Something trendy is running rampant in health and fitness world and every wellness warrior has stumbled across the words “gluten free.” A Gluten Free diet is currently the greatest thing since sliced bread – so to speak. Gluten is often blamed for weight gain and intestinal trouble, which might make a gluten free diet seem much more appealing.
So, what exactly is gluten and why has it risen to celebrity status?
The Skinny On Gluten
Gluten is a binding protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. In normal, healthy individuals this protein poses no serious problems or health concerns.
Individuals suffering from celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, and wheat allergies might notice adverse side effects after ingesting gluten-containing foods.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that affects the digestive process of the small intestine and causes painful intestinal tissue damage. The only way to truly diagnose Celiac disease is through extensive blood work and intestinal biopsies. An estimated 1 in 133 Americans, or about 1% of the population, has celiac disease.
Non-celiac gluten sensitivity (or what many people refer to as “gluten intolerance”) is much different from celiac disease. This sensitivity causes the body to produce a stress response that is usually characterized by unpleasant GI symptoms such as bloating, constipation, and cramps after ingesting gluten. An estimated 5-8% of the population suffers from non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
A wheat allergy causes an immune system response that is time-limited and does not cause lasting harm to body tissues. A wheat allergy is most commonly characterized by inflammation, diarrhea/constipation, gas, and/or nausea. Wheat allergies are common in children and usually resolve around 3-5 years of age. Wheat allergies are not common in adults.
To Be or Not To Be?
Completely eliminating gluten is crucial for anyone who has been diagnosed with celiac disease. Unless you are part of that 1%, or the 5-8% who are gluten intolerant, eradicating gluten will not help you lose weight or boost energy.
So, why do individuals and athletes who have gone gluten free swear by its energizing nature, weight loss qualities, and nutritional benefits? Simple. By cutting out gluten, one typically becomes more likely to read labels and choose food more cautiously. Processed and fast foods are limited and higher quality grains, such as quinoa, are eaten more often.
Basically, going gluten free results in clean eating.
With that being said, gluten-free is not synonymous with healthy eating. Take a look at a few labels touting the words “gluten free.” You might find shockingly high amounts of sugar, fat, artificial sweeteners, and artificial flavors. Gluten-free breads, cakes, and cookies are not always healthy alternatives to foods like whole grain breads, whole-wheat pasta, and oats.
When a gluten free diet is done incorrectly, it’s simply an overpriced food version of diet soda. Just as unhealthy as the original; if not more. As a health coach, I promote clean eating and balance. Read labels on anything packaged. Choose whole fruits, vegetables, and protein-rich grains. Limit your consumption of processed foods (which usually contain gluten), opt for lean meats, and enjoy treats in moderation.