July 26, 2013

The Gluten-Free Lifestyle. ~ Erin Walton

Going gluten-free is trendy and hip.

Initially made popular by slim celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow, the gluten-free trend is now sweeping the nation. Despite its alluring qualities, many individuals assume that going gluten-free is synonymous with healthy. While this is true for some individuals, for most others, the restrictive nature of a gluten-free diet is detrimental.

Part of the confusion surrounding a gluten-free lifestyle stems from the misconception of what qualifies a gluten intolerance.

Gluten is a small protein used as a binding agent in wheat, barley, rye and spelt. In bread products, gluten creates the gooey consistency we often associate with warm bagels, fresh breads and bakery muffins. In addition to being found in common bread products, gluten is often found in nearly every processed food; from cereals to granola bars.

Because most individuals consume too many processed foods in general, many people deem gluten the culprit. Consequentially, individuals blame the physical symptoms of headaches, anxiety and fatigue on gluten and fail to see that most processed foods also contain high qualities of white flour, sugar and artificial ingredients. While many individuals may be sensitive to gluten and benefit from a gluten-free lifestyle, eliminating gluten is not a prerequisite for optimal health.

According to a recent study, only one percent of the population has a true gluten allergy. For individuals with a true allergy, consumption of any gluten will prompt a plethora of symptoms; from digestive distress to drastic weight loss and mineral deficiencies. The medical term for an individual with a true gluten allergy is celiac disease—an autoimmune disorder. Celiac disease is inherited and can be best diagnosed through a blood test. For individuals with celiac, a gluten-free diet is an absolute necessity. For most other individuals, going gluten-free is a choice.

Why go gluten-free?

Individuals with celiac or sensitive digestive systems may reap a myriad of benefits from the gluten-free lifestyle. By omitting gluten from the diet, individuals naturally decrease the amount of starches, processed foods and sugars in their diet. More specifically, individuals who substitute gluten products with natural and wholesome foods will reap the benefits. The most common and compelling benefits of the gluten-free lifestyle include:

  • Increased levels of energy
  • Weight loss
  • Better concentration
  • Fewer digestive issues – including bloating, gas, constipation and/or diarrhea.

 What are the pitfalls?

When the gluten-free lifestyle is embraced for honest and thoughtful reasons, it offers tremendous benefits. However, many individuals omit all gluten foods and naively replace them with a plethora of processed gluten-free products; many of which contain more calories than the gluten-containing originals.

A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine found a positive correlation between weight gain and diets high in the non-gluten foods of meat, sugar, fats and potatoes. Contrary to popular belief, gluten was not the culprit. Instead, unhealthy food choices and lack of awareness were to blame.

A similar area of concern when exploring the gluten-free lifestyle is the restrictive nature of the diet. By eliminating the healthy whole grains of wheat, barley and rye, an individual may miss out on vital nutrients—specifically folic acid, iron and magnesium. Similar to the any diet that eliminates whole food groups, the gluten-free diet might entice men and women struggling with eating disorders.

Although the gluten-free lifestyle will not cause an eating disorder, the correlation is concerning. If you suspect that someone you love maybe suffering from an eating disorder, please call to get help.

 What are some healthy ways to go gluten-free?

Regardless of your reasons for adopting the gluten-free lifestyle, honest awareness and accurate nutritional information are necessary for maintaining optimal health. The gluten-free diet can be healthy, if approached correctly. The following are some healthy gluten-free substitutions to try:

  • Choose gluten-free whole grains – quinoa, amaranth, rice
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables
  • Limit gluten-free processed foods – including cookies, crackers, bagels
  • Maximize on healthy non-gluten foods – dairy and meat
  • Substitute gluten breads with brown rice bread

While trendy, going gluten-free is a lifestyle choice that is not for everyone. The decision must be approached with knowledge, care and honesty. Food is simply one way to nourish our bodies; gluten-free or not.


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Assistant Ed: Dana Gornall/Ed: Bryonie Wise

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Douglas Michael May 23, 2015 3:37pm

Wheat, when properly prepared by sprouting and or a fermented starter (as had been the norm for twelve thousand years) is healthy, nutritious and delicious. Think about this. Grass seed is the only reason we homo sapiens currently populate this planet. The problem with paleo, if you want to be honest about something, is that not one proto humanoid species survived into the modern era. Hunting and gathering limited child birth and starvation was a persistent problem. No other humanoids could survive. It was not until we discovered that grass seed could be stored, planted harvested and fermented into drink and or bread did modern man emerge.

The short stalk wheat that replaced the amber waves of grain some forty years or more ago was all about one thing. Modern millers and hence their large scale baker clients did NOT want sprouted grain in their flour. Why? Because, once sprouted, gluten development is interrupted. The problem with heritage varieties of wheat stalks is that the plant stalk collapsed in a heavy storm. Wheat grains lay on moist ground and sprouted. This is not what millers or flour based bakers want. Millers all have a test for the percent of wheat sprouted in the field – it's called the falling number. To increase the falling number is to reduce the amount of sprouted grains in any harvest. One way to do this was to devise a shorter, thicker stalk. This had NOTHING to do with protein count or chromosome counts or other nonsense. However, by consequence of improving the wheat stalk's rigidity and thereby reducing the amount of unintentionally sprouted grain in the field, protein count tested higher in flours.

Plainly put, if you want a healthy, nutritious loaf of bread, ask your baker (yes, find a real baker – they actually still exist) ask if they make a sprouted grain bread. If not, make sure they make their breads with natural leavens not derived yeast.
That's all you have to do. And if you're concerned about where the wheat is sourced, ask. Ask the baker where they get their wheat. Good bakers have small sustainably oriented farmers they work with who don't practice burn down or drench their fields with glysophate.

Eva Aug 5, 2013 11:20am

This article makes it sound like this information is fact but I think it's important to point out that there is little research in this area and we don't really know the answers. One thing is known is that the wheat we currently eat has been hybridized and the current wheat, created in the early 70s, does not even have a natural number of chromosomes. It's a mutant dwarf wheat with protein combinations that never existed in nature previously. Scientific research also shows that wheat has the ability to unnaturally widen the space between cells in the gut lining. This happened in everyone tested, not just celiacs. In celiacs, it happens more and in celiacs they also have an autoimmune response to the wheat, but wheat still effects gut lining in nonceliacs as well, just less dramatically so. Much controversy rages about how dangerous this is and if wheat causes leaky gut at the subclinical level for others besides celiacs. Leaky gut allows wheat proteins as well as all manner of other gut bacteria to cross the gut barrier and enter the blood stream, thus often causing immune response, inflammation, and sometimes also autoimmune response because the proteins in some bacteria are very similar to the proteins in some human tissues, thus confusing the immune system. If the gut is healthy and not leaky, those bacteria never pass into the blood stream, thus avoiding the problem.

Scientific research also shows that peptides in wheat protein dock with and stimulate the opiate receptors of the brain. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6099562) These peptides act like morphine on the brain. Much controversy rages about if wheat is addictive and about if it stimulates unnatural appetite by stimulating the brain. One thing you may notice is that in America, every single meal usually has wheat in it and wheat is often hidden in food items you would not suspect, like soy sauce. I have known many people who refuse to go without wheat for even one day. Since wheat has been scientifically shown to have a special ability to open cracks in the gut lining and pass through, the concept that wheat proteins may make it into the bloodstream and brain to stimulate the opiate receptors is not beyond reason.

Yes it is true that wheat is also usually paired in generally otherwise unhealthy processed foods and eliminating those foods likely also has benefits, but I think proper consideration of wheat's special characteristics and potential dangers should also be considered. We don't have enough data on it yet but many people have felt better not eating wheat. Most wheat is in the form of white flour which has very little nutrition other than those few vitamins that have been added by industry to 'fortify' it. Even the nutrients in whole wheat bread can easily be found in other foods as well. It's not like wheat is required for health. There are plenty of other healthier options.

Jessie Bryant Jul 28, 2013 6:49am

This is a very informative article. I just followed the trend of having a gluten free diet without truly knowing the benefits of this diet. Anyway, I learned a lot from this post. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

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Erin Walton

Erin Walton is a writer and yoga teacher in Loveland, CO. She is passionate about inspiring others to explore, honor, and celebrate their authentic selves. Through writing and through teaching, Erin continuously finds creative ways to integrate her passion for yoga with her passion for engaging meaningfully with the world. Outside of a yoga studio or coffee shop, one can find Erin trail running, back country skiing, or perusing at the nearest book store.