The Gluten Free Diet. Should you try it?

Alight folks, it’s about to get personal….

Recently I have been dealing with troubling tummy issues. Without getting too much into detail, the stomach situation has been interrupting the life I love living. I decided to take the time to figure it all out and work towards a better state of health. After many appointments and tests, my doctor advised me to try removing gluten from my diet. We are not sure if gluten is the cause of my tummy troubles… the only way to find out is to take it out. I have been hesitant to try the Gluten Free diet in the past, I saw it as a trend. I believe a healthy diet is about moderation, balance, and whole unprocessed foods. I do not believe in eliminating certain food groups or claiming one eating practice is a quick fix for health. But my stomach hurts. So Im going to have an open mind and give this gluten free lifestyle a chance. Since the doctor asked me to cut it out, I’ve done a lot of reasearch (big thank you to all the friends who reached out to help with it!). Im no expert, but I was able to uncover a lot of interesting info on the Gluten Free lifestyle. I’d like to share with you what I’ve learned so far about living Gluten Free. Maybe it will help you on your health journey….  lets hope it helps me!

The Gluten Free Diet, Should YOU try it?

What is gluten? 

Gluten is a combination of proteins that are found in wheat, rye, spelt, most oats and barley.  It comes from the Latin word for glue (as it is the substance that helps “glue” your favorite bread products together).  Gluten is usually a problem for people who are gluten sensitive or have celiac disease.  Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition in which the intestine cannot absorb food properly due to inflammation.  The inflammation damages or even destroys the villi, the tiny finger-like protrusions that line the walls of the intestines and are responsible for passing nutrients into the bloodstream.  Without healthy villi a person can become malnourished by missing out on the nutrients even if they are eating a lot of food.  This malnourishment can lead to diarrhea, gas, bloating, constipation, fatigue, joint pain and many other symptoms.

Some people may not have celiac disease (which is usually determined by a blood test) but may be gluten sensitive.  This is different than a wheat allergy which is like most other allergies.  Gluten sensitivity (intolerance) is usually marked by feeling uncomfortable after eating bread, cereals or pastas and may not occur for up to two or three days later.  The symptoms are similar to celiac disease and may include skin rashes, food cravings, fatigue and a general unwell feeling.  A wheat allergy usually occurs right away, like an allergic reaction to a cat or a peanut allergy.

What is gluten-free?

Gluten is found in many foods and is very difficult to eliminate.  It is found in all foods deriving from or containing wheat, barley, rye, semolina, bran, kamut, triticale, couscous and oats.  However, there is controversy concerning the oats.  It may be the sensitivity is from the cross-contamination of oats and gluten.  Besides the obvious word wheat on packaged foods also look out for the words modified food starch, dextrin, maltodextrin, and caramel which contain traces of wheat.  Wheat can also show up in beer, grain alcohol, canned soup and soup mixes, most soy sauces, white vinegar made from grains,  canola oil, luncheon meats, bouillon cubes, candy, hot dogs, sauces, seasoned tofu, HVP (hydrolyzed vegetable protein) and soy milk.

No bread?! What can you eat then?
Rice, brown rice, corn, millet, quinoa, buckwheat, and teff include most of the grains that can be eaten. And of course you can also nourish yourself with fresh produce, lean proteins, and healthy fats.

I’d never heard anything about gluten-free and now it’s everywhere. Is the Gluten Free just a diet a trend or something I need to pay attention to?

For years, “Gluten-free” living was about as sexy as living with diabetes, a conversation-killer, and a dinner-party bummer.  Now the gluten-free diet has become synonymous with enlightened eating, an intellectual aesthetic with its own raft of studies and its own celebrity cachet. Hollywood is suddenly overrun with gluten allergies. Jenny McCarthy is convinced it contributed to her son’s autism. Gwyneth Paltrow blames it for her extra “holiday” pounds. The View’s Elisabeth Hasselbeck says it caused her years of chronic pain. And they all gush with near-religious fervor about their restful nights, their clear skin, their freedom from seasonal allergies, and the general joie de vivre their wheat-free regimens bring.

Yes the Gluten Free diet could be seen as a trend, with every food manufacturer from General Mills to Anheuser Busch lining grocery aisles with gluten-free goods. But this food fad does have some legitimate science to back it up. Gluten sensitivity, and the more severe gluten intolerance known as the autoimmune disorder celiac disease, is linked to a higher risk of death. A New England Journal of Medicine study listed 55 diseases caused by gluten intolerance, including lupus and schizophrenia(source). The Gluten Free diet can be a trend worth following, especially if you consider yourself to be in these two categories:

Why would you want to go gluten free?

1. If you are diagnosed with Celiac Disease. Tests for Celiac can be fairly invasive and involve blood tests or other medical procedures. The University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center states that 1 out of 133 people have celiac disease in the United States. However, celiac disease is one of the most under-diagnosed diseases; it may take up to four years to diagnose in some cases. Therefore, if everyone with the disease were diagnosed, 3 million Americans would be affected by it.  Symptoms of Celiac include digestive problems as well as signals that the body isn’t getting the nutrients it needs, such as hair loss, bruising easily, growth delay in children, depression and fatigue. While the disease itself cannot be cured, following a gluten-free diet will allow the lining of the small intestine to heal itself over time. If you suspect you may have Celiac, set up an appointment and talk to your doctor.

2. If you are gluten intolerant/sensitive. Gluten sensitivity (intolerance) is marked by feeling uncomfortable after eating bread, cereals or pastas and may not occur for up to two or three days later.  The symptoms are similar to celiac disease and may include skin rashes, food cravings, fatigue and a general unwell feeling. If you find that eating gluten is causing digestive issues or suspect you have a gluten allergy, talk to your doctor. They might put you on a gluten elimination diet to see if this eases your symptoms and go from there.

 If I’m not having problems from eating gluten, are there any health benefits for me to stop eating gluten?
Experts say there isn’t any evidence that people who aren’t celiac sufferers benefit from eating gluten-free food, that it’s healthier, or leads to weight-loss. They argue that going completely gluten-free, if it’s not medically necessary, might lead to nutrient deficiencies of key vitamins like B and iron, which are often added to fortified wheat gluten. Studies have also shown that moving from “regular” processed foods to gluten-free types may even result in weight gain. “Lots of gluten-free products are higher in fat,” says Tricia Thompson, M.S., R.D., author of The Gluten-Free Nutrition Guide. “Pretzels, for instance–manufacturers add fat to give them better mouth-feel.” (Plus, these pretzels cost four times as much as “regular” ones). Currently there isn’t any research out there that confirms gluten-free is healthier for the general population. Spending more on processed gluten-free foods without a celiac disease diagnosis, could just be throwing your money down the drain. On the flip side, going gluten free, for most, means a considerable diet “clean up” or overhaul.  It makes people more conscious about what they’re eating and what the ingredients in their foods are. MOST junk food, easily accessible lunch food, and “comfort food” (like subway and specialties ) are all made with bread and wheat products. If the average american, or even an enlightened san franciscan, were to quit gluten entirely, there’s a good chance their diet would improve.  One thing is for sure, don’t self diagnose yourself with celiac disease. Work with a doctor or nutritionist to create a diet plan that is customized to your needs and helps fuel a healthy life for you.

Will the Gluten Free diet help me lose weight?

A gluten free diet isn’t a weight loss diet. You must realize that gluten-free does NOT equal low-carb or healthier. You won’t necessarily lose weight from eating a gluten-free diet, in fact some people gain weight on it. The sad reality is that many people are going gluten-free as a fad or for weight loss. As mentioned above, a lot of gluten-free food is not healthier than it’s gluten-y competitors. There’s no reason to skip out on gluten if it’s not bothering you and if you haven’t chatted with your doctor.

More Great Gluten Free Resources and Articles:

There is A LOT of research and information out there regarding the Gluten Free diet. I am by no means an expert, the above information is just what I have learned so far. I would love to hear your thoughts, opinions, and experiences with the Gluten free lifestyle. As the doctor advised, I am trying the Gluten Free diet in hopes that it helps me find a solution to my sensitive stomach. It’s a learning process and every day I uncover more insight on my path towards health. Thank you for listening to my story and supporting me on my journey. I am so thankful you are part of my fitness family. Looking forward to learning, living, and loving every step towards a healthy life with YOU.

With lots of love and gluten-less gratitude,

Caroline

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One thought on “The Gluten Free Diet. Should you try it?

  • By Kate - Reply

    Oh Caroline – I so know exactly how you are feeling with the stomach problems. Gluten sensitivity is definitely getting a lot more awareness now, but stomach issues that act like IBS can have lots of causes. I should know – I’ve been through the ENTIRE workup over the past few years (these things often take a long time to diagnose). I have literally been tested for everything from parasites to celiac to really obscure intestinal cancers. My doc has ruled all that out.

    In the end, it turns out I’m not gluten sensitive but am fructose intolerant which basically means I can’t digest large amounts of fructose so eating foods that have a lot of fructose makes me sick. That includes more than just fruits – lists of foods to eliminate to figure out what’s bothering you are part of the FODMAP diet, a common way (in Europe and Australia) to treat nonspecific IBS. The FODMAP treatment protocol is just starting to gain ground in the U.S. One of the foods not allowed (or allowed in small portions, depending on personal tolerance) is wheat, which is why so many people start to feel better when cutting out gluten, even though fructose malabsorption is likely the “real” cause of their gut unhappiness.

    My point is – a lot of people think cutting out gluten will solve their problems, but if you don’t feel 100% better by eliminating gluten…and I mean 100%, not 50% or 95%…your digestive issues may be caused be something else. If your problem really is gluten and you cut gluten completely, you should feel totally and completely better. If not, you may need to investigate other causes.

    Best of luck in solving this! I know how challenging it can be.

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