Many of those of us in the LP community are afflicted with joint pain as we grow older and try to avoid or prolong surgery for hip or knee replacements. As an LP with pseudoachondroplasia, my hips started hurting around the age of 30 and seemed to be getting progressively worse. Family and friends would notice that I would grunt when getting up from sitting down, or even when moving. Of course, I visited a renowned orthopedic surgeon to check on my hips, but an X-Ray showed minor thinning of the cartilage and not something that would necessarily warrant surgery in the immediate future. Weight loss was suggested to help with the pain, but I really thought the condition of my hips was much worse than showed radiographically. So I knew I needed to lose weight, but I also wanted to explore other methods to help with my pain level.
Is Gluten Free A Fad?
The evils of weight and gluten have been in the news again over the past couple years, spearheaded by the Wheat Belly book by Dr. Davis a cardiologist who wrote about “frankenwheat”. According to Dr. Davis, the wheat of today has been modified so much that it is no longer the amber waves of grain you might see from old pictures. Rather, today’s wheat stands 18-24 inches tall and is very different genetically than the wheat eaten by our ancestors. Dr. Davis argues that the gliadin in wheat is associated with a whole range of conditions. However he has emphasized, especially in his follow-up Wheat Belly Total Health, that we really need to remove all grains (not just wheat) from our diet as humans are not biologically built to eat grains of grasses. There’s a reason cows have so many stomachs and they chew the cud to process their diet. And there’s also a reason modern farming feeds our livestock grain instead of grass; hint — it makes them fat!
Gluten, Grains and Joint Pain
Most people, including myself, are attracted to the grain-free lifestyle (notice I said lifestyle, not a diet) due to the promised weight loss (losing the “wheat belly”). However one of the less mentioned health benefits of dropping gluten and wheat is a reduction in inflammation, thereby resulting in less joint pain. I was doubtful about these claims, but Dwarf Mom’s acupuncture doctor who is an expert in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) emphasized the inflammatory properties of gluten and said that in Eastern medicine circles, gluten is thought to cause joint pain. The Wikipedia entry for Gluten sensitivity shows that joint pain can be a symptom. I have had Irritable Bowel Symptoms in the past and have been checked for celiac disease, so I know that is not part of the picture. But I do know from my research that many people have gluten intolerance/sensitivity that can manifest in many ways. Of course Dr. Davis says that nobody should be eating any type of gluten.
So I started with a gluten-free lifestyle for a few months, and recently changed to a grain-free lifestyle with two goals in mind: weight loss and hip pain relief. I can happily say that I have lost some weight but more importantly, the constant throbbing in my hips has diminished greatly. My daily routine for many years has included taking Triple-Flex and I have been able to stop taking it. Is this temporary relief? Hard to say. Could there be a placebo effect and it’s all in my head? Maybe. Could it be that I can no longer have my daily beloved Egg McMuffin meal? Perhaps. But for now I think it’s something worth trying by all of us in pain. If we can delay (or stop) joint replacement surgery it’s well worth it.
The Grain Free Journey
Dropping grains from your diet may seem like a radical change but it has not been as hard as I thought. You can start with the simple things: no bread and no pasta. Or as Dwarf Mom has done, you can reduce your gluten intake significantly by at least replacing wheat products for quinoa or coconut based ingredients. She has noticed a major change in her joint pain, which she has been following with TCM. Unfortunately, as you continue eliminating wheat you’ll see that it is extremely commonplace, especially in processed foods as a filler. Dr. Davis says the gliadin in wheat stimulates appetite, so it’s thought that food manufacturers use wheat additives to sell more product. And when you shop at your local market or online, you will be tempted by the numerous “gluten-free” products marketed to those following Wheat Belly, Grain Brain, and other Paleo-type diets popular these days. But most of them just substitute wheat grain with corn starch or very carb-heavy grain derivatives that raise blood sugar even worse than wheat.
Helpful Products for a Grain-Free Lifestyle
I’ve just started this journey, but there have been a few things that have been really useful.
Sweet-Leaf Stevia Sweetner
I’ve also been trying to drop a Diet Coke habit, so switching to tea and water has been important. I do like a hint of sweetness in my tea, so adding Sweet Leaf Sweet Drops has been an easy no-calorie way to help quench a sweet-tooth. I’ve been trying to stop using Splenda as it’s not a natural product, and some other brands of Stevia (such as Pure Via and Truvia) are not pure Stevia extract. My favorite is the Vanilla Creme Sweet Drops — I put a few drops into Tejava from Costco. For sweetening up iced tea at fast food and restaurants, the Steviatabs Stevia Extract Tablets are really handy. I keep a tin in the car and bring it into the restaurant. The tablets do seem to more easily dissolve in hot liquids, but if you give it a few minutes and stir the drink, they will dissolve pretty well into iced tea. If you prefer a more traditional packet of sweetener, the Sweet Leaf Stevia Packets are great for cooking or on the go.
The Grain Free low-carbohydrate bars from Quest Nutrition are a little pricey at about $2 each, but they are very low carb, grain free, and taste pretty good. A Quest Bar is an easy meal replacement or filling snack. My favorite flavors are Apple Pie, Cookies and Cream, and Mixed Berry Bliss. Quest has some newer flavors without sucralose (Splenda), but I prefer the taste of the original flavors with Splenda. I’ve read that they are working on removing sucralose from all the bars.
September 2015 Update: Quest Nutrition has apparently changed the formulas on all their bars and replaced IMO with soluble corn fiber! Apparently corn fiber is another name for corn syrup. Putting aside the fact that I’m trying to avoid grains, the new bars do not taste the same (much worse) and have a very hard texture. On their Facebook page they responded to the throngs of angry people by saying the initial batches of the new recipe were not up to standards, and are offering replacements. Some people have said the replacement bars tasted just as bad. So unfortunately I can no longer recommend Quest Bars and will be looking for an alternative.
Miracle Noodle Shirataki
I’ve always loved pasta and would even eat a bowl of pasta with cheese topping in college for dinner (oops!). And of course, the family has not adopted my new lifestyle and eats pasta and rice regularly. Grain-free is difficult to do as you raise children. After all, half of 5-year olds diets is mac n’ cheese! The Miracle Noodles and Miracle Rice (I prefer the rice) have served as a easy-to-make replacement as a side dish when I can’t share with the family. It’s comprised of non-digestible fiber made from the konjac root and basically has no flavor, but has texture similar to pasta (it reminds me of my old favorite, Orzo). Of course this will not be an exact replacement for pasta or rice and nobody will be fooled, but it’s zero carb, zero calorie, and will easily soak up whatever sauce or flavoring you place on it. You cook it for one minute in boiling water or you can even microwave it for a minute and you’re done. Just be sure to rinse it well after removal from the bag, as it’s shipped with a preservative that doesn’t smell that great.
Grain-Free and Ketogenic Books
Of course you should never start a new diet or lifestyle without checking with your doctor, but you can also supplement your knowledge with these great books.
An ongoing journey
This is the start of a new journey and I’ll be updating the post with new findings, successes, and challenges. Have you found a great product or have a great tip for the grain-free or keto lifestyle? Please let me know!