Many of us are inundated with news and opinions about gluten, dairy, and sugar.  You can’t go to the grocery store without seeing a sundry of labels offering gluten, dairy, and sugar free products.  Most of the time, these products are more expensive and the ingredients are cause for skepticism.  Many of us wonder if this is just a marketing fad designed to line the pockets of the weight loss and anti-aging industry.

However, there are reputable studies by researchers and scientists looking into the connection between gluten, dairy, and sugar intolerance and mental health.  We know there is a connection between our gut microbiome and behavior changes.  For instance, if you normally consume less sugar and you then eat brownies, cookies, ice cream and have a coke, you might notice a major change in your mood.  This is to be expected.  Yet, what if you don’t binge but you are consuming gluten, dairy, and sugar on a normal basis as part of your everyday diet.  How does that impact behavior?

First, let’s define gluten.  It is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye.  Gluten releases a chemical called gliadin that triggers another chemical (Zomulin) to open up tight junctions in our digestive tract to allow fluid to flow through.  These junctions remain tight to protect against bacterial infections.  Since the 1700s, gluten additives have increased due to the need for greater commercial need of products.  These additives are harder to tolerate and can cause more digestive problems leading to leaky gut syndrome for some people.  The digestive membranes can become compromised and can shift to more unwanted bacterial growth.  Another problem is that gluten additives can lead to less blood flow to the brain.

What about dairy?  Most people associate dairy intolerance and allergies to lactose.  This is the primary sugar in dairy.  Some people don’t produce enough of the chemical lactase, which helps to break down lactose, leading to discomfort.  According to researchers, this is not the primary problem with mental health issues.  The most allergenic part of dairy is casein and whey.  These two substances lead to inflammation and can contribute to anxiety, OCD, and depression for some people.

Finally, we know that sugar can be friend and foe to all of us.  In the United States, the average person consumes products that are the equivalent to 31 teaspoons of sugar a day.  Many of our grocery items have hidden sugars and might seem like a healthy choice.  Several studies indicate that consuming high sugar foods can cause a 23% increase in rates of clinical depression.

So, should we switch to a lifestyle that eliminates gluten, dairy, and sugar?  For some, that might be reasonable, but most of us are not going to be able to make that work long term.  Many of the substitute products are not good alternatives due to other chemicals and additives.  Unless you have a true allergy, which can be diagnosed with testing and elimination diets, it is best to reduce overindulging in gluten, dairy, and sugar.  Substituting with whole food options, such as fruits for sugary snacks, lettuce to replace bread, and avocado or coconut milk to replace cream, is going to lead to positive mental health changes.