My Muffin Phase is Over. Here’s Why…

I was struck by a recent New York Times article (see link at bottom of this post) about a 3 year old who was diagnosed with arthritis.  The drugs he was put on did little to help and it was not until his mother radically altered his diet, eliminating gluten, dairy, and refined sugar among other adjustments, that his arthritis went away.  She is quick to point out that the meds may have played a role in his recovery, but she is convinced that it was the diet that not only cleared things up, but that brought on the arthritis.

The syndrome she refers to is known as “leaky gut” syndrome.  The belief is that inflammation in the gut (which is often caused by gluten or dairy or by antibiotics which wipe out good bacteria) causes the intestines to leak undesirable proteins or bacteria into the surrounding tissue; this then triggers an inflammatory response by the body – in this case, arthritis.

I have known about this syndrome for a while, but it was a bit of a personal wake up call. I’ve always been a conscientious eater, but when you have a little less time on your hands and a lot more baby in your arms, it is shockingly easy to let poor eating habits creep in. And those poor eating habits usually contain a lot of gluten and sugar. As I admitted in this post here, I had begun a decline into a world of morning muffins (rich in gluten and refined sugar) and evening cereal. I saw no reason to end this pattern as it was easy, comforting, quick and I felt pretty good despite the diet.

But the truth is I do feel better when I eat well. I am sure there is an element of the placebo effect at play – when I’m eating a kale and quinoa salad, it is not only the kale itself that’s working its healing power, but my mind backing up the kale’s effort.  So I’ve left my coffee-shop breakfast and boxed-dinner ways behind me, and am back to eggs in the morning (albeit sometimes in the form of crepes with a hint of maple syrup) and something-other-than-cereal in the evening.

As for Finn (my 11 month old) and his diet, I don’t have him on a gluten-free diet, but I don’t feed him wheat-based cereal or toast and today I went out and bought gluten-free fussilli (made with brown rice flour). This came about after witnessing him inhale a bowl (a baby bowl, but a bowl) of gluten-rich pasta. Were it not for me tugging the bowl away in between mouthfuls to allow him to breath, he would have stuffed the entire portion in his mouth. (As a side note, rice is still a grain and I try to limit both my intake as well as Finn’s but as it’s gluten-free, it is arguably easier for the body to digest.) I wrote about the difficulties the body has digesting grains here.)

So that’s where we are on our food odyssey. How are you feeling, now that we’re six weeks into the New Year and many of us have “resolved” to Eat Better in 2013…

(Here is the link to the NYTimes article.)


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  • michelle

    I make muffins with quinoa or coconut flour and surely there are other ways of going delicious and gluten free :)

  • Emily

    Could you speak more (or suggest some articles) about how much diet potentially plays a role in arthritis, in which parts of the body, and how you can determine if arthritis is genetic/injury-related or diet-related? I find the relationship to be really interesting because I’ve never heard of the connection before; I’d love to read more about it. Thanks!

    • Michelle Madden

      There are many different types of arthritis.The most common form is osteoarthritis which is a dejenerative joint disease (caused by age and/or trauma to the joint). Rheumatoid arthritis is NOT caused by age and joint trauma but is an autoimmune disorder which can strike at any age. Autoimmune diseases are the body producing an inappropriate immune response to tissue normally present in the body – often showing up as inflammation. So RA is one such autoimmune disease, which some feel is brought on (or at least worsened) by the gut reacting negatively to diet, and hence an inflammation that starts in the gut and sets off a cascade of ill effects on the body.

      If I come across any more good articles on this I will post them…

    • the Iowa Expat

      Check out Wheat Belly by Dr. William Davis, or his blog:

  • SoMad

    I try to eliminate gluten, but at times really miss the HEARTINESS of grains/bread. My substitue when i “need” that fix is a great rice-bread substitute. Not sure if I’m allowed to name brand names (promise, my only association with this brand, is the stacks of it in my fridge!) but my faaaavorite is Good-for-Life Multi Seed Rice bread. No gluten/yeast,corn/soy/sugar preservatives. And makes me feel like Finn did with that bowl of pasta….Full and happy!

    • Michelle Madden

      Bring on the brand names! For those of us that are not bakers, we thank you :)

  • Guest

    I read this article in the NYT too, and was so interested to hear the growing medical evidence of leaky gut syndrome. I went gluten-free six months ago and have found it much easier than I expected. Going gluten-free forces you to focus on high quality proteins and an abundance of vegetables ( and fruit), which is just all-around healthier eating, regardless of your health/dietary needs. When I crave a baked good, I can make wonderful things with various gluten-free flours (including muffins!) There are so many options these days, and they really do work well in baking.

  • Cathy

    The blog “Eating Rules” has some great articles on gluten free…and alternatives…I just bought amaranth flour to make Sullivan Street Bakery’s no-knead bread…I do feel better not eating wheat, I also think there is an addictive component there —when you start eating more you crave more!

  • Gkirma

    I always thought that Rice was a grass, and NOT a grain.

    • Michelle Madden

      Rice is both — we eat the grain portion of the rice. In the same way wheat is a grass but we eat the grains of wheat. Because rice does not contain gluten, for many people, it is easier to digest than wheat.

  • Gary Rhine

    A “conscientious eater” eating hot dogs?

    • Michelle Madden

      The ones I get are from my farmers market – they are 100% pure meat, no fillers, no nitrates, no preservatives. They are as good for you as any high quality meat. I agree that hot dogs have a bad rap, and to some extent its deserved since many brands fill the dogs with low quality ingredients, but increasingly “healthy” food brands are now offering very healthy hot dogs.

      • Gary Rhine

        When then glad to hear things have changed because this is what you wrote January, 2012 –

        “I love hot dogs and it’s not a seasonal thing. If someone is cooking them for “the kids”, even in the dead of winter, I am known to request one more be tossed on. Street vendors, baseball concession stands, BBQers – bring me your dogs! (Bun optional, but extra mustard is a must.)”

        • Michelle Madden

          You are a conscientious reader Gary! It is true, I do love the taste of hotdogs – all kinds, but given that I now know what goes in them, I consume a ballpark frank maybe once every two years (and I love it :)

          • Gary Rhine

            Well you are almost there… and there is nothing hard about getting to zero.

  • Joy

    Dear Sweet Beet, I have been gluten free since May. it came after yrs. of experiencing gas, bloat, tight clothes and a generally uncomfortable stomach later in the day and waking up at 3:00 am nearly every night with stomach issues. After 3 days of being gluten free all of this went away.
    I am soooo happy that I found out what was causing all this distress and have been able to eliminate it from my diet.

  • Christine @ Savoury Traveller

    I try to eat an anti-inflammatory diet as well – it is a positive move for anyone who has an inflammatory disease of any kind. I do it because I feel best when I eat that way, most of the foods I like are options in this way of eating, and I have psoriasis that is less likely to flare when I eat this way and watch my stress. Personally, when I talk to people about eating this way, I prefer to focus on what IS within the model, rather than what ISN’T. I just find that when you tell people what they can’t have, they focus on substitutes, but when you tell them what they can, they are more open to thinking about the possibilities. I am sure some of that is my total distaste for the world of substitute processed food options though 😉