Gluten. This one word has shaken up how we look at bread and the food industry is making billions of dollars each year providing Gluten-Free foods for this diet craze. But I say don’t be so afraid of gluten! Instead, you should focus on the type of foods you consume. In this article I am going to provide the pros, cons, and misconceptions of a gluten-free diet, along with 3 reasons why you should AVOID a gluten-free lifestyle.
What is gluten? No, really…what is gluten and why will you not eat it? Jimmy Kimmel asked that question and received hilarious feedback surrounding gluten. Take a moment to watch the clip before reading on.
Before going any further I want to explain to you what gluten is. Gluten is the protein found in wheat that helps food maintain shape and texture. Gluten provides elasticity to dough and gives bread its chewy texture. Gluten is found naturally in wheat, rye, and barley (to name a few). Gluten is commonly found in cereal, bread, pasta and even in sauces, condiments, and salad dressings. Gluten is literally everywhere and here is a comprehensive list from the Celiac Disease Foundation of foods and other sources of gluten.
Okay, so why do you avoid gluten? You may still be pondering the exact answer to this question so allow me to explain who should avoid gluten. About 1 in 100 Americans are diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder called Celiac Disease and consuming foods containing gluten can trigger an allergic response in the gastrointestinal tract. The allergic reaction in response to gluten causes damage and inflammation to the small intestines. Within our small intestines are small finger-like projections called villi that play a role in the absorption of nutrients from digested foods. Damaged villi and inflammation decreases nutrient absorption causing a deficiency of essential vitamins and minerals.
The body responds adversely to gluten causing severe abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, headache, fatigue, bone and joint pain, decreased bone density, and weight loss. Any and all foods containing gluten must be avoided for those that have been diagnosed with Celiac Disease.
Now, back to the question I posed earlier; why do you avoid gluten? You may have heard the following health claims associated with a gluten-free diet:
- Gluten is bad for your health
- Gluten causes inflammation
- Gluten makes you fat
- You will lose weight if you follow a gluten-free diet
- A friend told you to stop eating gluten
- You heard it causes hyperactivity in children
- Gluten-free is the way to be!
Any of those sound familiar? Likely so because I have heard these claims over and over again. This reminds me of a food craze that happened in the past. Eggs. Eggs received a bum rap back in the day and were blamed for causing heart disease. “Don’t eat the yolk! It’s bad for you” they said. Hence, the birth of the egg white omelet. Everyone felt they dodged the high-cholesterol bullet and went along their merry way eating egg whites. But guess what? Heart disease continues to be the leading cause of death among Americans. And, we were throwing away the most nutritious part of the egg! No one considered how the eggs were prepared or what was consumed along with eggs. The bacon, white toast with butter, coffee with cream and sugar had nothing to do with the risk of heart disease (insert sarcastic eye roll here). The eggs were the healthiest part of the meal and it was being tossed down the drain! Eat the damn yolk!! It is loaded with nutrients such as fat soluble vitamins and healthy fats. And yes, it does contain cholesterol however studies show it does not affect cholesterol levels in the body. Today, gluten is the new egg debacle. Let me get back on-track…
Let me clear the air regarding some misconceptions surrounding gluten.
- Gluten is bad for your health. Yes, but only if you have Celiac Disease. The question you should be asking yourself is how much bread, cereal, and pasta do you eat and how often? Don’t blame gluten for all your poor food choices. Moving on…
- Gluten causes inflammation. Foods containing gluten may contribute to inflammation but the amount of processed grains containing gluten is a key factor. If you are consuming processed grains with each meal you may experience inflammation in the gut whereas a diet that contains no processed grains is likely to decrease inflammation. There are a number of factors that contribute to inflammation; excess sugar and dairy products are examples. If you want to decrease inflammation in the body you must assess your dietary intake as a whole, not just gluten.
- Gluten makes you fat. Sure, if you eat too much of anything you will gain weight. But, gluten is taking the brunt of it and being accused of the sole ingredient that is causing you to gain weight. Ask yourself, is it the gluten or the excess calories, sugar, saturated fat, and sodium? Again, we can’t blame gluten for everything. This is one ingredient among all the other unhealthy foods you may be eating.
- Your friend told you to stop eating gluten. Don’t listen to everything you hear and everything you think. Instead, listen to me. I know what I am talking about! In all seriousness, educate yourself and make your own informed decisions. Look at the research and obtain information from credible sources.
- You heard it causes hyperactivity in children. Review number 3 and take a good hard look at what your children are eating overall. Are they eating the Standard American Diet (AKA: SAD) consisting of excess sugar, fat, sodium, cholesterol and too little fruits, veggies, and fiber? If so, I am pretty certain the overall diet is the culprit.
- Gluten-free is the way to be! Says who? The food industry? Of course they will lead you to believe this is the way to be because they are making BILLIONS of dollars each year selling gluten-free foods. Heck, I saw steaks labeled “Gluten-Free”…steaks don’t contain gluten! The food industry is slapping a gluten-free label on anything and everything that does not contain gluten so consumers buy it up. What’s next? Gluten-free water? Don’t let the food industry trick you into thinking Gluten-Free means a healthier option. It’s just fancy marketing.
We tend to get caught up in what we hear. Why wouldn’t we? We hear the benefits of a gluten-free diet from our favorite news show, celebrities, rock stars, health guru, and social media. You may have ditched gluten and lost a ton of weight or have a best friend that looks amazing since following a gluten-free diet. Gyms, doctors, and “holistic” nutritionists are supporting the gluten-free craze so it only seems right to follow suit. But allow me to enlighten you with 3 reasons why you should AVOID a gluten-free lifestyle.
- Gluten-Free diets lack fiber
- Gluten-Free foods often contain more sugar and fat than their gluten-filled counterpart
- A Gluten-Free lifestyle is not healthier
Let’s take this one step further so you get a better understanding why gluten-free foods may not be the wisest choice or weight loss miracle.
- Gluten-free diets lack fiber. Fiber protects us from cancer, heart disease, and diverticular disease. It is recommended to have at least 25 grams per day. I recommend 35-50 grams to my clients. Individuals that follow a gluten-free diet often lack whole grains thus receive inadequate amounts of fiber each day. Think of fiber as a work out for your gut. It strengthens the intestinal walls which improves digestion and nutrient absorption, it maintains blood sugar levels, and it protects you from serious illnesses such as colon cancer. That alone is reason to avoid a gluten-free lifestyle.
- Gluten-free products contain more sugar and fat. They sure do! True story my friends. Extra sodium, fat, and/or sugar is added to improve the taste and texture of gluten-free foods. Any time an ingredient is removed it must replaced it with something else. Think back to the “Fat-Free” and “Sugar-Free” days. Fat free meant sugar was added and Sugar free equates to more fat. Wheat flour is replaced with tapioca or potato starch, all of which are processed and are not any better for your than white bread. What you are getting is a processed food with empty calories and minimal nutrients.
- Gluten-free foods are not healthier. No Siree Bob! Most gluten-free foods are processed and you may not have realized that. I have counseled numerous individuals that perceive foods to be “healthy” because there is a label associated with them. Gluten-Free, Fat-Free, Paleo, etc. You may think twice about buying cookies but a gluten-free option may be more enticing. The important thing to keep in mind is that processed foods contribute to obesity and disease. It is important to eliminate ALL processed foods from the diet, regardless if they contain gluten or not. I recently watched a video on Facebook from a women that is extremely popular and has sold numerous DVD’s, downloads, exercise and nutrition guides. She was sharing a recipe for a gluten free blueberry muffin so I decided to compare the nutrition composition of the gluten-free blueberry muffin as compared to a regular blueberry muffin made with all purpose flour. Guess what? There was no difference in the nutrient content. Both contained processed flour, sugar, and fat. The only person that would benefit from the gluten-free muffin is someone with Celiac Disease. And in reality, we should not be eating blueberry muffins. Occasionally, YES! But gluten-free foods seem to provide a false sense of security so what I have found with my clients is they are consuming these foods and can’t figure out why they are not meeting their nutrition goals.
Let your foods serve a purpose. Foods that serve a purpose enhance the immune system, ward off illness and disease, and decrease inflammation. These foods provide nutrients, fiber, lean protein, and essential fatty acids. Foods with purpose are those that are not processed or modified rather they are consumed in their natural state. Examples of foods with purpose are fruits, veggies, sprouted whole grains, lean protein such as fish and chicken, nuts, and seeds.
For more detailed dietary information feel free to download my Smart Eating Guide. Don’t be shy…tell me what you think and how the guide works for you.