About Paleo: Am I Really Allergic To Wheat?


One of the things that I love the most about blogging, and the blogging community, is that I am often in a position where you will challenge my position in one way or another. I really enjoy this, mostly because it helps me to remember to evaluate my position from time to time. It’s an amazing part of being surrounded (digitally surrounded) by smart, articulate people with their own strident opinions on the subjects that I choose to write about. Without the opportunity that you readers afford me, by challenging my ideas and asking me (as is your right, since I’ve gone and made my opinions public) to carefully consider and elaborate on my position, is perhaps one of the things that I am the most excited about when I share an idea in my posts. I need your thoughts, comments, and challenges, so that I can test my stance against other intelligent people.

Here is one such challenge, and one of the best that I’ve received to date:

As a newbie to paleo and a person who loves eating at restaurants I was excited to read your posts. I’m however very disappointed. As a person with an actual life threatening allergy (eggs) I can’t believe you would encourage people to lie about such things. Most restaurants will take your request for no soy etc with the seriousness that a preference deserves. Kitchens know that people with “allergies” often lie about it and as such take requests for “allergy” exclusions less serious. They might not sanitize a surface, or coortiz the same grill when they shouldn’t be. Your preference is not an allergy, and you make it hazardous for people like me to eat.

– Suzanne

So, the operative question here is this: Am I allergic to soy and wheat? Clearly anyone who has been Paleo for anything longer than a few months will state something along the lines of “Well, my body sure thinks so!” And my body is no exception to that. The few times that I’ve had the misfortune of eating something which is contaminated with soy or wheat (or any grain for that matter) I’ve had rather severe digestive distress. Anaphalaxes? Not so much, thankfully…
Suzanne’s comment comes from a position of fear, and she (and others like her) have a right to a thoughtful and rational response. I’m intending for this post to give Suzanne, and all of us Paleo people a complete response to when people question their statement that they’re allergic to wheat and soy.
See, here’s the thing. With 67% of America overweight, and half of them are obese, most of us Ancestral Health people have come to the general belief that there’s something seriously wrong with the general dietary proscriptions. The rate of leisure activity has not changed significantly over the past 30+ years, so while moving more will help us to control our weight, the answer to the severe overweight crisis is clearly not jogging. Us Ancestral Health people (yes, Paleo is Ancestral Health) have concluded, and most of us have significant personal “Success Stories” to support this conclusion, that the problem is dietary. So, let’s take a shot at figuring out whether I am personally allergic to wheat and soy.

First, let’s take a look at the definition of an allergy. The Wiki page on Allergy starts out with several lines of description. The first of which is this:

An allergy is a hypersensitivity disorder of the immune system.

Ok, got it. But what kinds of symptoms might I expect to see from that?

Symptoms of food allergy include abdominal painbloating, vomiting, diarrheaitchy skin, and swelling of the skin during hives.

And the wiki doesn’t stop there. The actual definition of an allergy, it would seem, is quite indicative of exactly the sort of digestive distress that I experience (and all of the Paleo people I know) every time I am unfortunate enough to ingest wheat or soy. Fortunately for me, and all of you Paleo people, the wiki actually directs specific attention to this in particular.

A wide variety of foods can cause allergic reactions, but 90% of allergic responses to foods are caused by cow’s milksoyeggswheatpeanuttree nutsfish and shellfish.

Hmm. Alright. A lot of Paleo people don’t necessarily know that they’re allergic. Is there a definitive way to test that, just to be sure it’s actually an allergy?

Elimination/Challenge tests: This testing method is used most often with foods or medicines. A patient with a suspected allergen is instructed to modify his/her diet to totally avoid that allergen for determined time. If the patient experiences significant improvement, he/she may then be “challenged” by reintroducing the allergen to see if symptoms can be reproduced.

So this makes it quite clear. When you’re going on a strict Paleo diet, you’re beginning the “Elimination” phase of the above diagnostic test. Then, when someone contaminates your food (or you just decide to eat some cake at some point…) and you have an adverse reaction, that confirms the diagnosis. To paraphrase the Wiki on Allergies, you have an allergy when: You have an issue, it gets better with elimination, and you can then reproduce those adverse symptomatic affects with reintroduction.
There’s little doubt in my mind at this point that the sorts of symptoms that I experience as a result of ingesting contaminated food definitely do qualify as an allergy. So in response to Suzanne’s statement, I’m clearly really allergic to soy and wheat. This isn’t one of those “little white lies” that people often tell in order to keep their life easier. This isn’t just a dietary preference. This is a full-blown allergy.

But I think I want to take this one step further. The follow up question, now, could be this: Isn’t it reasonable to assume that EVERYONE who follows an Ancestral Health diet is ALSO allergic to wheat and soy? I’d like to go one step further, even, than that. I’d like to be the one who toes the line, and states that EVERY single human is allergic to wheat and soy. But I can’t. Not today. There are some very smart people with very impressive labs who are working on that very question. And they’ll come out with an answer in the next several years. Of that I am confident. So, while I’m not going to be the guy who toes the line and states, definitively, that we’re all allergic to soy, I am perfectly comfortable to redirect us to some of the experts on the matter.

What do the experts think?

http://paleodietlifestyle.com/11-ways-gluten-and-wheat-can-damage-your-health/
T
he Paleo Diet Lifestyle is an impressively well-kept repository for many of the Ancestral Health seeds of wisdom over the years. In the above article, they state that wheat causes gut inflammation in at least 80% of the population. Goodness… That’s a LOT more than just the people who are in the Ancestral Health community! But to circle back a bit: it’s fair to say that if you’ve come to Paleo, you’re very likely one of those above 80%.

http://www.eat-real-food-paleodietitian.com/Paleo-diet-reasons-to-avoid-grains.html
What a Paleo Dietitian has to say on the subject: Gluten is very hard to digest, can cause damage to your intestines, and can lead to GI issues, autoimmune diseases, skin problems, mental health issues, among other symptoms of a food allergy. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that if these were potential side effects of a drug that a doctor prescribed me, I would simply not take it. Autoimmune disease and mental health issues? No thank you!!

In Summary:

I want to first re-state that I really appreciate Suzanne’s comment. She has done me, and all of you who read this a favor. She’s challenged me in a way that helped me to consider my position, take a look at the research out there, and reaffirm my stance on the matter. Dietary science is not a “set thing” yet – it’s constantly changing! Loren Cordain, the godfather of Ancestral Health himself, has changed his position on fats over the past several years, and subsequently updated and reprinted his book. I will be the first one to admit that, while I keep current on the information out there, it’s never a bad thing to take a step back and reconsider everything.

Also, as a result of my research to respond to Suzanne, I have discovered that it’s perfectly appropriate for you all to state that you’re allergic to wheat and soy. In fact, if you’re coming to Paleo with health issues that you hope cleaning up your diet of wheat (and all grains) and soy will cure, you’re most likely in that 80% group who is allergic to them. Please, do us all a favor and start to help the restaurants around you recognize that they need to be prepared for that. Tell your waiters: “I’m allergic to wheat and soy.” But even more important than that, if they ignore you and contaminate your food, GIVE THEM HELL!!
Suzanne’s point was a valid one, albeit misdirected. We’re too willing to simply not go back to a restaurant who served us bad food. But that’s just not going to help the rest of the Ancestral Health community anymore. You’re all going to need to stand up for your rights. The restaurant who contaminated your food, against your wishes, has effectively assaulted you. They’ve caused you damage, and they’ve done it directly, and possibly intentionally. If this were to cause you to go into anaphylactic shock, it would be considered poisoning. You owe it to me, Suzanne, and all of the other Paleo people out there to tell them so. Tell them angrily, and loudly. Make sure that they know that they’ve caused you harm, and that it’s simply not OK. Put it on the internet so that I can see it in their reviews. Write a post about it on your blog. And then don’t go back.

11 thoughts on “About Paleo: Am I Really Allergic To Wheat?

  1. Pingback: Going Out For Dinner Tonight? | Urban Paleo Chef

  2. Very interesting post. It can be difficult to eat out in some restaurants if your trying to stay strict paleo because you don’t know what’s in the recipe even if not a main ingredient and I think this raises some great practices to help with that. Just might be a bit hard if you list everything you shouldn’t eat to a standard restaurant or they’d probably think it was a medical marvel to still be alive if they think your ‘conventionally’ allergic to all the foods!

    • It sure can be a challenge! I employ a few different tactics to make sure that I cover my bases, which I discuss in detail in this post:
      http://urbanpaleochef.com/2013/01/11/going-out-for-dinner-tonight/
      Notably, when I’m ordering, I choose simple foods, and I tell my waiter “I’m allergic to soy and wheat; I stay away from other grains and beans just to be safe.” This way, there’s no question about being a medical marvel. A soy and wheat allergy covers almost every chance that something may sneak up on you; and you can take care of other grains and beans with careful selective ordering.

  3. Pingback: About Paleo: Am I Really Allergic To Wheat? | Paleo Digest

  4. Pingback: What’s For Dinner? Baked Vegetable-Mustard-Marinade Chicken | Urban Paleo Chef

  5. A very thoughtful post. I work in a hospital and as you stated, there are many, many differing opinions on allergies, self-diagnosis of allergies or intolerances, extreme diets etc. I’m not going to go into my personal opinion here but I do admire and respect your openness to being challenged. One thought after reading your post (towards future articles such as this): I’d suggest that you use a more reputable resource than Wiki for diagnostic purposes. It wouldn’t stand for a second in medical or university settings. It’d also be good to see other ‘expert’ opinions from people who aren’t already Paleo believers. But anyway, that’s my two cents. Above all, I am glad that you’ve found a diet and lifestyle that suits your body and helps you to perform optimally. That’s all that any of us can hope for!

    • Wow! I’m really impressed with your response – thank you!
      Ok, so no Wiki is medical communities… What do they use for a definition? Most of the MDs that I know (I have 7 in my immediate family, all of whom wonder why I haven’t died of a heart attack yet) don’t actually have a functional source that they can turn to. WebMD isn’t useful, nor is it appropriate to pull up a recent list of the last 50 or so research papers written on the topic.
      Other experts… Makes sense. Since I’m in the Paleo world, I think in terms of Paleo. But yeah, it would definitely be appropriate to include some non-Paleo experts. Do you have an immediate suggestions?

  6. Great post! My son has an allergy/intolerance to dairy and no he doesn’t get anaphylaxsis but he does get quite a strong skin reaction (bad bad eczema) if he has it. Removing it from his diet has had an incredibly positive effect. I still consider it an allergy even though it doesn’t threaten his immediate life. Some people need to lighten up a little bit!

    • Cheers to that! It’s been quite surprising to see how people have been responding to this post – the “Mainstream” ones are telling me that it’s not an allergy until an MD says so (seriously?!?); and the ones with an anaphylactic allergy are telling me that theirs is better than mine, or some such… There seems to be entirely 0 solidarity, which is a real problem!

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