead. It just requires a shift in perspective and I promise it gets easier with time. Check out my Healthy Weight Hashimoto’s free guide, it has a food list and meal planner that makes it easy to assemble a yummy, GF, Hashi’s-friendly meal. If you join my Thrive Method program your personalised meal plan will automatically be gluten free. My clients have remarked how easy it makes the transition when they have a plan to follow that they can trust is uniquely right for them.
Should I be eating gluten if I have Celiac disease?
I went to a beautiful bakery cafe for lunch recently that pride themselves on their three day sourdough fermentation process. The waitress informed me that the gluten content was so low that they have many celiac customers who eat is regularly – no, just no, and a hell no for good measure. If you have celiac disease you must avoid all gluten, traces of gluten and go so far as to remove it from your home entirely if possible. In the very least a seperate toaster for gluten containing bread is necessary and you must be very selective about where you eat out; a dedicated gluten free restaurant is safest. It is life threatening to continue to expose yourself to gluten if you are positive for celiac disease. If you have a family member with celiac disease or have an autoimmune disease (like Hashi’s) then you are more at risk of developing celiac disease.
Should I be eating gluten if I have non-celiac gluten intolerance or suspect I do?
The majority of Hashimoto’s gluten sensitivity falls under the non-celiac gluten intolerance umbrella which means that your immune system is most likely responding with IgG antibodies. This is not an allergy or a celiac response but a slower inflammatory response. Symptoms may take hours or the next day to develop and while it is very uncomfortable and inflammatory, it is not life threatening like a true anaphylaxis allergy. However, even if it is not life-threatening it will still be feeling the slow burn of inflammation and most likely exacerbating the autoimmune attack on your thyroid. The good news is that you don’t have to worry as much as the celiacs amongst us about things like sharing toasters or chopping boards.
It’s important to note that wheat is also high in FODMAP’s, particularly fructans. So in fact you could be struggling to digest the sugars in wheat rather than the proteins – gluten. You may suspect this if you have strong digestive symptoms shortly after eating like gas & bloating high up under your ribs, burping, reflux, urgent bowel motions and even constipation. If you have been breath tested and are malabsorbing fructose or you have tested positive for SIBO then decreasing wheat until you’re able to improve gut function and digestion will make your life a lot more pleasant. BTW you are at higher risk of Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) with Hashi’s in which case the sugars and the proteins may be posing a problem for you.
Side note for those without Hashimoto’s
I would recommend temporarily removing gluten if you have identified it as a problem food for you. In the meantime you can work on your gut health and repair your gut lining to improve tolerance to foods like gluten. The GEMM protocol is my favourite method to do this. When you reintroduce wheat, stick to easy to digest, unmodified forms of gluten containing grains like spelt, khorasan, rye and einkorn. They are generally a lot easier to tolerate and often baked with traditional sourdough methods which breaks gluten down even further. Fun fact, rye contains one third the gluten than modern wheat varieties! And grains like spelt contain different gluten proteins that are known to be less inflammatory and less likely to cause gluten intolerance.
Signs you need to rethink your gluten intake:
- If you have autoimmunity, particularly Hashimoto’ disease
- Keratosis polaris (chicken skin), eczema, psoriasis and general skin rashes, dryness, bumps, acne and flaking can be red flags that gluten is not your friend
- Any abnormal GI symptoms, particularly after gluten consumption of course! That includes bloating, excessive burping, reflux, gas, abdominal pain & cramping, disordered bowel motions (anything other than 1-3 smooth sausage painless bowel motions daily). Make sure you rule out celiac disease with your GP first, especially if you are higher risk due to Hashimoto’s
- Low mood, mental confusion, brain fog, loss of hope, depression
- Joint pain
- Stubborn weight gain
If you know you need some help with what to eat with Hashimoto’s disease download my guide or book a free Thrive Method Health chat so we can see if I can help you mange you autoimmunity, shift stubborn weight and inflammation and reignite your energy.