There is a huge craze around gluten and going gluten-free, but I have found that many people don't know exactly what has gluten, nor why they should (or shouldn't) go gluten-free. Many people wonder:
Is "gluten-free" just another weight-loss trend? Is there really any need to eliminate gluten if you're not allergic to it?
First, I'll address the question of "What is gluten, and why is it bad?" Gluten is a protein found in wheat and similar grains like barley and rye. It is hidden in pizza, pasta, bread, most processed foods, and even soy sauce. Gluten is a huge problem for people with celiac disease, a disease that has been on the rise in the past few years. But gluten has also proven to be harmful for people with almost any autoimmune disease, often creating damage to the small intestine and making it difficult to properly absorb nutrients. The important thing to know is that you don't have to have full-blown celiac disease to face serious health problems from eating gluten.
Why is it suddenly a huge talked-about issue? Mostly because 1% of Americans now have celiac disease (so about 3 million Americans), and this is 4 times the amount as 50 years ago! Also, another 10% of Americans are intolerant to gluten, and even more have milder forms of gluten sensitivity. So it is clearly a huge and growing issue, and part of the problem is that many people are not aware of their gluten intolerance/sensitivity.
But with the growing epidemic of celiac disease, we have seen the emergence of a huge marketing craze for gluten-free products, which people are buying without proper knowledge of whether or not they have any intolerance to gluten. And most of these products are processed and not necessarily any healthier than its gluten counterpart. So its important to understand where you stand with your body and your ability to process gluten, before you go crazy buying gluten-free products.
The best way to determine if you're sensitive to gluten is by removing it completely from your diet for a period of time (2-3 weeks is recommended), and then reintroducing it to see if you feel a difference. In order for this test to work however, you must eliminate 100% of gluten from your diet, including all wheat, barley, rye, oats, but also hidden sources such as soup mixes, packaged salad dressings, and most other processed foods. Then you eat it again and see what happens. If you feel bad at all when you reintroduce it, its probably best that you stay off gluten permanently. Even if your reaction wasn't terrible when re-introducing gluten, but you realize that you felt much better without any gluten in your diet, I would recommend trying to stick to a mostly gluten-free diet. But remember - it's best to look for naturally gluten free alternatives, instead of the packaged and processed gluten-free cookies, bread and crackers. Opt for eating brown rice, quinoa or amaranth instead of your bread or pasta, for example. Or I love making zucchini noodles or using spaghetti squash instead of pasta. There are so many natural and yummy alternatives to gluten that it is possible to avoid it with the proper guidance and knowledge.
I personally went on an elimination diet where I removed all gluten (and dairy, among other things) from my diet, and felt a big difference when I wasn't having gluten or dairy. I had better digestion, a flatter belly and my skin looked great. When I reintroduced gluten, I found that it made me feel very full and heavy, and a bit more sluggish. On the bright side, my symptoms weren't drastic so I know that I can enjoy a piece of bread once in a while without huge damage, but I know that I function much better without it, so I now only cook meals without gluten and have so much fun experimenting with my healthy recipes that don't irritate my gut!
If you want support on testing your sensitivity to gluten and trying out naturally gluten free alternatives, reach out to me via my website or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lots of love and support your way,