Posts in Nutrition
Lets talk about sleep, Momma!

Listen up, ladies - did you know that we tip the scales on suffering more with insomnia than men?  Stress (sleepless kiddos, anyone?) and traumatic events can trigger an acute case of insomnia, while longer struggles with difficulty falling asleep and/or staying asleep can be stem from some medications, substance use, hormone imbalance or medical conditions.  

We also tend to be the ones responding to the children, doing the nighttime work, and balancing out those late nights with that morning, mid-morning and afternoon caffeine - which all on its own, can mess with our sleep patterns.  The gift in the sleeplessness is, as Mommas, we often have a pack of really beautiful reasons why we’re not getting what we need and it will likely be a season. This doesn’t make it any easier and that’s why I’ve collected my favorite sleep hygiene tips in a quick and easy download.  

First things first, what happens when I’m sleeping?

Your brain processes, formed memories and consolidates informationWhen you’re asleep, your brain doesn’t shut off, it gets to work encoding and solidifying the memories you made during the say.  The REM dream states takes your fresh memories and files them away from the hippocampus, to the cortex for long term storage. When this happens, you can keep new memories, new learning.  Learning a new skill like mothering, studying for schooling or integrating anything that’s new to you depends on sleep.  

Your body powers down and lays low for those traditionally more dangerous hours. While we’re not regularly outrunning lions, tigers and bears during the daytime, we are outrunning crabby toddlers, navigating relational conflict and working through our own struggles during the day.  When we sleep, there is balance to the go-go-go of the day, allowing us to do it again and again.

Energy Conservation. Did you know that your metabolism is reduced by as much as 10% during sleep?  It’s all to make room for the other activities of sleep.

Dreaming.  Sometimes dreams are fun and sweet, other times they can be tricky and frightening but they’re thought to play a key roll in the integration of experiences and emotions.

Tissue healing and growth.  Your body produces Growth Hormone, at the highest levels in the overnight hours - this is required to grow new tissue.  As we conserve energy typically spent on thinking, eating and talking, our body is freed up to focus energy on restoration: healing, y’all - happens when we sleep! 

Your immune system gets a boost.  Your long term health sees a direct boost or decline by how much space you allow your body to sleep.  Both the activity and replication of your immune cells are higher during nighttime hours.  

New neural pathways.  Your brain is in charge of this whole thing we call, life, right?  At night your brain will reinforce and strengthen the connections we use most often.  That means the meditation and affirmations you’ve been reciting to yourself when little Jennie is stretching you - they’ll have a better chance of sticking when you gift your brain the sleep hours to make new neural connections.  This process is dependent on getting enough sleep, regularly.  

Detoxification.  Your brain shrinks while you sleep, freeing up extracellular space by 60%.  Why was this the design? So that there would be more space between cells for the removal of toxins.  A toxic burden created by lack of sleep means your biological systems and foundations cease to function normally.  Been there, done that, about to pause and take a nap as preventative measures, myself.  

Microbiome management.  For my girls working hard on their gut health, your sleep matters to your gut bugs.  Sleep is the maintenance crew for gut flora, allowing the microbiome to thrive.  

Why do I need sleep and how much?

If that long list of tasks your body needs to get to is motivation enough for you to head to bed, think of all that you are capable of when you feel rested.  Your sleep quantity need and stages vary throughout life, based on development and your age.  A general healthy starting point is 7-8 hours per night. If you’re feeling the need to sleep 9 or more hours, respond to your body’s innate intelligence with adequate rest - chances are you are needing the sleep to heal from an underlying condition.  To check on sleep adequacy notice how you feel when you wake - are you rested and refreshed? Did you wake up on your own?  

Keeping a sleep journal is a great way to reveal patterns and see root causes - bonus points if you work with a practitioner who can help you identify the roots of your sleep dysfunction and work toward finding solutions. 

Some natural ways to fortify my sleeping?  Yes, please! 

Kick the caffeine. That caffeine is so great at giving you a boost because it binds to the adenosine receptor sites in the brain.  Ok, Elizabeth, don’t care why, just need it to be working, what’s adenosine anyway?  Adenosine is a sleepy neurotransmitter and if your caffeine is hopping on those plug-in spots, it won’t activate effectively.  If you’re one of the lucky ladies whose body clears caffeine slowly, it’s half-life os 5-7+ hours will keep you up at bedtime.  

Whole food, nutrient-dense diet.  Just as we work toward removing caffeine, we want to work toward removing other stimulants like sugar and alcohol.  Not only do they promote sleeplessness, but they can function as anti-nutrients - leaching sleep-supportive nutrients from our bodies.  Some foods we know to support sleep include almonds, white rice, bananas, walnuts, tart cherries, kiwi fruit and organ meats.  

Integrate herbs.  The classic standby sleep-inducer is a cup of chamomile tea.  Perhap less readily available, the flowering plant Valerian has shown in research to improve sleep quality and overall effectiveness with clinical insomnia as well as a reduction in the amount of time it takes to fall asleep.  Passionflower, readily available as a tincture may improve sleep in those with restless or disrupted sleep.  Lavender (pop out the oils, Momma) promotes an increase in that slow-wave, deep sleep.  Skullcap serves as a nerve tonic, calming the mind while lemon balm promotes sleep by reducing sleep disturbances, reducing restlessness and promoting a sense of calm.  Hops can also act in a sedative manner on the body.  

Manage inflammation.  Diets rich in inflammation regulating omega-3 fatty acids ahev been shown to improve your sleep as the hormone melatonin is better produced and releases.  Melatonin is the hormone that sets the nighttime phase of your circadian rhythm.  

Hydrate.  While increasing your water intake can lead to more frequent waking and urination, nighttime dehydration may disturb your sleep by way of dry mouth/nasal passages and snoring.  Plus, your body needs to be well lubricated to move out all those toxins and wastes as it nighttime detoxifies.  

Supplement with magnesium It’s the fourth most abundant mineral in your body and it’s busy working an essential roll in over 300 enzymatic reactions in your body.  Magnesium deficiency is becoming more prevalent in America as we shift away from diets high in fresh veggies and whole grains towards more refined and processed foods.  Magnesium promotes relaxation, calming the body in preparation for sleep as it promotes GABA production.

Eat for blood sugar regulation.  This is a key factor in supporting your nighttime waking.  Waking 3-5 hours after you head to bed, nightly? There’s a good chance you can work on regulating blood sugar and sleep soundly.  Blood sugar regulation has ripple effects on your circadian rhythms and sleep-wake cycles. Melatonin, cortisol (stress hormone), adrenaline, leptin and ghrelin (hunger hormones) all see significant shifts based on sleep quantity and quality.  Working with a nutritional therapy practitioner can give you the tools to eat to stabilize your blood sugar and to identify any nutrient depletions that are affecting a roller-coaster blood sugar level.  

Establish sleep routines and sleep hygiene.  What’s sleep hygiene?  The how and when and patterns of how your support your body in getting to sleep.  Grab my downloadable guide for sleep strategy below! 


Don’t feel like t…

get ‘cha some sleep, Momma.


Nutritional Therapy Association, Inc. (2019, June 26). Sleep, Stress and Movement. 

F. (n.d.). Sleep Support Protocol: A Resource For Practitioners. Retrieved August 19, 2019, from

How making dietary changes with kids can be easy (and fun!)
Hey, hey, Mae: I struggle with getting my kids to even try new foods, so they’re stuck on their favorites and those contain loads of what we may need to try an elimination for.
How can I make this work for our family?

For the most part we’ve all had to do it.  The baby is gassy so Mom cuts dairy for a season.  A friend is stopping by who can’t have peanuts, so we switch up our lunch menu.  Or maybe Dad received a diabetes diagnosis, so sugary foods are removed from our cabinets and the family must go on.  Implementing food changes can be easy...until our feelings and our kids’ opinions get involved, right?

Our family’s shift into going gluten and dairy-free came on pretty quickly.  My sickness hit quickly and progressed rapidly into multiple autoimmune diseases alongside a hefty bout with mono.  I had simultaneously just realized the connection to gluten and dairy as triggers for other health issues within the family, so we made those cuts house-wide.  I spent the next 18 months eating the autoimmune paleo diet to heal and eventually reverse some of my autoimmune disease. It was a worthy endeavor, but it was tricky on my heart and on the day-to-day meal prep as a sick body with two preschool sons.  I had to figure out how to skip eggs, gluten, dairy, nuts, seeds, nightshades, sugar and a couple other intolerances for myself while still feeding our family. And fortunately it was used for good as /I kept introducing my meals to the boys alongside theirs and slowly got to meld the two as the boys became more accustomed to variety.

For us, I was steering the food boat and the boys were tiny and riding it.  I also had a lot on the line as I was significantly held back by my sicknesses and needed to get better for the sake of my tiny sons.  Food changes aren’t always this pressing and can often be pretty tricky. In that season I learned lots about switching up foods, family-wide - to either widen our palates or meet our changing dietary needs.  Here are some tips on making food changes, whether you make many at once or simply do a family-wide or individual food elimination for a few weeks.

Swap for a substitution

Basics first.  Going to be eliminating dairy?  Choose a replacement for as many places that you’d traditionally use dairy.  Get wise about the available alternatives! There are many nut cheeses that you can grab to take for the girls’ night charcuterie spread.  If you tolerate goat or sheep’s milk, perhaps you get familiar with local farmers who sell their cheese. Grab an almond, macadamia and coconut milk next time you’re at the grocery so you’ve got multiple alternatives for replacing your toddler’s nightcap.  Whatever you do, don’t start you elimination until you have some substitutes for favorites.

Plan for those food celebrations

Our food gets us in our feelings a LOT so we want to be sure you’ve got options. Birthday party coming up?  Grab a can of dairy-free icing at the grocery before hand or pop over to my pinterest boards to find a suitable birthday cake substitution.  You can even search out local establishments that take the prep work out of “___-free” foods - a local allergen free bakery or even your local whole foods will have some easy options.  

Approach food holidays and traditions with a plan.  My boys and I do hot chocolate and whipped cream on Christmas Eve as a fun little nightcap.  Weeks before, I spent a little pinterest time perusing through ideas for Christmas cookie substitutes and also made a plan to grab chocolate almond milk to easily heat and tossed a can of coconut cream in the fridge so I could scoop some “whip” into their cups.  We didn’t miss out on the tradition and it was stress-free for me because I planned ahead.  No one was sad and frankly - no one thought anything of the melty coconut cream because we were doing our thing.  

Many items in small quantities

When working in new foods, present newbies alongside old favorites and cut down on the quantities you serve.  When we’re adding a new item the boys haven’t had, I will make their plates with 3 pieces of each food available that night.  They generally get to the end of their plate, are still starving and will often ask for more of everything without a second guess.


Prepare a food many ways

When adding in a new food, I often try to present a raw piece alongside a cooked piece.  Tonight we had roasted broccoli, so I tossed a small frozen piece next to the roasted one and an additional raw piece.  One boy ate all three, the other ate all but the frozen and just before bed they both asked to have a frozen piece to knaw on.  Now. I can’t say that I would have ever thought of frozen broccoli as great, but the boys like it at the moment and I like that they’re chowing down on veggies before bed.  I apply this rule to eggs a LOT. I’ll cook one egg scrambled, fry one next to it and slice a hard boiled egg in half. I’ll serve all three in a line and often they all get eaten and the boys have good questions about how they’re prepared, why they look that way, etc.  Sometimes it earns me conversation at breakfast!

Present fun food right next to veggie

Shake it up a bit.  Be wise about how you present the foods to your kiddos.  I like to put sweet and boring foods right next to one another.  I keep everything tidy and not touching because heaven forbid a child’s food touch!  I make sure to make not make a scene about which foods are yummier than others or reserve foods for the end of the meal.  If the boys want to eat all their fruit first - cool. They can eat all of their chicken last. It doesn’t matter to me the order, nor do I spotlight foods in lesser categories (veggies, eh) or “oooo!” categories (strawberries).  

Institute extras

With kiddos, sometimes play is key.  Both of my boys around 2-years-old were fascinated by dips and sauces.  With every meal they got a dip or two and meal time collided with playtime.  Dips can be anything from a protein yogurt to applesauce to pesto. The sky’s the limit when it comes to dips - remember that you set their food “norms.”  Pesto is just as much a dip for chicken as ketchup is if you make it so.  

My boys love it when I pair foods for them on the plate.  If I think they’d enjoy their noodles with a dollop of goat cheese, I plate them next to one another.  Since I know they love a dip for strawberries, I’ll put a dollop of coconut cream next to the berries and toss in a new piece of fruit they they may enjoy dipped.  Shapes and skewers count as extras, too. Roll that pickle inside of a piece of salami and stick a toothpick in it? I guarantee you your son will try it.  Call a skewere a fruit sword? Again….boys will down it all.  My last trick to keep some small cookie cutters handy.  I’ll press their watermelon out in fun shapes and eat the scraps myself.  Adding a little fun in for busy bodies almost always helps.

Community Plates

This is a great option for when you’re eliminating a food group.  Eliminating gluten family wide? Have a new-gluten night. Prepare a platter with several gluten free crackers, several vegetables slices in chip shapes and a few gluten free toast points.  Serve the plate alongside a favorite dip or few and use this happy introduction as a simple way to show your family the alternatives available. Make food changes normal and brave by talking about them and letting the family experience the options.  

Community plates can be great for kids to explore new foods, too.  Weekly, we’ll do a platter lunch. I place 6 or so pieces of a bunch of different foods on a plate and we 3 will share the platter together.  The boys get to watch me try the foods first and a younger brother will often mimic the older brother by trying something he otherwise wouldn’t.  And bonus? Just one dish to clean up! It also makes for sweet conversation! Another variation of this is to put various foods in each well of a muffin tin.  For some reason, digging in to grab their food is such a fun challenge and experiment.


Locally and seasonally

Take your family for a stroll through the farmer’s market.  Give each child a bit of money to purchase what they like. Challenge the older kids to find a replacement food for the food they can’t have.  Maybe you can add in a trip to the blueberry patch or strawberry field. When we’re involved in our food choices, we’re more likely to eat them.  And bonus to eating seasonally and locally, these foods are usually a bit less money and better quality. Seek out local foods and bring the kids along - you’ll be surprised what you find in your own community!

Whatever you do, play it cool

When I present a new food or drop a less-loved food onto their plates, I typically deliver the plate and resume what I was doing in the kitchen.  Or I’ll set their plates down with mine and move right into prayer and eating. I don’t watch their plates. I don’t comment on the new or missing food.  I don’t ask their opinion, I get right to eating mine - usually leading with the least loved food that I fed.

Water cures all

My final tip is one your Mom told me to add.  Water covers a multitude of sins. It’s a rule in our house - if you’re struggling, have an attitude, were rude, seem weary, have a headache, don’t want to get moving, your belly hurts...pretty much anything - you can down a glass of water.  There are miles of reasons for why hydration is so effective, but the biggest shift I see when I ask my littles to drink a glass is their disposition. We start every meal with a juice glass full of water and they are expected to complete the glass before their next meal.  It’s easy, but it keeps everything and everyone moving as it should. It also keeps everyone a little more willing to try new things!

What I learned about going dairy-free with children!
Hey, hey, Mae: I heard you stay away from dairy and am curious as to why?

Before we get moving on some dairy education, I want to recognize that stealing someone’s cheese is about as serious to Americans as removing apple pie from the fall dessert lineup.  My goal with this series on going gluten-free and dairy-free is first and foremost to give you the information that I have learned. Second, it is to empower you to see where some of the health symptoms you or your family may be suffering with can have connections to nutrition.  And last, I want to empower you to evaluate those symptom connections, and equip you to evaluate for your own individual body whether or not gluten or dairy are offenders for you. With the rise of the ketogenic diet, we’ve seen a wave back into eating full-fat dairy products, so dairy gets a lot of debate and chatter these days - and for good reason.  Let’s take a look.  

What is dairy?

This is a bit more familiar category, but dairy encompasses milk and milk products like cream, butter, sour cream buttermilk, cheese, ghee, whey and whey-protein isolate, yogurt, ice cream and cheese curds.  Grass-fed dairy, such as Kerrygold butter, is a type of dairy that involves pastured cows fed grass, no grains.  There are varying degrees of grass-fed and regulation is a bit unclear, so getting to the source - your farmer - will answer the question of whether the animal only ate grass or also dined on grains.  Dairy does not include eggs or mayonnaise which can have an egg component, despite their location in the grocery store.  

Folks with dairy-issues may separate out goat and sheep’s milks and cheeses made with these milks because they contain a more easily digestible protein than cow’s milk.

Why is dairy a problem?  And for who?

When you’re a baby you need milk for nourishment, right?  In this season, your body also produces enzymes to digest lactase - one of the many proteins  in milk. As you grow out of infancy, the period of most rapid human growth, your body makes less and less lactase.  Some adults continue to be able to digest lactase and many others, as much of 75% of the world’s population is lactose intolerant.  Of these, around 40% can tolerate goat’s milk because of its different protein.  It is possible to have a milk allergy or an allergy to any of the protein components of dairy.

Let’s think about milk and milk production for a moment.  Milk is produced by who?  Lactating cows.  Who lactates?  A female mammal, after giving birth.  Who produces a host of hormones on a sliding scale in the months after birth?  Female mammals.  Typical dairy process is to pull the calf from the mother after birth, so that her milk may be used for human consumption.  While pasteurization will kill potentially pathogenic microbes, it does not remove hormones. What pasteurization does remove are the natural enzymes that aid the human body in digesting dairy’s proteins.  Some folks prefer raw milk, for the enzyme and more whole-food and high vitamin content, while others see the history of the purpose for pasteurization and walk away.  You are free to choose either way: raw or pasteurized.  

Know what you can’t choose about your milk?  The hormones passed from the mother, into your milk by way of her natural process of lactation that is meant to nourish her calf.  If you’re struggling with hormonal based issues, for example PCOS, a regular nutritional recommendation is to remove dairy from your diet for this extra hormones reason.  Additionally, to meet the demand for milk in a country where dairies are closing left and right - cows are being treated with synthetic growth hormones to increase production.  Unfortunately, these hormones also make their way into your milk. More hormones = no thanks.  Dairy consumption increases the body’s level of insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) - a known cancer promoter.  

Dairy is also a common food sensitivity, causing inflammation, which is again related to leaky gut.  When proteins make their way into the small intestine, undigested, they can then sneak out of the gut into the body where additional inflammation will occur.  Dairy has been shown to contribute to elevated CRP levels.  Additionally, eating grass-fed milk and milk products will keep the cow away from a grain-fed diet which changes their fatty acid profile.  Grass-fed cows products contain omega-3 and omega-6 fats at the ideal 1:1 ratio, while grain-fed animals produce more omega-6 fats, also known to be pro-inflammatory.  

But I just can’t quit my cheese, ice cream and afternoon frappuccino!

The final detail to considering dairy-free and the most compelling reason in our home is the addictive component.  Yep, those feels you’re having aren’t just in your head.

Remember some of the main proteins in milk: lactase, whey and casein?  In the body, casein becomes casomorphin and as their names indicate, casomorphin has morphinelike components.  In our brains, we have opiate receptors - that’s why opiates are so addicting and effective when used appropriately and why dopamine gives us the good feels - casomorphin attaches to these receptors and can produce the same feels as opiates.  

The levels are much lower than a drug, but can give you lessened versions of the same symptoms: spaciness and “brain fog”, continual fatigue, moodiness, anxiety and depression, sleep problems and problems with speech and hearing.  Too-high levels of casomorphin and the similar component found in gluten, gliadorphin, are common in children. A significant number of children and adults with ADHD are found to have high levels of either of these compounds and of those, 90% are high in casomorphin.  

In our home, casomorphin addiction was showing up at bedtime.  Once I was done nursing, we’d offer a bit of milk before bed and the antics would begin.  Oppositional behavior, punching, severe tantrums, generally over-the-top bedtime behavior that was at times scary.  I started to notice the pattern and replaced bedtime cow’s milk with almond milk. Wha-lah. Sweet, little bedtime boy. But it wasn’t that easy.  Once I removed the milk, the addiction kicked back in and I found cheese missing from the fridge each morning, then a pint of ice cream left empty in the freezer and corresponding handprints on the front.  My young preschooler was waking in the night and craving dairy and making his own way to consume it. I moved to remove all dairy from the home and we spent a bit of time with an irritable little guy who soon reverted to his mostly steady self, symptom free.  Sounds wild, but I’ve seen the same addictive effect in adults. Needing a daily milkshake or stopping by an ice cream store (or 3!) daily, only to have extreme periods of busyness or an extreme crash after milk consumption? You might give second thought to why that habit is in place - might be the milk and not your inability to control cravings.

Some of this is sounding familiar to me, but how would I know if I have a milk sensitivity?  

First things first, I’d ask if you experience any of the following on a regular basis: Acne, constipation, inflammation, bloating, gas, eczema, allergies, unexplained weight gain, post-nasal drip, irregular energy, asthma, chronic infections such as sinus or ear.  Related disease states include osteoporosis, obesity, diabetes, heart disease and ovarian, breast, colon and prostate cancers.

Second, you can easily take a food sensitivity test through an at-home option like Everlywell, or visit with a functional doctor who can order a Gluten/Casein peptide test from Great Plains Laboratory if you suspect you or your little may have an addictive response to dairy.  This can be a key component in healing up behavioral and mental health disorders, particularly in children who have less body mass with which to handle these opiate-receptor symptoms.

But wait, don’t I neeeeed milk so that I can get adequate calcium?

Yes, we need calcium, but most Americans are getting adequate levels through our foods, what we’re not getting are the cofactors that allow our body to use calcium.  Seeds, nuts, legumes and leafy greens are high in calcium as are sardines and salmon, if you’re worries about your intake.

You’re able to grow those strong bones apart from dairy, but what about keeping them? Turns out, calcium is not be as bone protective as we thought.  Studies have shown no benefit in preventing fractures, in fact Vitamin D is showing more protection against fractures.  Further, according to the Nurses’ Health Study dairy may increase risk of fractures by 50 percent. When it comes to osteoporosis, countries with the lowest rates of dairy and calcium consumption (like those in Asia and Africa) have the lowest rates.  Curious.


What can I do if I suspect dairy may not be for me?  

Give it a rest for a season.  Again, it’s not forever, but we’re looking to have you break up with dairy for 4-6 weeks, then you can take note of your health and symptoms and compare them to the list you started the elimination with and compare.  If the change isn’t significant enough, then reintroduce dairy at one meal and take note of your body’s response. If you do see a shift in your health or a removal in any of the above symptom list, you may consider going dairy-free for life.  And the best news is the list of alternatives to cheese, yogurt, milks and ice creams is a mile long and growing all the time as producers respond to consumer demand. Now that’s something to “cheers” to!

Come back tomorrow for a practical lineup of ways you can introduce foods to your family and assimilate nutritional change no matter the ages or stages at your table.  This series will close out with a lengthy list of dairy-free and gluten-free snack ideas that easy to print and pop in your cabinet for a reminder at snack time, often the hardest time to stay on track!


Ballayante, S. (2017). Paleo Principles. Canada: Tuttle Publishing.

Brighten, J. (2019). Beyond the Pill: A 30-day plan to eliminate period problems, boost libido, improve mood, clear ... skin, and ditch the pill when you’re ready. Place of publication not identified: Harper One.

Greenblatt, J., & Gottlieb, B. (2017). Finally focused: The breakthrough natural treatment plan for adhd that restores attention, minimizes hyperactivity, and helps eliminate drug side effects. New York: Harmony Books.

Hyman, M., MD. (2017, July 27). Are You Still Consuming Dairy? [Web log post]. Retrieved June 6, 2019, from

Hyman, M., MD. (2010, June 24). Dairy: 6 Reasons You Should Avoid It at all Costs [Web log post]. Retrieved June 5, 2019, from

Mynar, S. (Host). (2019, Mar 19). Should You Go Dairy-Free Keto? Everything You Need To Know To Decide For Yourself -- #092 [Audio Podcast]. Retrieved from https://

Could going gluten-free be a game changer for your family?
Hey, hey, Mae: What’s the big deal about gluten and why
does it matter for our health and the health of our children?

What is gluten?

Gluten is a type of prolamin found in wheat, barley and rye. Wait, gluten isn’t a nutrient? Nope.  In fact, our bodies don’t produce proper enzymes to fully break down gluten, no matter how healthy the body.  

Ok, so, I just avoid wheat, barley and rye and I’m good?  I wish!  Remember the big food industry?  Gluten is used in many food processing methods and is often found hidden or not-so-hidden in many types of food.  Flours, bran, brewer’s yeast, condiments, french fries, gravies, lunch meats, soy sauce, salad dressings, processed cereals, marinades, sauces, spice mixes, chicken nuggets and soy sauce commonly contain gluten. Sure we can stay away from these food items and more with hidden sources of gluten, but there’s a second category of foods that are noted as cross-reactors for those who experience negative symptoms related to gluten consumption.

Generally speaking, as a body responds negatively to gluten, it produces antibodies to recognize and destroy the invader.  These antibodies can recognize similar structures in the following foods, developing a sensitivity to these gluten cross-reactors: brewers/baker’s/nutritional yeast, corn, dairy proteins, instant coffee, oats, millet, potatoes, rice, sorghum.  Does everyone need to avoid cross-reacting foods?  Nope.  

For a long season, I needed to, as my body exhibited the same digestive and joint pain symptoms when I ate corn or potatoes just the same as when I ate gluten.  Where there are negative responses to ingesting gluten, there is damage and inflammation. Once that is able to heal, the gut can restore and those cross-reactions can recede for most.  

Why is gluten a problem?  And for who?

Well first, let’s look at why gluten is a problem.  Gluten is a protein in wheat that is very tricky at getting across the gut barrier and into parts of the body where it shouldn’t be found.  

We know prolamins (gluten = prolamin) to be a gut irritant as they cannot be fully broken down by digestive enzymes, leaving undigested pieces in your gut.  And since the purpose of your gut is to let nutrients through the walls, so that they can make it to your cells and organs for nourishment, we don’t want undigested food there - only nutrients fully digested and ready to be assimilated into the cells of tissues and organs.  When the prolamins reach the intestines - undigested - they are able to cross the gut barrier.  Gluten can get through your gut wall in two ways: paracellular or through the cells that live in the gut or transcellular or through the cells that line the gut.  This sneaking through both damages the gut barrier and starts inflammation so that healing can take place.  Thus, gluten causes leaky gut.

Who does this cause a problem for?  There are two obvious categories: celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity(NCGS).  Celiac disease features a genetic component and any contact with gluten will cause the small intestine to inflame and be damaged, leading to malabsorption of other nutrients.  Non-Celiac gluten sensitivity is relatively new to the scene, if found in a person exhibiting the same physical symptoms as celiac, but they do not have the genetic marker or a wheat allergy and they may or may not produce antibodies to gluten.  Typical digestive responses would be stomach cramping, diarrhea, constipation, bloating, gas and other symptoms including fatigue, anemia, depression and weight loss.  

But wait, there’s more.  Aside from not being a nutrient, there are more problems with gluten.  It’s linked to over 50 diseases. Does this mean it causes disease. Maybe?  Each person is an individual which means that each of our disease states are a big heap of different contributors.

For me, my NGCS seemed to contribute to my anemia, malnourishment, tingling extremities, skin rashes, IBS symptoms and auto-immune diseases.

A key issue is gluten depleting nutrients our bodies need to function when the body expends energy to digest and mount a response to an indigestible food.  If the body is having an immune response, that’s more nutrients headed to fuel our immune system and damage to the intestines that will give way to inflammation.

Gluten also causes brain inflammation as it affects the gut-brain connection.  Inflammation that begins in the gut will grow each time we consume gluten resulting in eventual systemic inflammation.  When systemic inflammation reaches the brain you have neuroinflammation which leads to your brain dysfunction, cognitive impairment and increased risk for neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimers.  You may be having intestinal symptoms of gluten intolerance which can appear as behavioral or psychiatric disorders. Brain inflammation is associated with bipolar, anxiety and depression, schizophrenia & ADHD.  Do you suffer from one of these mental health issues?  Test elimination - NCGS may be a key to your healing up brain inflammation and improving mental health.  

Autism may also be affected by gluten.  Research has shown that while gluten is not a cause of autism, it plays a part in the gut-brain disruption portion of autism.  Children with autism have been found with increased levels of antibodies to the prolamin, gladian. Further it’s hypothesized that the peptides formed when gluten isn’t completely broken down may leak across the blood-brain barrier causing impaired neurotransmission and thus alterations in typical behavior.  

Neuroinflammation, gut inflammation, systemic inflammation, why’s it matter?  Over time inflammation in these regions leads to disease states including IBS/IBD, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia and autoimmune disease.  When gluten is leaking into the body your immune system responds. Each time your body experiences an invader in the body whether it’s a virus, a cut or these gluten pieces, it responds naturally with inflammation to fight off the invasion. Think about how your scraped knee doesn’t just bleed, it turns red and swells a bit.  Good body. And confused body.

Did you know that eating gluten increases the risk autoimmune disease developing?

With all autoimmune disease, somewhere along the way your body developed a pattern of attacking its own tissues. Molecular mimicry.  Gluten is a larger protein that resembles tissues in the body, primarily the thyroid tissue. When your body detects this gluten invader, antibodies are sent out to destroy the invader, but since gluten and the thyroid gland tissue look so similar, some of those immune cells attack the thyroid by mistake. In those with autoimmune thyroid disease, this happens each time they eat gluten and thus the thyroid is continually destroyed.  Thyroid disease?  Try elimination.  

So you’re telling me that eating gluten is all of a sudden a big no-no, but my granny raised my Mom on bread at every meal and Jesus broke it with everyone and was just fine?

Unfortunately, yes.  And for some of us with digestive response we can indulge in Europe with no consequence.  Some contributors to this shift are the use of GMO’s in America. We also spray our wheat with glyphosate to end the growing process, just before harvest.  Think about that - no one is out washing pesticides off your wheat that just dried in a field before it’s processed to your plate. We know that glyphosate affects our microbiome.  Perhaps the biggest shift in gluten consumption and its effects is the way we prepare our gluten. Breadmaking processes of old were an overnight process of allowing the bread to ferment.  During this time, the bread has its own growing enzymes that feed on and break down the gluten molecules during the fermentation process. Quick yeasts and methods remove our need to ferment, sending the original gluten into our bodies.  

What can I do if I suspect gluten may not be for me?  

First things first, proud of you for seeing a connection!  It’s a simple switch - and not necessarily a switch forever.  Commit to 4-6 weeks of no-gluten. Write down a list of all your current health pains and annoyances and tuck it away.  Eliminate all gluten foods from your diet.

Remember that gluten isn’t a nutrient, so replace it with vegetables, fruits and meats and you’ll be piling on the nutrients - providing the body with the nourishment it needs AND removing a stressor. When we replace gluten with sugar laden, processed foods, we’re replacing one problem with another.

6 weeks is not forever, it’s not even as long as it takes to grow a baby or as long as summer break.  Remove all gluten from your diet for 4-6 weeks.  At the three week mark take note of how you feel on paper.  Compare it to your previous list. Seeing improvement? Go the next 3 weeks.  At this point you might feel so great, you don’t want to turn back. Or perhaps it’s not really made much of a shift.  Try to reintroduce. Have one meal with a gluten-spotlight food. Take note of your emotional health, physical symptoms and anything else that you notice shifts.  Still feeling great? Try a day with 3 meals with a gluten-spotlight. Take note of your symptoms and feels. Everything from energy levels to bowel movements, skin and acne to attention span.  

Did you go gluten free and see a change?  You’ve got some damage that needs healing.  You may be able to rest your digestive tract and see healing or you may need to work with a practitioner to target the damage with nutrients.  But either way, you’ve gifted yourself knowledge of the way your body responds and what it needs. High five!

Another high five if you made it to the end of this article.  Next up, we’ll take a look at why removing dairy from your diet can make a shift for your health.  And if you find out either gluten or dairy and your body don’t mix, you’ll be able to download a giant gluten and dairy-free snack list to make life a little easier…because no more wedding cake snacks for this wedding photographer turned holistic nutritionist.



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Fasano A. (2012). Zonulin, regulation of tight junctions, and autoimmune diseases. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1258(1), 25–33. doi:10.1111/j.1749-6632.2012.06538.x

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Eating Gluten and Dairy Free with Kids: How and why would I?
Hey, hey, Mae: How exactly DO you eat and why?
How did you go gluten-free and dairy-free with kids?

Grandma’s brownies, chips, family-recipe chocolate chip cookies and pouches of fruit punch Capri-Sun were the high, yummy points of my childhood.  Add in a side of Derby pie and a homemade southern biscuit and I was living a pretty solid life. Which...made my recent health crisis and the subsequent changes in health our family needed to make for - mental health, ASD, ADHD and a host of anxiety and depression sides to thyroid, gut and skin health - more than a bummer.  Working through our healing was an easy path into nutrition for me as I had severe nutrient depletions and my boys’ issues presented long term outlooks in either medication or nutrition. There was little choice if I wanted to heal up, get to walking around and continue living a full life.

Maybe you don’t have any pressing health issues - just a quiet desire to feed your children well. But what does that mean?  To NOURISH our children? First, we must take a look at how we got here.  

If you’re like me, you may have been raised on some or all components of the Standard American Diet (SAD).  I was blessed with a farm family who ate salad with every meal and always a veggie or three, but I was not immune from the food triangle of our youth.  

Did you know that our American food system has been designed around the center in our brain that derives pleasure from certain flavors - sugar, salt and fat - called the hedonistic center.  When I watched my boys’ eating, I saw quickly how this region of their brain propelled them to foods that lit up this pleasure seeking center. It is here in the brain that dopamine production is stimulated, which fuels our deep sense of wanting - not satiation or liking, but a desire for more.  More sugar. More salt. More fat.  Anyone identify when thinking of a hangry 2-year-old or even a hangry me?  


There are biochemical reasons behind our cravings.

Historically, the introduction of refined sugar took our consumption from a few pounds of sugar per person, per year to 160 pounds per person annually in the United States.  Wait, what?  My toddler is eating 160 pounds of sugar annually?  Maybe.  But maybe it’s you or I having a bit more than that average - many people upwards of 200 pounds of sugar annually - that balances out that measure for our children.  And it’s not in our grapes and apples, folks.

Processed food, I’m looking at you.  

As our world industrialized, we looked for quicker meals.  We needed to eat in a jiffy so we could get back to working or resting from working.  Sugar, white flour and processed oil began to make up much of our food as Americans simultaneously transitioned from physical labor to sedentary labor.  It was cheap, lots could be made from it and it lit up those pleasure centers. More machinery now meant we could take those machines and get really good at mass producing all sorts of foods.  Producing foods?  Didn’t we used to grow and enjoy food that grew?  Of course we did.  

The rise of big food and corporate food producers meant a shift toward hyperpalatable foods that focused on that hedonistic center of the brain.  Add in a side of branding with a sprinkle of sugar and so many of us and our children were hooked on processed food, much thanks to shiny marketing.  Brands even have vast influence over public policy and research. Who cares?  Remember that food pyramid? Big food played a key hand in swaying the design of a heavily weighted main food group focused on processed grains.  Big food designs processed foods for our desires - adding in chemical components to foods (MSG anyone?) that can increase our hunger levels and even turn off our hormonal cues for satiety.  No wonder our babies want “one more...cookie, cracker, biscuit, popsicle….”. They’re simply responding with their biology to the way food is designed.

Eating these nutrient-poor, calorie-rich processed foods leaves us with increasing appetite as we continue to crave sufficient nutrients.  Packaged foods are also so much prettier than whole foods which often have dirt attached and the occasional bug or two - not to mention how much longer it may take to prepare these foods once they’re clean.  Cravings also begin in our gut microbiome, where the microbial populations present can generate desires for foods that their hosts - us - don’t necessarily desire. Toss in the rapid rise in food reactions adults and children alike experience and we’re often raising picky eaters who can have some forms of disordered eating.  Much easier to toss over a pack of crackers to quiet the squeaky wheel...ahem...whiny child...then fight the battle over peas and carrots.  I feel ya.  

I used to really like my crackers, cookies and cereal, too.  That is until I linked behavior issues in our home, my neurological decline, arthritis, deep nutritional deficiencies, mental health struggles and triggering ADHD/ASD behaviors - directly to various foods we were consuming.  Simple food journals showed me that the foods we were consuming linked directly to many of the struggles we were having.  

So what did we do about it?


For our host of issues, some of us spent a long season on the Autoimmune Paleo Protocol, eliminating immunosuppressant groups of foods (grains, legumes, soy, dairy, processed food, refined sugars, seed oils, eggs, nightshades, nuts, seeds) supporting healing and then reintroducing offenders to see what the response looked like.  Others cut gluten and dairy, strictly and still some can handle bits of both of these groups, in more whole forms. That’s the detailed version. We each moved toward eating in a bio-individual way, because we’re individuals.  Over time, through nutritional therapy - a form of holistic nutrition - healing has occurred and we’re mostly free from steep parameters.  

On the whole, we moved toward eating more whole, nutrient-dense foods and have stuck with no-gluten and no-dairy.  


The biggest question I get asked is “How in the world did you do that with children?” and my best answer is “it’s our new normal”.  My second is, “the boys don’t run the household food show.” Sounds harsh? Sure. But I want them to have as much access to their whole mind and body for as long as they can, to develop habits that will serve them and to one day send them into the world with the know-how to care for themselves in the best way, even if it bucks the system.  And I’m the Mom.  So I lead up the food attitudes since I’m preparing it all!

This article begins a series that will highlight two of the groups that we cut out and the various reasons for doing so.

One, so that you may identify understanding for others who have these food needs.  Two, so that you can learn more about the ways in which gluten and dairy work for or against our bodies.  I’ll end with a blitz over my methodology for switching the boys from processed foods to more whole foods and no gluten/dairy.  

To wrap the whole thing up, I’ll make available a massive list of gluten and dairy-free snacks that you can run to when you’re looking for a whole-foods option.  It’ll feature an easy purchased snack list, too - because let’s be honest - we are all working with limited time at some point or another.

My biggest goal is to free you up to explore eating FOR your health and preparing food to NOURISH our children so they can grow up to do what they were made to do!  I would love to hear your food struggles, concerns and questions!


Goodman, A. (2013, March 1). The Weaponizing of Salt, Sugar and Fat: The Secrets of How Big Food Got Us Hooked on Junk. Retrieved from Alternet:

Kresser, C. (2018, May 30). The Power of an Ancestral Perspective on Diet. Retrieved from Nutritional Therapy Association:

Nutritional Therapy Association, Inc. (2019, June 2). Basics of Nutrition.  

Nutritional Therapy Association, Inc. (2019, June 2). The Evolution of the Modern Diet.  

Wolf, R. (2017). Wired To Eat. In R. Wolf, Wired To Eat. Harmony.