Most of us are aware that the food we eat has implications for our mood. Chocolate gives us a small temporary high, for example. But how many of us know that gluten can cause depression and anxiety? Even Celiacs are unaware of the effects of this stuff on their brain. It is a digestive issue isn’t it? Well no. Actually. In fact, more of us could be suffering from a gluten sensitivity mood disorder than digestive disorder.
A report by Celiac Central showed that patients who struggled with gluten-caused mood issues such as anxiety and depression only had digestive system symptoms 13 percent of the time. Which means that many people could have a mood disorder as a result of gluten sensitivity without knowing it because they don’t have digestive system issues associated with the disease.
One year ago, I was anxious, cranky and extremely intolerant. The tiniest little transgression by my two boys would bring on my intense frustration. It wasn’t just a case of being in a bad mood, like stubbing your toe bad mood. My diet was negatively colouring my perception; a small communication problem suddenly turned into a massive deal-breaker. I was seeing major problems in my life where there was only actually a minor irritation. My moods were a rollercoaster that took me from high to low in a matter of seconds and which slowed, I eventually realised, only after a period of not eating sugar. That gave me the clue that my moods were very dependent upon the food I ate.
A paper submitted by The New England Journal of Medicine listed 55 diseases caused or exacerbated by eating gluten, which include depression and anxiety. My disturbance of mood it seemed, was possibly an indicator of a gluten sensitivity. Gluten inhibits production of serotonin. Wheat in particular has been associated with psychiatric problems, due to an army of brain-disruptive opioid peptides, and wheat germ lectin (WGA), which is thought to be toxic to the brain. Wheat also affects our blood sugar levels which, in turn effect our hormones. I decided that enough was enough, I’d had it with wheat.
After one very tough and miserable week of no wheat; no bread, no pasta PASTA?!?, pastry, biscuits or cakes, (man, it was tough!) I felt as though a black fog was lifting. I was calmer, more tolerant and so much more positive about life. I had a long way yet to go, but already I realised that the majority of my mood problems had all been food related. It got easier and my improved mood spurred me on. It’s been 5 months now and I no longer get the urge to eat wheat.
I still can’t be sure whether it was the lack of gluten or the steadying blood sugar levels that improved my mood. What I can be sure of is that avoiding wheat got easier, I learned to enjoy substitutes. I lost my muffin top, my moods stabilised and I had more mental and physical energy than I knew what to do with. And on the odd occasion when I succumbed to the siren call of a piece of toast, I immediately felt bloated, irritable and short-tempered.
I won’t lie, it was hard work but by reminding myself of the changes I wanted to make to my mood – to be calm and patient and not influenced by my fluctuating hormones, (a result of the wheat on my blood sugar levels) I stayed strong. Here are my 5 tips for anyone thinking of doing it:
Start slowly – try reducing intake of wheat one meal at a time. So rather than eating bread or pasta with breakfast, lunch and dinner, try limiting it to breakfast and dinner for a few days, then go down to one meal a day before cutting it out altogether.
Eat plenty of protein – protein helps us to feel full so we’re less likely to want to fill up on the empty calories that bread provides. Go for a plate of scrambled eggs first thing in the morning, for example, or try porridge with raisins.
Choose good substitute carb products – I eat a lot of oatcakes which don’t contain wheat or gluten but are still very filling. They are delicious with Cashew nut butter or hummus. There is also a good range of pasta taste-a-likes on the market these days too with spaghetti and noodles made from rice flour. With a delicious tomato sauce, it really is very difficult to notice the difference. Rice is a good substitute too and means you don’t have to miss out on takeaway food, although avoid the soy sauce because that contains both wheat and sugar!
Don’t weaken – treat wheat as though you absolutely CANNOT eat it for health reasons, and it’ll be a lot easier to avoid without the painful deliberation our brains go through when trying to avoid a certain food.
Be creative – learn about the foods that you CAN eat on a wheat free diet and create some new recipes. There are hundreds of books or websites with wheat free recipes so do some research, be inventive. It can be quite fun to cook with restricted ingredients.