Should You Go Gluten-Free?
The hype around gluten-free eating is everywhere. It's the latest "diet" craze that everyone seems to be trying. But is it worth?
Let me ask you this question first: Do you struggle with any of the following symptoms?
Skin conditions (acne, eczema, etc)
Digestive issues (constipation, diarrhea, bloating, gas, etc)
Blood sugar dysregulation
Joint aches and pain
Depression and anxiety
If you suffer from any of those symptoms, I would strongly consider trying a gluten elimination diet for a couple of weeks in order to see how gluten can truly effect your body.
But first, before you get nervous or scared about eliminating gluten, I want to walk you through a bit of background information on gluten.
To start, what is gluten?
Gluten is a substance present in cereal grains, especially wheat, oats, and barley, that is responsible for the elastic texture of dough. A mixture of two proteins, it causes illness in people with celiac disease.
Gluten is commonly found in wheat, oats, and barley and products containing derivatives of these three foods. It is most often present in refined, high carbohydrate, nutrient-poor foods, like processed foods, breads, cereals, and bars.
Contained in gluten are "anti-nutrients" such as phytates or phytic acid, which are defensive mechanisms that these plants use to ward off danger. These anti-nutrients could be likened to our human body's immune system, which also works to ward off dangerous illness and disease.
Unfortunately, these anti-nutrients aren't so wonderful for our bodies. First, they block the absorption of vitamins and minerals (like calcium, magnesium, zinc, and iron). Our bodies crave these nutrients, but when we eat gluten containing grains, we are unable to reap the benefits of these nutrients, leaving us nutrient depleted and searching for more nourishment.
Second, anti-nutrients and the proteins in gluten are highly, highly inflammatory. Some inflammation in our bodies is natural; it's how we heal from illnesses or cuts and bruises.
However, when we start compounding inflammation from cuts, illness, stress, food, and life, our body can't handle it anymore. We reach a breaking point and become chronically inflamed.
When our bodies become chronically inflamed, we set ourselves up to develop chronic illnesses, blood sugar issues, insulin resistance, and hormonal distress.
Basically, we set our body up for failure and a life of misery and medical bills.
What's more, gluten also damages our gut, which is critical to our overall health. The root of everything good or bad starts with our gut, and when it becomes damaged, our bodies become damaged as well.
How? Well, those anti-nutrients I talked about earlier, as well as the proteins found in gluten damage the cells of our gut lining. Our gut lining is only one cell thick (one cell!!) and is vital to our health. When our gut lining becomes damaged, bad stuff gets in, leading to a host of problems which effect our brain, digestive, and immune health.
The gut is often referred to our "second brain," so it makes sense that when we damage our real gut, we harm our brain health as well. This causes a ton of different conditions, like brain fog, migraines, headaches, mood swings, depression, anxiety, and so much more! A happy gut = a happy brain, and gluten doesn't make a happy gut!
As for our digestive health, when our gut lining becomes damaged and invaded with harmful bacteria and food particles, we start to suffer from bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhea, and so much more. We all know how uncomfortable all of these digestive symptoms are - not fun ever.
Lastly, most of our immune system lives in our gut, so when we eat gluten containing foods which damage our gut, we harm our immune system. This sets us up to become more susceptible to illnesses like colds, the flu, and all the other awful bugs that are always floating around. I think we all know that one person who is always sick and catches whatever is going around every single year.
Unfortunately, that only brushes the surface of what gluten containing foods can do to our bodies, but I hope that you get the general idea: gluten isn't so awesome for our health!
If you are feeling convinced and want to see for yourself if going gluten-free might be the solution you've been waiting for, I encourage you to try a strict gluten elimination diet for 21 days. It's only three weeks, but in that time frame, you will rid your body of gluten and allow your body to rest and heal. At the end of the 21 days, you can reintroduce gluten back into your diet to see how you react. Or, if you feel amazing and don't want to reintroduce, keep on eating gluten free and reaping the benefits!
However, if you are still on the fence about trying gluten free, I suggest doing a bit of your own research - read a couple of success stories and get ready to make the change for yourself. I'm here for support if you need it - I would love to help coach you through your 21 day self experiment and be your support and accountability partner!
Now when it comes to the logistics of trying a gluten free elimination, there's a bit more to it than just throwing out bread and pasta. Unfortunately, gluten is hiding in a ton of different foods nowadays. The safest way to avoid it, of course, is to eat real whole foods and avoid grains and processed foods all together! But, if that is too much of a jump, simply just start by going gluten free and easing your way into it.
But, this is also where I do have to insert my mini-rant about gluten free products. Gluten free versions of the popular processed foods (oreos, cereals, granola bars, pasta, etc) are still junk!
Just because something is proclaimed as gluten free on the label doesn't mean it's healthy,
Read your labels - avoid extra sugars, artificial sweeteners, chemicals, food dyes, and other unpronounceables!
When it comes to eliminating gluten, remember it is in almost everything - even products you would never imagine! Instead of trying to list them all and failing to catch one, I advise looking at this wonderful Guide to Gluten by Diane Sanfilippo. It lays it all out clearly and is in a printable version that you can take with you while grocery shopping.
Get the Guide to Gluten by Diane Sanfilippo here!
If you are looking for further information on the dangers and nasty effects of gluten and grains, I highly recommend the following reading list:
Wheat Belly by Dr. William Davis
Grain Brain by Dr. David Perlmuter
Practical Paleo by Diane Sanfilippo
The Paleo Approach by Sarah Ballantyne
Although I know not everyone in society is sensitive or allergic to gluten, but it can still cause underlying issues that we may never discover unless we eliminate it from our diet for a period of time. Remember, if you are in need of help and support, please reach out to me and I (as a newly practicing health coach!) can help you get started on your gluten free journey.
Good luck, and here's to better health - gluten free!