Beyond Gluten: Are You Having Trouble with Cross-Reactive Foods?

Recently, on the Body Ecology Facebook Fan Page, Justine P. asked:

“Hi there, I’m a bit confused as BE says no gluten and then the vitality greens have barley? I’m new at this so can you please help me understand. Thanks!”

Researchers have found that gluten protein fragments can destroy intestinal tissue.

Body Ecology’s Vitality SuperGreen contains barley grass. Barley grass is the green plant matter that sprouts from the seed. Because gluten is exclusively found in the grain—or seed—of plants, barley grass is naturally gluten-free.

Your Gut Bacteria and Gluten

measuring scoops of gluten free flours (almond, coconut, teff, f

Once you cut gluten out of your diet to restore gut health, your hard work isn’t done yet. Gluten-free grains like corn and rice may act like gluten in the body.

The name gluten comes from the Latin word “glue.” As the name implies, gluten gives flour-based products their elasticity and chewy texture.

The problem with gluten is that it is pro-inflammatory.

Indeed, researchers have found that gluten protein fragments can destroy intestinal tissue. (1)(2) Gluten can break the bonds between intestinal cells that prevent large food particles from leaking into the bloodstream. (3)

When this bond is broken, the gut is leaky and permeable.

Once the gut is leaky, the body is more vulnerable to systemic Candida overgrowth and diseases related to the immune system.

In a study published this year, researchers found that healthy gut bacteria can help to break down gluten proteins. (4) This tells us that even though our intestinal cells are sensitive to gluten proteins, our gut bacteria are equipped to break down gluten—neutralizing the noxious effects of gluten in the diet.

However, healthy gut bacteria need to be in the gut for this process to work. This is why fermented foods are the cornerstone of The Body Ecology Diet. Because of antibiotic overuse, oral contraceptives, C-section delivery, and the waning popularity of fermented foods, many of us no longer have a healthy inner ecosystem that can break down gluten. The result is gluten sensitivity.

Does the Body React to Other Grains?

Jeanne T., a life coach in Hawaii, recently asked us:

“Donna, please address recent research that notes gluten (non wheat, rye, barley) proteins that are present in quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, and millet. NO grains and even many seeds and nuts are gluten free so. Your diet has not cured me and now I know why. I cannot eat ANY grains and there are a number of other foods–soy, eggs, dairy that also have proteins the body recognizes as gluten and sets off a ‘cross reactivity’. There is even a new lab test for the cross reactive stuff and all your BED grains are on it. Thank you for staying on top of this.”

Jeanne, great question! The lab test that you refer to is offered by Cyrex Laboratories. To simplify the issue of where we find gluten, let’s first clarify that only a select group of grains contain true gluten—unless, of course, they are contaminated during processing. (5)

Nonetheless, gluten-free grains like corn and rice can act like gluten in the body.

This is what is called a cross-reaction. It happens when the body’s immune system is confused, tagging proteins that look like gluten as the real deal. It’s important to remember that you don’t need to eat gluten to have a response to gluten—the immune system is responsible for the flare-up, not the food you eat. For example, a common cross-reactive food is coffee.

While it is possible to cross-react to a long list of foods, millet and other Body Ecology grain-like seeds are not likely to cross-react with gluten. (6)

This is where the Principle of Uniqueness comes into play. Even though Body Ecology grain-like seeds are unlikely to cross-react with wheat gluten, some of us do not tolerate them. This also applies to foods like corn, rice, eggs, dairy, soy, coffee, and chocolate.

The Principle of Uniqueness reminds us that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. In order to reach your optimal level of health, you must work with your own body and listen to the cues it gives you.

What To Remember Most About This Article:

Just like it sounds, gluten is gluey and pro-inflammatory. Researchers have discovered that gluten proteins can even destroy intestinal tissue, causing the gut to become leaky and permeable. Fortunately, research supports healthy gut bacteria to help break down gluten. Fermented foods in The Body Ecology Diet are critical to restore the inner ecosystem and reduce gluten sensitivity.

If you have gone gluten-free, you may still be vulnerable to a cross-reaction. Gluten-free grains like corn and rice can confuse the immune system by acting like gluten in the body. Even if you don’t eat gluten, your immune system may flare after eating a cross-reactive food—like corn, rice, eggs, dairy, soy, coffee, or chocolate. Millet and other Body Ecology grain-like seeds are not likely to cross-react.

Approach cross-reaction in the diet with the Body Ecology Principle of Uniqueness. Listen to your body and make adjustments to your diet to reach optimal health.

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  1. F Pineau, et al. Intestinal translocation capabilities of wheat allergens using the Caco-2 cell line. J. Agric. Food Chem. May 2007; 55 (11): 4576–83. doi:10.1021/jf070187e.
  2. SN Vogel, et al. Gliadin stimulation of murine macrophage inflammatory gene expression and intestinal permeability are MyD88-dependent: role of the innate immune response in Celiac disease. J. Immunol. Feb 2006; 176 (4): 2512–21.
  3. J Brownley, et al. Gliadin Induces an Increase in Intestinal Permeability and Zonulin Release by Binding to the Chemokine Receptor CXCR3. Gastroenterology. Mar 2008; 135 (1): 194–204.e3. doi:10.1053/j.gastro.2008.03.023.
  4. Caminero, A., Herrán, A. R., Nistal, E., Pérez‐Andrés, J., Vaquero, L., Vivas, S., … & Casqueiro, J. (2014). Diversity of the cultivable human gut microbiome involved in gluten metabolism: isolation of microorganisms with potential interest for coeliac disease. FEMS microbiology ecology, 88(2), 309-319.
  5. Thompson, T., Lee, A. R., & Grace, T. (2010). Gluten contamination of grains, seeds, and flours in the United States: a pilot study. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 110(6), 937-940.
  6. Badau, M. H., Nkama, I., & Jideani, I. A. (2005). Phytic acid content and hydrochloric acid extractability of minerals in pearl millet as affected by germination time and cultivar. Food chemistry, 92(3), 425-435.
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