Friday, January 6, 2012

"Wheat" and Science

I most often get lunch from a Japanese market up the road from my office.  I started eating at this place shortly after going Paleo, after realizing that the office cafeteria was hopeless, and the local Whole Foods not much better.

The market offers an odd selection of foods, including a bunch of lunch-size offerings of cooked and raw fish and some meats.  (Lunch sized for me, anyway.  The Japanese ladies at the registers always ask me if I want two sets of chopsticks.)  The advantage, for me, is that they have simple foods that aren't prepared with a lot of ingredients.  This means that I can find food that is minimally prepared, and doesn't have any nasty surprises in it.

However, ingredient labelling is spotty at best, when present, and labels are often in Japanese.

My typical lunch is a piece of grilled salmon, maybe some tuna sashimi, a Japanese cucumber, a rice ball (wrapped in seaweed), and perhaps some salmon roe, if I'm in the mood.  This has been going on for about 18 months now.

So when they recently introduced pieces of roasted fatty pork I was quite excited.  I asked the manager if they prepared the pork with soy sauce (which, except for one variety known as tamari, contains wheat), and, when he answered in the negative, became a steady consumer.

And then one day, they added an ingredient label.  The listed ingredients contained soy sauce.  I skipped the pork that week.

And then today.  The pork reappeared, as did the soy sauce on the label.  Since the pork was one of my favorites, I decided to try an experiment (here's the Science part of the post).  I wondered if, maybe, the pork had included soy sauce all along, and maybe I'd just come to tolerate it.  I've had a couple of incidents recently when I suspected that I'd consumed wheat, but hadn't suffered the stomach and intestinal cramps that I've come to associate with it.

My gut certainly seems to have healed as I've avoided wheat and seed oils over the last 21 months.

So, inspired by Barefoot Angie Bee, I gave it a shot.  I bought two packages of the soy-sauce laden roasted fatty pork, a spicy tuna rice ball (wrapped in seaweed), a piece of grilled salmon, a Japanese cucumber, and an Asian pear.  My Japanese paleo lunch.

I got back to my office, ate the pear first, then the rice ball, and then the pork.  It went well.  I've had incidents where upon eating trace amounts of soy sauce I've had that spacey feeling that wheat gives me with in seconds, and cramps within minutes, invariably followed by the typical watery diahrrea of celiac the next morning.  No, I've not been diagnosed with celiac. 

I started eating the cucumber, and it hit.  The spaced-out, drugged feeling from wheat.  Not good.  Happily I didn't get any painful cramps, but within 45 minutes I was sitting on the toilet.  Next came some bizarre throbbing feelings in my head, and then a nice dull headache for the next few hours.  I once suffered from what I now suspect was a wheat-induced stroke, so the head issues are a major, major red flag.  (Nothing like a little brain damage to get your attention.)

Oddly, an old back injury in my upper back that hasn't bothered me for years sent me a sharp stabbing reminder that it was still capable of inflicting pain.  (I later read this post from Dr. Davis.)

So, the experiment was a success in that it indicated that the addition of soy sauce to the pork was recent, and it confirmed that my gut is in better shape than it was a year ago.  It also clearly indicated that wheat is a toxin, and I've got no business eating it.

The things we do for Science.  I'll have to speak to the management of the market and see if they can ditch the soy sauce.

I'll explain why I put "wheat" in quotes in the title of this post at another time.


  1. Well, at the danger of telling you things you already know, first of all soy sauce isn't soy sauce. There is soy sauce, which has been fermented traditionally, without wheat. And there is "soy sauce" that has been mainly produced mechanically with little or no fermentation, and wheat added to make it cheaper and easier to produce.

    So it could be the wheat, or it could be a modern form of "soy sauce" not properly fermented – or of cause it could be you can't tolerate soy sauce at all. Try getting proper soy sauce (some brand product, free of wheat and traditionally prepared) and see if you have problems with it. But chances are if you have such problems with wheat, than soy (in any form) is no good for you either.

    If you proper soy sauce is not a problem, you could lobby for the use of proper soy sauce – but I imagine it would be a futile project.

  2. And while I am at it: A proper wheat-free sourdough (=fermented) rye bread (probably self made) could make a big difference for many people compared to the bread one can buy at the shops.

  3. Thanks, Tony. There are 5 traditional types of soy sauce. 4 of them contain wheat.

    Fermenting doesn't really make a difference. There were some scientists in Italy who successfully fermented sourdough bread to eliminate the gluten such that it was safe for a celiac to consume. But it's unlikely that you'd find sourdough that safe outside of a lab, as there's just really not a market for it, and celiacs won't take the risk.

    The last peice of bread I had was an artisanal sourdough, by the way. I had to lie down to recover.

    And I actually do fine eating soy sauce without wheat, or soy beans, for that matter. There's no relation between the two.

  4. Good for you for trying it again. Really sorry that you were sick from it again.
    So far I think I am still ok with it but still dubious. I don't get the intestinal issues but I hate that icky head and weariness that would last for a day at least.

    I get intestinal issues from soy and find it hard to digest.
    Eating is such a PITA!