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7 Steps to Going Gluten-Free

Food

Below are Wheat Belly Total Health top tips for going grain-free.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

1. Start Phase 1 food eliminations. Get ready for a life-changing event on par with birth and marriage. The plan is simple: Eliminate grains, eat real, single-ingredient foods and manage your carbohydrates. For starters, try eliminating some of the things on this list:

All wheat-based products:

• Breads

• Breakfast cereals

• Noodles

• Pasta

• Bagels

• Muffins

• Pancakes

• Waffles

• Doughnuts

• Pretzels

• Cookies

• Crackers

• Wheat-brewed beers (Check out the best grain-free alcohol options.)

• Wheat-brewed liquors

• Bulgur and triticale (both offspring of wheat)

All rye products:

• Rye bread

• Pumpernickel bread

• Crackers

• Rye whiskey

• Rye vodka

All barley products:

• Barley

• Barley breads

• Soups with barley

• Beers made with barley malt

All corn products:

• Corn

• Cornstarch

• Cornmeal products (chips, tacos, tortillas)

• Grits

• Polenta

• Sauces or gravies thickened with cornstarch

• Corn syrup

• High-fructose corn syrup

(For a complete list of foods to minimize and start phasing out to regain your health, follow the entire Wheat Belly Total Health plan.)

2. Choose a non-stressful period to experience withdrawal. Leg cramps, crankiness, mood swings—these are all common symptoms of grain withdrawal. "If you have the luxury of managing your time, choose a period when you don't anticipate high stress," Dr. Davis recommends. "Don't choose, for instance, the week an annoying mother-in-law is planning to visit, the start of a new and challenging project at work or the week before your dissertation is due. Ideally, choose a long weekend or vacation."

He also recommends pampering yourself during this phase of the Wheat Belly Total Health plan. "Watch movies, laugh, enjoy a glass of wine, lie in the sun, get a massage. Like a bad hangover, this will pass," he says.

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3. Hydrate. The precipitous drop in insulin caused by removing grains also reverses the sodium retention of wheat and grain consumption, causing fluid loss (diuresis) and a reduction in inflammation, Dr. Davis notes. "If you don't compensate by hydrating more than usual over the first few days, you may experience light-headedness, nausea, and leg cramps," he says. (If you're hydrated, your urine should be nearly clear, not a dark, concentrated yellow). A great habit to start the day right is to drink 16 ounces (2 cups) of water immediately upon awakening, since we awake dehydrated after lying supine and mouth-breathing for eight or so hours.

4. Use some salt. Specifically, sprinkle sea salt or another mineral-containing salt on your food to compensate for the loss of urinary salt that develops due to the drop in insulin levels, Dr. Davis says. "Salt, along with water, addresses the light-headedness and leg cramps that commonly occur during withdrawal," he explains.

5. Supplement. Magnesium deficiency is common, especially in people who have consumed grains for a long period of time, and it can magnify some of the symptoms of withdrawal from grains, particularly leg cramps and sleep disruptions. "Among the best absorbed is magnesium malate at a dose of 1,200 milligrams (mg) two or three times per day. (This is the weight of the magnesium plus the malate, not just "elemental" magnesium; this provides 180 mg of elemental magnesium per 1,200-mg tablet or capsule).

"I advise patients to also supplement iodine with inexpensive drops, capsules, or kelp tablets (dried seaweed) at a dosage of 500 micrograms (mcg) per day, which is more than the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of 150 mcg per day and, I believe, closer to the ideal intake," he says.

6. Consume fats, oils and proteins liberally. "Do what your grandmother did and eat the skin and dark meat on your chicken, and ask for the liver," Dr. Davis says. (Just make sure it comes from grass-fed animals).

Save the bones and boil them for soup or stock, and don't skim off the fat or gelatin when it cools, he adds. Dr. Davis also advocates for adding olive and coconut oil to your meals, and making smoothies and salads with good-fat foods like avocados.

"Remember: Fat consumption does not make you fat, nor does it cause heart disease," he says. "Bury that bit of nonsense with the 'healthy whole grain' fiction."

7. Take a probiotic. Dr. Davis says to try getting 30 to 50 billion CFUs (colony-forming units, the measure used to quantify bacterial numbers) or more per day, and look for a supplement containing mixed species of lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria.

Yogurt and fermented foods can be helpful, but aren't powerful enough for repairing the damage done by grains, he says. "While fermented sources of healthy bacteria (such as yogurt, kimchi or kombucha) can be modestly helpful long-term, they are insufficient in the special situation of grain withdrawal, during which rapid repopulation with a broad range of species is desired."

He says taking a high-potency probiotic accelerates colonization by healthy bowel flora once the disruptive effects of bowel-toxic grains are absent.

"This addresses the bloating and constipation that typically accompany grain withdrawal, with relief usually occurring within 24 hours of initiation of the probiotic," he explains, noting that you shouldn't need to take probiotics for more than eight weeks, since the idea is to repopulate your gut with healthy bacterial species after the grains have been removed. (If symptoms such as heartburn or bloating return when probiotics are stopped, this suggests that something else is wrong, such as an issue with the pancreas or with insufficient stomach acid, which may require a formal assessment, or at least a more prolonged course of probiotic supplementation).

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