Gluten: Friend or Foe?

It’s time I tackled the topic of gluten.  It’s hard to walk through the grocery store these days without reading “gluten free” or “GF” on something.  The general public is obviously concerned or marketers wouldn’t be alerting people that their goods were free of the stuff.  So what exactly is it, and why make the shift to GF?

When you are eating a baked good and you feel and sense the elasticity of the dough, it is the gluten giving you that mouth feel.  Kind of like the “glue” that binds the whole thing together.  Gluten is found in wheat, barley and rye, and also cross contaminate other grains it is grown near (for example, oats).

There are millions of people who suffer from an autoimmune condition, called celiac disease, which is caused by gluten.  It essentially degenerates the absorption in the small intestine, causes bloating, sometimes pain, and a host of other issues.  For those of you suffering from celiac, you already know the ins and outs of being gluten free.  But everyone else may be thinking, “so I don’t have that, so why should I bother?” 

Stop right there!  Even if you don’t have celiac, a significant number people suffer from gluten sensitivities, and could benefit from a gluten free diet.  You could be one of the 6-7% of the U.S. population, or 20 million people, silently suffering from gluten sensitivity–an affliction for which there is no medical test.  Symptoms range from bloating, to brain fog, to digestive distress, to joint pain, and to my personal favorite, neuropathy (tingling or numbness in the extremities).  Many people just cruise along in their everyday lives experiencing these things and not recognizing the cause.

Additionally, gluten has been implicated in exasperating autoimmune diseases; so if you have one, take note.  And in Dr. David Perlmutter’s latest book, Grain Brain, he mentions that gluten in the diet is problematic and causative for neurological issues such as ADD, ADHD, epilepsy, and Alzheimer’s disease–a disease for which there is no cure.  He states that eliminating gluten can bring relief to many of these afflictions, and even minimize or eliminate your chances of developing them.  Compelling, non?

So what to do if you want to make the shift to going gluten free?  You are in luck, because nowadays packaged goods are labeled gluten free (this can be taken to the extreme, for example, when you see “gluten free”on something like milk!).  And “wheat” is generally listed in the allergens of packaged goods. Be careful and read labels, because gluten is sneaky and is in things like barbeque sauce, ice cream, and others.  Here is an article in the Huffington Post listing foods you didn’t think contained gluten.

Naturally, your best bet is to eat whole foods, not packaged.  So switching out your pasta night for a veggie stir fry night (note: try coconut aminos instead of soy which contains gluten), and simply crowding out the gluten in your life with more fruits and veggies is the way to go.  There are loads of breads to choose from, my favorite is Udi’s (usually in the freezer section).

When I switched to being gluten free, it was pretty liberating.  My neuropathy went away and several other issues I was suffering from were mitigated.  I remember walking into a bakery in Portland, Maine (Bam Bam Bakery on Commercial Street) and, after seeing “gluten free” in the window, I asked, “So what here is gluten free?”  EVERYTHING WAS!! 

So, I will leave you with this one thought:  a cookie is still a cookie, even if it is gluten free.  If you have been suffering symptoms of gluten sensitivity like I was, and feel relieved when you make the switch, be careful not to overindulge.  Gluten free does not equate to calorie free 😉

Enjoy the ride!

For more information, or to be coached in a gluten free lifestyle, reach out to me via the “connect” section of my website.