Lesson 3. What Is Wrong With The Grains?

Nutritional guide for Hashimoto’s disease series

It’s no secret that grains in foods such as pastas, breads, cereals, rolls, bagels and muffins build the foundation of the modern American diet. The Food Pyramid Guideline makes grains the most important food group for a balanced diet and suggests that we should eat a lot of them.

However, following this strategy sets up for health problems and degenerative diseases such as heart disease, adult-onset diabetes, PCOS and autoimmune conditions.

This statement contradicts everything you may have heard about the healthy diet. Nowadays, wheat is eaten in different forms every day and almost at every meal. The nutritionists and health-food experts often recommend to replace refined grains with whole grains because they are healthy foods.

The food companies want you to believe that grains should be a main component of your diet and promote high whole grain intake virtually everywhere. Instead, the grains should play a minimal role in your diet and people who have autoimmune diseases should not eat most of the grains at all.

Difference Between Gluten Intolerance And Celiac Disease

Millions of people are unknowingly sensitive to gluten which is a protein found in many common grains such as wheat, rye and barley. Most people with gluten sensitivity are asymptomatic or have very non-specific symptoms outside the digestive tract such as fatigue or headaches.

In this form of a “silent celiac disease” ingestion of gluten damages the intestines and triggers nutritional deficiencies, cancer of the small intestine, anemia and autoimmune diseases.

Grain allergies and addictions, particularly to wheat, are very common and are contributors to allergic symptoms, aches, pains and digestive upsets. One out of four individuals with Hashimoto’s disease has dermatitis herpetiformis, which is an extremely itchy rash caused by gluten intolerance.

Celiac disease was found in up to 13% of patients with Hashimoto’s disease.

There is a growing evidence that gluten does not only causes celiac disease but also is one of possible triggers of Hashimoto’s disease. Some people have both celiac and Hashimoto’s  while others show sensitivity to gluten that can aggravate their symptoms and contribute to Hashimoto’s.

There is a difference between gluten sensitivity and celiac disease and these terms have been created in the medical literature to separate these two health conditions. People who test negative to celiac disease may still experience gluten allergy symptoms called non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

Many people who are allergic to wheat and gluten containing grains, however do not have and will never develop celiac disease. Their immune system produces IgG antibodies that attack gluten and cause numerous often unexplained symptoms that may never progress to full developed celiac disease. There is a complicated mechanism how gluten can cause the disease.

Until recently, the tests available for gluten sensitivity were unreliable. The conventional testing methods often produce inconclusive results or the test come negative even if a patient have gluten intolerance. In the following video, Dr. Brady Hurst introduces a new more accurate testing for gluten sensitivity:

A gluten-free diet is a life-time requirement in these conditions that means complete avoidance of foods that contain wheat (duram, triticale, kamut), oats, rye, spelt and barley. Foods and products made from these grains are not allowed and most of grain, pasta, cereal, beer or many processed foods are on the Gluten containing foods list.

Cross-Reactivity With Other Foods

Despite of clear symptoms and indications for celiac half of patients do not feel better being on the gluten free diet and up to 90% of patients never heal their intestinal damage. Newer research shows that one of possible explanations is cross-reactivity of gluten with other foods.

In cross-reactivity the body mistakes another food for gluten and shows autoimmune response. For example, the structure of dairy is so close to gluten that it could be mistaken for gluten. At the moment, there are 24 different foods that may be causing cross-reactivity some of which are dairy, coffee, amaranth, quinoa and yeast.

High Carbohydrate Diet

The problem with the grain products even if they are gluten-free is that it’s still unhealthy food:

  • Some of gluten-free foods are refined products that unfavourably affect blood sugar metabolism.
  • Gluten-free grains are high in carbohydrates and high in calories especially compared to nutrients they provide.
  • Diets high in carbohydrates are associated with most modern day health problems such as increased autoimmunity, PCOS, osteoporosis, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer.
  • Carbohydrates have drug like substances that create food addictions in many people. Eating carbs and sweets can promote a sense of comfort and sometimes a high or euphoric feeling.

Many foods that are marketed as healthy and gluten-free safe are not healthy after all. One example is grain cereals. There are many issues with cereals that you cannot ignore , especially if you have a thyroid disease. Among all foods, sweets and grains even if they are gluten-free provoke blood sugar highs often followed by blood sugar lows. This blood sugar imbalance causes an energy low that lead to food cravings, mainly more carbs, sweets and sugar. This imbalances inevitably affect your thyroid.

Most vegetables (excerpt potatoes and a few other root vegetables), most fruits (excerpt dry fruits and tropical fruits), fermented dairy products and beans induce more favourable low to moderate raises in blood sugar.

Fructose doesn’t raise blood sugar as much as glucose, however it does a lot of other undesirable effects:

  • Raises levels of cholesterol and triglycerides
  • Promotes insulin resistance leading to metabolic syndrome X and type 2 diabetes
  • Accelerates aging process

Nutritional Value Of Carbohydrates

To get an accurate picture of how healthy various types of carbs are, you also need to take into account the total amount of carbohydrates different foods supply.

There are three main ways to evaluate the nutritional value of carbohydrates:

  • The glycemic index which evaluates how high a food raises blood glucose. Avoiding high-glycemic foods is health promoting especially for those with blood sugar problems, high cholesterol or triglyceride levels or problems with being overweight or overeating.
  • The carbohydrates density is the total content of digestible carbs.
  • The nutrient density is an amount of nutrients food provides in relation to the amount of calories or carbs it provides.

A Way To Optimal Thyroid Health

From the conventional medicine point of view, a  life-long gluten-free diet is the only treatment for celiac disease and is considered to be the best treatment for a skin condition which is called dermatitis herpetiformis. Patients with Hashimoto’s disease should be screened for these conditions and need to completely exclude gluten out of their diets if they wish to preserve their thyroid gland.

However, people who test negative to celiac disease may still experience unexplained allergy symptoms, which in fact often attributes to gluten or wheat intolerance. An elimination diet could help to identify or exclude gluten as a trigger.

In most cases Hashimoto’s disease is a Th1 dominant condition where the Th2 part of the immune system is suppressed. The Th2 is responsible for the production of the antibodies. If the Th2 is severely suppressed the test results for gluten antibodies could be false negative in the Th1 dominant patients with Hashimoto’s.

The coexistence of celiac disease, dermatitis herpetiformis and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is partly due to a common genetic predisposition. Patients who are diagnosed with these conditions share gluten as a common trigger of the disease and the genes CTLA-4, HLA-DQ2, HLA-DQ8. You could get a Gene Test for Celiac Disease and Gluten Intolerance and if you show genetic predisposition it is wise to avoid gluten.

However, genetic predisposition alone is NOT enough to develop a disease. Environmental factors are triggers of thyroid autoimmunity and have to be present to turn the genes on and initiate the autoimmune disease such as celiac and Hashimoto’s. New research studies suggest that some autoimmune diseases such as celiac cannot develop without high intestinal permeability or leaky gut syndrome. The bottom line:  if you have celiac disease, you have leaky gut. 

Since most triggers of Hashimoto’s disease are dietary most people if not all who have Hashimoto’s have increased intestinal permeability or leaky gut syndrome and impaired blood sugar metabolism. The best way to allow the intestine to heal, eliminate blood sugar swings and to lose body fat is by avoiding all grain products and sweets.

Non-starchy vegetables and most fruits are in the desirable group of carbohydrates, while products containing high carbs, sugar, soft drinks, fruit juices and most sweeteners are undesirable. In fact, just by watching sugar content in your beverages you can achieve more balanced blood sugar levels and substantial weight loss without dieting.

Avoidance of excessive intake of carbs and foods you are allergic to as well as a diet that favours starchy and non-starchy vegetables over gluten-free grains and grains in general is the secret of success for long-term weight control and improved health in many people with Hashimoto’s disease.

There is NO diet that suites everyone

The truth is that everyone is different and requires individualized treatment approach even if people have the same diagnosis. People with Hashimoto’s disease and hypothyroidism need to evaluate and change their diets because many dietary factors are the major triggers of thyroid autoimmunity. What dietary changes are right for you depends what triggered Hashimoto’s and/or hypothyroidism and how advanced the condition is.

Sweets or carbs cravings, energy lows, fatigue, depression, anxiety, brain fog, sudden hunger, emotional and binge eating are the indicators of overconsumption and addiction to carbohydrates and sugar.

Many holistic practitioners reported great results when their patients who suffer from chronic health conditions including Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), fibromyalgia, dysglycemia, hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s disease reduced sugar in the diet. All these health conditions can be aggravated by blood sugar irregularities and high carbohydrates intake.

If you have celiac and/or Hashimoto’s disease or any kind of gluten intolerance but do not feel better after going gluten-free you may feel better after eliminating ALL grains.

Most people who go traditional gluten free diet and are still experiencing health issues like bloating, fatigue and cannot lose weight believe that their issues are unrelated to gluten. In fact, gluten-like proteins are found in many other grains other than wheat, barley and rye and people unknowingly continue to consume hidden gluten that causes them to unnecessarily suffer.

It usually takes time to make dietary and life style changes we need. Furthermore, change is hard and you may need any help you can get to stick to your plan.

If you are overwhelmed and wondering what foods are causing your symptoms and cannot afford testing at a private lab paying out of your pocket consider to do an elimination diet. It is a great way that actually often is more reliable than a lab testing to understand how different foods make you feel and to get rid of many symptoms.

P.S. If you got here from Twitter or a link from a friend, why not pick up the whole series? This is one of the lessons in a free e-mail course Nutritional guide for Hashimoto’s disease. You can find out more about it and sign up here.


Best of Grain Free Meal Plans, Volume 1: A cookbook for those following grain free diets by C.A. Faus, CreateSpace, 2012

Dangerous grains: why gluten cereal grains may be hazardous to your health by  J. Braly, R. Hoggan, Penguin, 2002

Going against the grain: how reducing and avoiding grains can revitalize your health by M. Smith, McGraw-Hill Professional, 2002

Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health by preventive cardiologist Dr. W.Davis, Rodale Books, 2011

Why do I still have thyroid symptoms? When my Lab tests are normal: A revolutionary breakthrough in understanding Hashimoto’s disease and hypothyroidism by D. Kharrazian, Morgan James Publishing, 2009