Going Gluten Free
Going going gluten free is a topic most health conscious people are aware of these days. Perusing through the aisle of your local grocery store, you may come across many gluten free options, or see gluten free items on the menu of your favorite restaurant. You may have wondered what all the gluten free hype is about. Is it the latest fad or is gluten really that bad for you? Here are some facts to help you understand the gluten free trend and make the best food choices for you and your family.
What is Gluten?
Gluten is a protein substance found in wheat, rye, barley and triticale – a cross between wheat and rye. Gluten helps foods maintain its shape and acts as a glue that holds food together. Gluten can be found in many types of foods, even ones that would not be expected.
Where is it Found?
The largest category of gluten foods would those in the wheat category. Many common foods contain wheat such as pasta, bread, cereal, tortillas, crackers, cookies and baked goods, bagels and pizza. Both white flour processed foods, like pasta and whole wheat varieties, like whole wheat bread contain gluten. Gluten can also be hidden in some lesser known foods items such as sauces, salad dressings, food coloring, malt, beer and brewer’s yeast.
Is Gluten Bad for You?
You may have heard of Celiac disease, an autoimmune disease where the individual can not tolerate any form of gluten. Consumption creates destruction of the cells in the intestinal wall leading to malabsorption of nutrients and other health complications. Those with celiac disease must stay away from all form of gluten for their entire life. But what if you don’t have celiac disease? Is gluten harmful for the average person?
Gluten containing foods are a complicated subject, and the nutritionist in me feels it is important not to put foods in good or bad categories. The positive side about gluten foods is that it is a component of many popular foods in the US that taste good, make people feel good and are often affordable.
On the down side gluten can be difficult to digest an is inflammatory in the body. If your eating the processed white flour version, it can translate into high blood sugar levels which can eventually contribute to weight gain and even worse, disease like type 2 diabetes.
Now don’t get me wrong, an occasional bowl of pasta will not make you obese, but if you partake of gluten in excess, especially the processed kind, you may run into problems down the road. Many people start their day with some cereal, toast or a muffin, have a sandwich for lunch and maybe something like pasta for dinner. This type of gluten consumption can cause havoc on the body and lead to weight gain, altered blood sugar and contribute to digestive issues and inflammation.
Gluten Sensitivity & Intolerance
Gluten sensitivity and intolerance are physical reactions to gluten. Gluten sensitivity may or may not have obvious symptoms and can sometimes come up on allergy testing. Gluten intolerance produces some type of physiological symptom and may or may not come up on routine allergy testing. But for the people that experience these symptoms, it is a real thing. Many people, myself included, feel incredibly bloated, lethargic and aggravated when they eat gluten. This is in part due to gluten’s glue like nature, making it difficult to digest, leaving undigested proteins and starches to ferment and create gas, bloating and fullness.
Undigested proteins can also inflame the smooth lining of these intestines leading to permeability (aka- leaky gut), which can exacerbate symptoms such as joint pain, inflammation and allergies. For others, eating gluten can create intense brain fog and fatigue and it’s high sugar component, especially in processed wheat, can feed bacterial and fungal overgrowth leading to symptoms of gut dysbiosis.
Going Gluten Free
Although gluten foods can taste good, they are definitely associated with a long list of health problems and because of this I recommend that most of my clients try and minimize gluten foods in the diet, while those with more serious health issues often do best with eliminating it completely.
This may not be good news to some of you, and I often will have clients who tell me that they feel no negative side effects from gluten, no matter how much they eat. You may be able to eat gluten and feel fine, but I encourage many of clients to at least try taking a break from gluten to see how they really feel without it. You may be surprised by the results! Almost all my clients tell me that they feel lighter and less bloated. Some are even shocked by how good they feel!
Tips for Success
Ok so now that you know a bit more about gluten, you may be tempted to experiment with its removal to see if all the hype is really true. In order to be successful and see the best results I suggest that people follow a few simple guidelines;
First identify all the gluten in your current diet. This step is important and often overlooked. Bread might be an obvious source of gluten but as we have discussed, there are many hidden types of gluten and you may need to remove as well to see a real difference.
I suggest that people pull out all gluten foods for at least 2 weeks. Some people will notice feeling light and less bloated in just a few days, but you may need a little time to really feel a difference.
If your feeling good off of gluten for a few weeks, see if you can go longer. Try and make it to 30 days or even 45 days without gluten in your diet. Those with complicated health issues may need to consider removing gluten from anywhere to 3-6 months or perhaps permanently. Deep inflammation is tough to resolve and the body needs a serious rest to make this happen.
If your working on complicated health issues you may also consider removing dairy and all sugar, as they too can create inflammation in the body.
Don’t substitute gluten for gluten free varieties. This is a huge mistake I see many people make when trying to go gluten free. There are tons of gluten free foods out on the market and it can tempting when giving up bread and pasta to simply switch them out for gluten free varieties. The truth is gluten free doesn't mean it’s better. Gluten free foods often contain complex mixes of grains that your body may not be used to digesting. I have seen more than a few nutrition clients have horrible reactions to gluten free foods with GI upset, gas, bloating and diarrhea. Because the grains in gluten free foods are mixed it can be difficult to identify what exact grain you are reacting too. Plus gluten free foods are often loaded with sugar to make them taste palatable. My best advice just stay away!
Are you wanting help successfully implementing a gluten free diet? I create individualized meal plans tailored to your health needs and goals. Take the guesswork out going gluten free the right way and contact me to get your gluten free meal plan tools today!