Have you thought about eating a gluten-free diet? If so, you are not alone. Many Americans are reducing and/or completely eliminating gluten in their diets. As eating a gluten-free diet becomes more and more popular, you may be wondering if it is right for you.
Some are doing so because they have a confirmed diagnosis of Celiac disease, some are sensitive to gluten, and others are finding that eliminating gluten helps them to lose weight and/or maintain a healthy weight.
What is Gluten?
Gluten is actually a protein found in grains such as wheat, barley, rye, spelt, and semolina. Gluten is what gives baked goods their characteristic texture and chewiness and it is also used in the processing of many other foods to add thickness, flavor, and added protein.
Who Needs to Avoid Gluten?
If someone has been diagnosed with Celiac disease, they have a condition in which the body experiences an immune reaction when gluten is consumed. The result of this condition is damage to the inside of the small intestine. This, in turn, impairs the absorption of important nutrients.
There is also a condition known as gluten sensitivity. This is different in that the reaction to gluten is less severe and less damaging to the small intestine, but physical symptoms are still present, such as nutritional deficiencies, gastrointestinal difficulties, headaches, joint pain, and a wide array of other symptoms. Even though the conditions mentioned above differ, they are both improved by removing gluten from the diet.
It’s not just those who have a diagnosed sensitivity to gluten who are removing it from their diets, though. Many healthy people are eliminating gluten because they want to reduce processed carbohydrates in their diets and eat more whole foods. The vast majority of breads, pastas, pizzas, baked goods, and processed foods are full of gluten and carbohydrates. Choosing to eliminate gluten is a way to reduce your carbohydrate intake because all of the foods above are out. When you eliminate gluten from your diet, your carbohydrate choices now come in the forms of whole foods; non-starchy vegetables, starchy vegetables, and fruits. Eliminating gluten from your diet also decreases inflammation and toxins in the body, both of which can increase our risk for disease down the road as well as hinder our progress to lose weight.
Gluten Free Processed Foods
When removing gluten from the diet, people take a few different approaches… Some people will simply make the switch from gluten-containing products to gluten-free counterparts while neglecting whole, unprocessed foods. Others will consume a combination of both natural and packaged gluten-free foods. And the last approach would be to consume solely natural gluten-free foods.
If someone notices once they choose to go gluten free that their symptoms are not improving or they are not achieving their weight loss goals, it is likely that they are consuming too many gluten-free packaged foods.
With the explosion of interest in gluten-free products, food manufacturers have stepped-up the production of baked goods, breads, pizzas, etc. that look, taste, and feel like traditional gluten-containing foods, but are in fact, gluten-free. From cinnamon rolls to pasta to muffins, there is a gluten-free food to satisfy nearly any craving you might have.
This is good news for those who need alternatives, but it is also bad news, because it is easy to mistake gluten-free for carbohydrate-free and healthy. The two ARE NOT THE SAME! It is VERY important to keep in mind that processed food is processed food whether it is gluten-free or not.
Gluten-free products often have even more refined carbohydrates than their gluten-containing counterparts. Any processed foods, gluten-free or not, lose a lot of their nutrients during the refining process. In order for gluten-free flours and products to be manufactured, grains and starches such as rice, potatoes, corn, and tapioca are used. While these things are free of gluten, they are still highly processed and refined and therefore can cause a spike in blood sugar higher than that of their whole-grain counterparts.
Carbohydrates are found in many other grains and foods, and are often present in significant amounts in gluten-free products. It is tempting to think that because a cracker or brownie is gluten free that you can eat as many as you want. You can’t. Those crackers and brownies are likely to be very high in carbs and contain just as much sugar or more than a gluten-filled option of the same food.
Eating too many carbohydrates, (especially refined carbohydrates) for your activity level will limit your ability to lose weight and in fact will likely result in weight gain. This is because of too much insulin (fat storage hormone) production to regulate blood sugar spikes from these high sugar, high carbohydrate foods.
Your best defense is to be informed. Know what you are eating. Before you eat a gluten-free product, read the label. Check the ingredients, the carb, and sugar count.
Avoid the Gluten Free Aisle
Below are the Top 3 reasons to avoid the gluten free aisle.
- Gluten-free products lack nutrient density. As with other processed and refined foods, gluten-free products contain much less nutrition than whole real foods such as; non-starchy vegetables, nuts, seeds, grass-fed animal protein, fruits, and healthy fats.
- Gluten-free products are high in sugar. When an ingredient is removed from a food, it will most likely be replaced with another ingredient to enhance stability, shelf life, or texture. Gluten-free foods often contain extra sugar for these reasons. This excess sugar can increase your risks for insulin resistance and weight gain as well as suppress your immune system.
- Gluten-free products are made with refined oils. Refined, cost-effective oils are added to many gluten-free products to moisten the product and improve its texture. These refined oils include vegetable, canola, rapeseed, safflower, and sunflower oils, all of which are high in omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-6 fatty acids are pro-inflammatory to our bodies.
Eat a Whole Food, Nutrient Dense Diet…the vast majority of the time
Eat a supportive nutrition plan that includes non-starchy vegetables, grass-fed beef, wild-caught salmon, free-range poultry, pasture-raised eggs, raw nuts and seeds, healthy fats and oils, and fruit. All of these foods come from nature and are gluten-free by nature. Make these foods that foundation of your diet.
On occasion, when you want to choose to have a gluten-free convenience food, read labels and make an informed decision. Use these foods sparingly. Personally, my preference (unless we are traveling) is to make grain-free baked goods, pizza, or desserts at home from whole food ingredients. That way I can also control the amount of sugar they contain. For tons of recipes check-out our Pinterest account by CLICKING HERE.
To hear more about Gluten Free Diets, CLICK HERE to listen to episode 20 of The Transformation Show or find us in iTunes.