Gluten Free (gf)
These two small words have become increasingly popular over the last few years. Whole sections of grocery stores are devoted to gf products and many restaurants are now including gf menu options. Almost daily I read a comment on Facebook about someone trying a gf diet. For many, “going gluten free” has become a new diet that will help them shed a few pounds and cleanse their body of toxins. Most of the people I read about or talk with are following misconceptions, either from misinformation or lack of proper research.
My purpose in writing this post is not to bash the misinformed, but to educate readers on: what gluten is, explain celiac disease and gluten intolerances, share a list of common symptoms, explain why going gf without an allergy can be harmful, and provide some suggestions on what and how to eat for ultimate health and wellness.
What is Gluten?
First, let’s tackle the word GLUTEN. For many people gluten = wheat; however, there is much more to it than that. Gluten is a protein composite, made of gliadin (in wheat), secalin (in rye) and hordein (in barley). These elastic proteins, known as prolamins, are insoluble in water and found within the seeds of grass-related grains. These grass-like grains include wheat, barley, rye, kamut and spelt. Gluten acts as a binder in grain products by holding them together and giving them a chewy texture. Gluten is also used as a thickening agent and can be found in sauces, marinades, salad dressings, and even vitamins and supplements.
Now, let’s talk about gluten intolerance. There are two main forms of gluten intolerance; celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity. A study done earlier this year by BMC Medicine found that approximately 1% of the population has celiac disease, while 10% of the population suffers from gluten sensitivity. While doctors have yet to discover the definite cause of gluten intolerances, many suggest the theory of the hygiene hypothesis. This theory states that due to the ultra-clean environments today’s children are raised in, they aren’t properly exposed to antigens in the environment during development. This results in their immune systems responding towards gluten with intolerance.
To have a better understanding of gluten intolerance, let’s take an individual look at both celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. Celiac disease (cd) is an autoimmune disease that occurs in the small intestine. When people suffering from cd consume foods containing gluten, the enzyme tissue transglutaminase alters the gliadin in the gluten, causing a reaction in the immune system that damages the lining of the small intestine. This reaction causes inflammation and damages the villi along the walls of the small intestine (villi are tiny hair-like members that extend from the intestine wall and absorb nutrients from food passing through the bowel). When the villi are damaged, they are unable to absorb nutrients from the foods we eat. Another side effect is intestinal hyperpermeability (leaky gut syndrome). Leaky gut syndrome is caused when both gluten and toxins travel outside of the small intestine, pass through the intestinal wall, and migrate into the bloodstream. It is the combination of damaged villi and intestinal hyperpermeability that cause the symptoms associated with celiac disease. Gluten Sensitivity has a much shorter explanation. It is a term given to people who suffer from similar symptoms as those with celiac disease, but test negative for the disease.
At this point, you might be wondering what the symptoms are for celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. The results can vary for each person, but some of the more common symptoms are: gastrointestinal symptoms, abdominal pain and cramping, indigestion/heartburn, diarrhea, constipation, flatulence, fatigue, headaches, mood-swings, mouth sores and nausea. For a complete listing please visit the following site. http://gluten-intolerance-symptoms.com/
Myths about a Gluten Free Diet
Now that we have a better understanding of gluten and gluten intolerances, let’s discuss the idea of going on a “gluten diet” to lose weight and detox. According to Dr. Stefano Guandalini, director of the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center, “People need a gluten-free diet only if they have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.” She goes on to state that, “The diet is hard to follow and may pose nutritional drawbacks when people have no medical reason to be on it.” Another well-known name in the celiac community is Melinda Dennis, MS, RD, LDN, co-author of Real Life with Celiac Disease and nutrition coordinator of the Celiac Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. Dennis states, “There is a misconception that the gluten-free diet is very, very healthy and you’re automatically going to lose weight on it. Not true. It’s not necessarily healthy. It has to be done properly.” She goes on to warn that eating a gluten-free diet can cause deficiencies in iron, vitamin B12, vitamin D, magnesium and fiber.
In other words, be very careful when making the decision to remove gluten from your diet. Many gluten free products are higher in carbohydrates, fat, sodium and lower in fiber. Adapting a gluten-free diet requires more than just removing wheat products from your lifestyle; making it important to consult with your doctor first.
Still reading? I hope you’ve stuck with me so far. I know the scientific side of gluten can be a little wordy, but it’s so important to have a clear understanding. That way you can make an informed decision regarding your health.
If not Gluten Free, how should I eat for optimal health?
Let me start by saying that I am not a doctor; therefore, the information that I offer here is from research and my own personal experiences. I recommend talking with your doctor before making any drastic changes to your diet.
If you are searching for a way to improve your health, lose weight, or be more conscious of the way you treat the environment, I recommend transitioning to a whole foods lifestyle. This is not a diet, but a choice to fill your body with organic, unprocessed foods.
For many people, this can seem like an overwhelming task and it may be difficult to know where to start. I’d like to help simplify things by giving you a list of 10 Steps to a Whole Foods Lifestyle. I suggest starting with the first step and slowly working your way through the list. Please do not feel like you need to immediately clean out your cupboards and start from scratch. Take it one step at a time!
Each week I’ll do a separate post and include more information on each step. Let’s get started.
10 Steps to a Whole Foods Lifestyle
- Start buying organic produce (Click here for more info on this topic.)
- Eat more whole grains
- Reduce your consumption of meat
- Eat more beans, legumes, and nuts
- Switch to organic dairy products
- Remove soda and sugary drinks
- Reduce sugar consumption
- Read food labels
- Remove processed/packaged foods
- Cook more meals at home & eat out less
I hope this is a helpful beginning to a healthy change of lifestyle.
Cheers to your future!