Why gluten and dairy are so addictive

I often hear parents say their child LOVES carbs or just absolutely LOVES cheese (translation Mac ‘n Cheese, Goldfish crackers and grilled cheese.) Why is gluten and dairy so addictive? They contain “opioid peptides,” the same family as opium.

Here is a breakdown:

Casomorphin (frommilk)

Gluten exorphin (fromgluten)

Gliadorphin/gluteomorphin (fromgluten)

Rubiscolin (fromspinach)Yes, spinach is in the group, but I have yet to meet a child addicted to spinach.

What happens is these little chains called peptides from both gluten and casein (a protein molecule found in dairy) react with opiate receptors in the brain. It has the same effect as if you were taking opiate-like drugs, such as heroin and morphine. These receptors interfere with the part of the brain involved with speech and auditory integration, which means this part of the brain can cause addiction to foods, spacing out or having foggy brain, migraines/headaches, sleepiness, chronic fatigue, aggressive behavior, moodiness, anxiety, depression, and high tolerance to pain.

There is plenty of research to back up how a gluten-free and casein-free diet can help improve those who suffer from ADHD, depression, anxiety, OCD, schizophrenia and Autism Spectrum Disorders.

When a person embarks on a gluten- and casein-free diet, they experience withdrawal, the same as if coming off drugs. Children and adults often will feel like they NEED it. Kids will pick fights, throw extended tantrums. The same goes for adults. They get snappy, irritable, and while they may not throw a tantrum, it often becomes all they think about. When they return to eating gluten and casein, they experience a short-lived sense of pleasure. The cycle then repeats.

This is where parents fail. When they are transitioning into the diet, parents will often give in because they cannot take the behavior. It is just easier than dealing with the five-minute tantrums. Essentially the parents become the enablers.

How do you know if you should try the GF/CF diet? Here are a few indicators:

  • Abnormal bowels (constipated or not fully formed)
  • Their diet is wheat and dairy based daily (grilled cheese, mac ‘n cheese, goldfish crackers, string cheese, yogurt)
  • Aggressive behavior (biting, hitting, pushing kids for no reason)
  • Erratic sleep pattern or early risers (before 6 a.m.)
  • Headaches, inability to focus at school

It can take up to three weeks to fully be rid of gluten and casein with no reactions, but there is no cheating or you have to start all over.

If you suspect your child has a potential food allergy to gluten and casein, it is best to start with an IgG food allergy blood panel to really see if it is reactive. I often suggest getting tested for Celiac Disease before embarking the gluten-free diet. But if you want to avoid the needles, the elimination diet is truly the best way to determine sensitivity to gluten and dairy. Blood tests are not 100 percent conclusive, but still a good measure.

The best thing to do is to rid your home of all gluten- and dairy-based products for one full month. Don’t buy it, don’t be tempted to go out to eat and don’t give in when out at play dates. If you feel that stopping both at the same time is too difficult, my suggestion is to rid dairy first (Check out my Guide to Dairy Free Milks.) After two weeks, go off of gluten.

After 30 days being free of gluten and dairy, add some dairy back in and wait three days. Then add your wheat, but don’t add them together. Note any changes after consuming each foods -these can be physiological (dark or swollen eye circles, runny nose, fatigue, skin rashes), emotional (whiny, tantrums, irritable, aggressive behavior) and mental (unfocused, foggy brain, hyperactive, inability to sit still).

Always make sure you discuss the issue with your doctor or a qualified nutrition professional.


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