It seems like every other person you bump into is on some sort of a gluten free diet. Nearly everything that once existed with gluten can now be created without it. The thing is, sometimes eating gluten free is no healthier than eating foods with gluten. Here is what you need to know about gluten free diets.
What is gluten?
Gluten is simply the combination of two proteins (glutenin and gliadin) found in wheat, barley and rye. When it comes to baking, gluten is what gives food elasticity and dough strength. This helps bread products, for instance, bind together making them more workable.
Because the byproducts of gluten are in so many things, you could be eating gluten and not even know it. Gluten is commonly present in processed meats, salad dressings, gravies, soups and candy.
Who should avoid gluten?
People with celiac disease
Gluten is also what people with celiac disease can’t digest. In fact, a person with celiac disease needs to steer clear of gluten altogether. About 1 in 133 people have celiac disease. It’s a serious autoimmune condition. Only a blood test can determine whether or not someone has this disease. Weight loss, bone loss, hair loss, iron deficiency and cavities are a few signs, to name a few, of celiac disease.
Many people go undiagnosed. If you suspect you may have celiac disease, see a doctor. The inability to digest food can lead to much greater problems than just a stomach ache.
People with gluten sensitivity
Many more people, however, deal with gluten sensitivity. Unexplained bloating, joint pain, fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome-like symptoms, and weight gain are a few signs one may be gluten intolerant. Estimates suggest that upwards of 18 million Americans have non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
A good way to know if you’re sensitive to gluten is to completely eliminate it from your diet for a couple weeks. Keep a food journal, noting how you feel, sleep and perhaps what you weigh. Do this everyday. After two weeks, reintroduce gluten. Start with one meal a day. If you’re sensitive, you’ll know pretty fast.
Should You Eat Gluten Free Food?
This is probably where most confusion lies. Personally, I don’t eat gluten. Neither does anyone in my family. I’ve also never had a client work their way off gluten and regret it. In fact, most people lose weight and almost everyone feels better in pretty short order.
Obviously, the gluten free food market should be helping us all, right?
No. Not really.
If you have celiac disease, the new gluten free boom in foods is great. If you want a slice of pizza, brownie or sandwich, you can now enjoy them gluten free! It’s a nice convenience, but not necessarily a staple in anyone’s diet.
That being said, most gluten free food products are no healthier than their glutenous counterparts. A gluten free cookie is still a cookie without gluten. Gluten free pretzels are still pretzels without gluten. Gluten free junk food is still junk food…without gluten. Jumping from once processed food diet to another processed food diet doesn’t do your health much good.
Healthy Naturally Gluten Free Foods
In the forest of processed gluten free foods, we’ve lost sight of foods that are naturally free of gluten. When I wrote The Belly Burn Plan, I wanted to create a resource for people to eat truly healthy. All of the recipes, including muffins and cookies, are free of both gluten and refined sugar. It came as no surprise that after everyone started following the meal plan (not necessarily dieting), they lost weight.
Fortunately, there are a lot of really great and healthy foods that are naturally gluten free! Here is a short list:
- All vegetables
- All fruits
- Meat (unprocessed)
- Fish (unprocessed/not breaded)
- Poultry (unprocessed/not breaded)
- Cheese (except bleu cheese)
- Sweet Potatoes
- Oats (Oats are not inherently glutenous, but because many of the crops from which oats are produced were once used to produce wheat, cross-contamination is a probable.)
- Coconut Oil
- Olive Oil
- Nuts (unseasoned)
- Legumes (except baked beans)
This is just a really short list, but it’s a good start. Remember, gluten is hidden in a lot of things. Meat loaf contains a lot of bread, ice cream often contains glutenous byproducts and seasoned or salted nuts often contain additives that contain gluten. The best way to avoid gluten is to avoid buying processed foods. Just about anything that comes in a box or package and can sit on a shelf for a long period of time (barring staples like rice), are hot spots of gluten.
Need a little more help figuring out what’s right to eat for your body? The Belly Burn Plan has a nutrition plan, not a diet, that’s right for your body type! The book starts with a simple, short cleanse and moves into a combination fitness and meal plan. You can pick it up here.