Hello SOTGC community,
With the start of each New Year often follows the resolution to get into a healthier lifestyle. One of the hottest diet trends now is adapting a gluten-free diet.
But what exactly is a Gluten-free diet? And could Gluten-Free be the right diet for you?
Gluten is a protein naturally found in wheat, rye and barley. Eating wheat is fairly new to us humans (we have only been doing so about 10,000 years) and our digestive systems have not yet evolved to figure out how to fully break down gluten and process it. For certain people, the presence of gluten in the diet can cause internal stress, and even harm.
Avoiding a few grains from the diet sounds easy enough, right? Well…
Wheat and gluten are also found in a high percentage of processed foods. Manufacturers love it for its versatility and low cost (thanks to government subsidies, wheat is cheap filler). Bakers love it because gluten gives structure and texture to baked goods. Natural and artificial flavors and colorings are often made with gluten, as well as food starches and gums. Gluten is even contained in some of the glues used to seal envelopes.
Things seem even trickier once you realize the many variations of wheat available, including: bulgur, couscous, dinkle, durum, einkorn, farina, faro, fu, freekah, Graham flour, kamut, khorasan, seitan, semolina, spelt, wheat berries, wheat flour, wheat germ, wheat grass and white flour! Triticale is a grain crossbred from wheat and rye which would also need avoidance on a gluten-free diet. By no means is this a complete list of where you will find gluten…
This stuff is everywhere! Why bother trying to get rid of it from your diet?
Here are some common reasons many people choose to go Gluten-Free:
You Have Celiac Disease.
For the millions of Americans with Celiac Disease, avoiding all gluten is a MUST. Celiac Disease is a genetic autoimmune disorder that is triggered by the consumption of gluten, which causes damage to the villi on the intestinal wall. This intestinal damage can create issues with nutrient absorption. The only treatment for Celiac Disease is to avoid eating gluten for life. Avoiding treatment (a.k.a.: eating gluten) may lead to many different health problems, including anemia, osteoporosis, gastrointestinal issues, infertility, neuropathy and a higher risk of several cancers. .
There are over 300(!) different symptoms associated with Celiac Disease. The majority of Americans with this disease are still undiagnosed, and many are a-symptomatic (meaning you may not feel, or realize, the damage that is being done to you from ingesting the gluten). To determine if you or a family member may be at risk for Celiac Disease, visit this helpful checklist from the National Foundation of Celiac Awareness: http://www.celiaccentral.org/disease-symptoms-checklist/
Special Note: If there is a possibility you may have Celiac Disease, it is highly recommended you get tested by your primary healthcare provider BEFORE you start a gluten-free diet, because the diagnostic tests work only when gluten is in your system. Once the gluten is removed for an extended period of time, your body will stop producing the antibodies and your intestines will heal, so there may not be enough abnormalities for serologic/pathology tests to reveal. Just as you would not expect your MD to diagnose you today some cold or flu you had last winter (the illness is long gone out of your system), the same holds true for someone with Celiac that lives gluten-free. I have spoken with many gluten-free dieters frustrated over wanting to get an official Celiac diagnosis from their doctor, but can’t without getting sick again from reintroducing gluten again daily for months so that testing can work. Avoid the aggravation later by getting tested now.
You have Gluten Intolerance
There are many millions of Americans that have very negative reactions from eating gluten, but that do not have Celiac Disease. This condition is sometimes referred to as Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS). Many of the symptoms are quite similar to those associated with Celiac Disease, yet persons with NCGS often report having more of them, especially gastrointestinal issues.
While studies have shown that this condition does truly exist for some patients, currently there are no defining medical tests your MD can run to diagnose for NCGS. Once Celiac Disease has been ruled out as a possibility through testing by your primary car physician, if NCGS is suspected a gluten-free diet should be followed and symptoms monitored. Improvement of symptoms from following a gluten elimination diet may suggest you have a gluten intolerance, and keeping your diet gluten-free may be the best course of action for you.
You have Irritable Bowel Syndrome
About sixty million Americans (20% of the population) have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), making it one of the most common disorders diagnosed by physicians. IBS symptoms can include stomach pains, gas, bloating diarrhea and/or constipation. For many, switching to a gluten-free diet may provide relief. IBS is now also recognized as a possible indication of Celiac Disease, so do visit your primary care physician for Celiac screening and testing before beginning your gluten-free diet.
You want to Lose Weight
Planning on losing weight by buying up all the gluten-free labeled breads, cookies and cakes available now in most grocery stores? Well, rethink that notion because it is a bad idea. “Gluten-free” on a package does not necessarily mean it is healthier, and unfortunately a majority of gluten-free baked goods actually have MORE fat and calories than their gluten-filled counterparts. Also, gluten-free breads are not usually fortified, so there may be less nutrients contained per bite than in regular bread. When considering buying gluten-free processed foods (or any type of processed foods for that matter), it is super important to fully read the nutrition labels.
Now don’t despair- yes, you absolutely can lose weight while on a gluten-free diet! Avoid relying on the heavily processed gluten-free foods, and instead choose to fill your shopping cart with fresh, whole fruits and veggies in a rainbow of colors. Load up on leafy greens, beans and legumes, and grab lean proteins, gluten-free whole grains, nuts and seeds to write your own recipe for weight-loss success, as well as better health too.
At a loss for what to eat in replacement of those gluten-filled grains? Then be sure to tune in for my second part to this