Today’s topic is a hot button issue. I don’t know what it is with healthy eating but it seems that the conversation can escalate very quickly.
Over the years with food blogging I have come to learn this first hand. People are passionate about their terms.
When I create natural healthy recipe I always leave a tag line of explanations of what the recipe is and isn’t (i.e. if the recipe does not contain gluten I write gluten free).
I do this for two reasons:
- For those concerned about eating gluten
- To give a clear explanation of the food
When I’m saying gluten free I am describing the content of a recipe I am in no way telling people to avoid gluten or that gluten free is a superior diet. What I will say is that in my everyday food choices and those that I recommend to my clients gluten tends to not be in those foods.
My main diet consists of fruits, vegetables, quinoa, legumes and healthy fats. Naturally these foods are gluten free. The only time that gluten would come into my diet is if I purchase contaminated oats or if I eat a pre-packaged cooked food. So in those terms I do believe that the naturally occurring gluten free or low gluten diet is the best way to eat.
I am not saying to purchase gluten free boxed and packaged foods and I’m not saying that it is a diet trend. This is my personal and professional stance on gluten free.
I wanted to take this hot button topic and let it be the first question that we have a full professional breakdown and conversation with our resident Dr. David Duizer ND.
So I’m going to present the question to Dr. Duizer and he will take over from here.
– Amy Layne
Ask Dr. David Duizer ND – Should I go Gluten Free?
Gluten, gluten, gluten… the celiac’s nemesis and the world’s most feared protein.
In the past 10 years gluten has become the ‘bad guy’ at the grocery store, a topic of extensive research, has got people finally reading labels on their boxed foods (if you haven’t started you should) and many who have removed it from their diets have experienced great digestive relief.
Gluten is the culprit in people suffering from celiac disease, a relatively common condition affecting 1 in 140 people in the US. People suffering from celiac disease know they should avoid gluten. It is the first thing their physicians will tell them after testing positive for the disease.
But what about those who have similar symptoms but test negative?
What about those who just have better digestion (and other symptom relief) when they avoid gluten?
In celiac disease the lining of the small intestine is physically damaged by gluten causing people to be unable to absorb certain nutrients from their diet. This causes a whole host of symptoms including diarrhea, bloating, cramps, iron deficiency anemia causing fatigue, osteoporosis, headaches, etc.
“Non-celiac gluten sensitivity” or “non-celiac wheat sensitivity” is still relatively misunderstood. The lining of the small intestine is not damaged. Scientists have had a difficult time explaining the mechanism behind why so many suffering with Irritable Bowel Syndrom (IBS)-like symptoms experience so much relief from a gluten free diet.
It wasn’t until 2012 that the American Journal of Gastroenterology determined the need for “non-celiac wheat sensitivity” to be used as a title for a clinical condition for people in this exact situation.
Gluten sensitivity is most likely caused by a food allergy or intolerance to wheat causing an immune system reaction in the digestive tract and can be resolved simply by avoiding gluten.
Gluten is one of the most common foods we react to (along with dairy products and eggs) and should be considered first when suffering from IBS mainly because it is easy to avoid, you can see results in a few days and intolerance is relatively common. I will cover food allergies/intolerance in a future article.
Myths About Gluten:
Below I have debunked some of the common myths about gluten and have given a recommendation for when to try a gluten-free diet.
1) Gluten in general is bad for you:
This myth is a very common belief and it completely makes sense to think that way if you pay attention to the media and companies promoting gluten free products out there. Companies attempting to profit from this fad-side of the awareness of gluten have us convinced we need to step away from gluten asap.
Does eating a diet that contains gluten mean that I am on a bad diet, I am off the wagon and weight gain is in my near future? Not at all.
Gluten is found in some of the healthiest foods available. Wheat, barley and rye are packed with other great nutrients and are considered part of a well-rounded diet.
Here’s the kicker – when people begin a gluten-free diet thinking they are now on a “healthy diet” they are missing the point. Avoiding gluten can be helpful if you suffer from digestive upset, in general feel better on a gluten free diet or have other symptoms that disappear when you avoid gluten. Period.
2) Everyone who starts a gluten free diet sees benefit:
Many who try a gluten free diet won’t notice anything. Food intolerance can be caused by many different foods.
The best way to determine what you are most sensitive to is to try an elimination/challenge diet guided by your Naturopathic Doctor.
Food sensitivity testing is also available from most Naturopaths which can point you in the direction of the foods your body reacts to the most. It is an incredibly valuable tool because it is such a detailed test for your immune system against many common foods.
It is easier than an elimination diet and you can learn about how reactive you are to many different foods at the same time.
3) Gluten free diets causes weight loss:
Gluten free diets are not “diets”. They are not used for weight loss. They are normally used for symptom relief. If you are simply exchanging all your packaged foods that you consume for gluten free packaged foods it is very unlikely that you will see any weight loss results.
4) Gluten free foods are better for you:
Here is the biggest misconception about gluten. If you check out your local grocery store “health food” isle you will find many different boxed and bagged products highlighting that they are gluten free. This is great for people who are sensitive to gluten who want to eat specific boxed foods they have been missing but these shouldn’t be in your regular diet.
Gluten free does not equal healthy.
In fact many gluten free foods are on par in terms of calories, sugar and fat with their non-gluten free counterparts. For example one boxed Glutino Gluten Free Chocolate Vanilla Creme Cookie contains 5.5g of sugar, 2.5g of fat and 60 calories (and who is only going to eat one?). It is the size of one Oreo which contains 4.6g of sugar, 2.3g of fat and 53 calories.
I want to be very clear that I don’t believe all sugar, fat and calories are bad. I simply want to make it clear that gluten free boxed and package foods does not necessary equal a healthier option.
If you have a severe sensitivity to gluten and want an Oreo this would be the only scenario where this would be a great idea. There are hundreds of more nutrient dense dessert and treat recipes that contain no gluten but also contain fiber, naturally derived sugars, vitamins, minerals and less processing.
If you are gluten free and want a cookie substitute I recommend these natural, whole food ingredient recipes instead:
- Deep Dish Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
- Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies
- Ginger Snap Cookies
- Healthy Sugar Cookies
Choosing whole, natural, organic foods such as fruits and vegetables, quinoa, sweet potatoes, lean proteins that happen to also be gluten free are always the optimal options.
5) One day gluten is going to destroy us all:
Gluten will not destroy us all. Gluten will however sneak up on you.
It is found in some very random and sneaky places where you won’t expect to see it. Some places where gluten can be found that you might not be aware of are:
- Hydrolyzed vegetable protein
- Modified food starch
- Natural flavourings
- Artificial flavorings
- Anything labeled an extract
- Vanilla flavoring
- Malt flavoring
If you are extremely sensitive to gluten and have found out that you are via an elimination/challenge diet make sure to avoid the products listed above.
Should I Begin a Gluten Free Diet?
If you are suffering from digestive concerns such as bloating, diarrhea, constipation, cramps or excess gas (or other non-digestive concerns that are persistent and non-responsive to treatment including acne, joint paint, headaches, etc) a trial of gluten avoidance could be extremely beneficial for you.
For severe digestive concerns, any of the outlined symptoms above or if Celiac Disease runs in your family it is always wise to see your Naturaopathic or Medical Physician to rule out Celiac Disease first.
I recommend a Naturopath guided elimination/challenge diet or food sensitivity lab testing as the optimal way to rule out gluten intolerance.