To go gluten free or not to go gluten free? That is the question.
As a holistic nutritionist, one of the questions I am asked most frequently is what I think about the gluten free movement. With the advent of the popular book “Wheat Belly” by William Davis, and a plethora of other gluten free guides and cook books, people start to wonder – is gluten free for me?
What is gluten anyway? Gluten is a protein present in wheat and a number of other commonly used grains. Gluten contributes to the flexibility of wheat flour as a baking material. Gluten’s elasticity helps bread rise, keep its shape, and give a chewy texture to the final product.
What foods contain gluten?
- Wheat bran / germ / starch
Note** Gluten may also be found skin and hair care products and cosmetics.
According to most GF advocates, wheat just isn’t what it used to be. Over the years, traditional wheat has been hybridized and cross-bred with new genetic strains for the purpose of increasing yields. Also, consumption of this “Franken-wheat” has risen dramatically in the last few decades because wheat and gluten have found their way into a shocking variety of food items.
It is argued that the high amount of wheat the average person consumes daily, in a form that is unrecognizable and even toxic to our bodies, is contributing to a marked rise in wheat and gluten sensitivity. This in turn results in a myriad of health issues including but not limited to:
- Gastrointestinal distress (bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation and pain)
- Joint pain and stiffness
- Depression and behavioural changes
Many people with gluten intolerance may simply be used to living with the symptoms. However, once removed from the diet, these same folks seem to agree that they have never felt better!
So, what does this mean for the average Joe? It is my opinion and experience that not everyone has developed an intolerance that warrants entirely removing wheat and other gluten containing grains from the diet. That being said, there is a real problem with our present focus on wheat as a main staple at the exclusion of other delicious whole grains. Variety and rotation can prevent the development of an allergy or intolerance. Even if you experience no symptoms of gluten intolerance it is a good idea to incorporate more gluten free alternatives into your diet.
Which starches and grains do not contain gluten?
Let me introduce you!
- Nut, bean and seed flours
- Potato starch or flour
- Rice and rice flour
- Soy (but please note that many soy sauces do contain gluten)
On a personal note, as a yoga teacher I constantly speak about using the body as a laboratory to better understand the self. When it comes to intolerances, self-awareness is a valuable tool in deciding how to eat.
Enter my own laboratory – Two days ago, my spouse made a delicious batch of home-made spaghetti sauce. I ate a bowl of whole wheat pasta with sauce for dinner. Being irresistibly good, I packed another serving for my lunch the next day. After eating my second dose of pasta at work, I started to feel sick. When I say sick I mean I felt bloated, gassy, was cramping and had pain in my intestines. By the time I got home after teaching a class it was all I could do to curl up in a ball on the couch and watch terrible TV!
I have a cousin who is has Celiac disease, and my mother is gluten intolerant and now lives a GF life. I have had some of these symptoms in the past and have explored a gluten free diet before. I am a BIG supporter of the gluten free movement and believe that it does a lot of good for many people! The reason I have never fully adopted a GF diet was that I don’t ALWAYS have these symptoms when consuming wheat or glutinous grains. But what I realized last night, as my students were resting comfortably in savasana, is that my symptoms are only noticeable when I eat a large amount of gluten! I now believe I have become used to the milder symptoms of gluten intolerance!
One of the best ways to pinpoint a problematic food is through an elimination diet. Essentially, the suspect food is removed from the diet for a period of three to six weeks and then re-introduced to see if symptoms arise. I have decided that April will be a gluten free month for me! Come April I will eliminate all wheat and gluten from my diet. In May I will slowly reintroduce wheat and gluten and see how I feel!
Think you may have gluten intolerance? Or maybe you would like to create more variety in your diet by adding gluten free foods! Why don’t you go gluten free for April too?!! I will be posting some delicious gluten free recipes and tips along the way to keep you motivated and inspired.
If you take anything from this blog post I would like it to be that nobody knows your body better than you do. Our bodies are speaking to us all the time; it’s up to us to listen! Many people are skeptical of the gluten free diet. In truth, GF may not be for everyone. However, if you feel like you may have gluten intolerance; perform your own experiment by going gluten free and paying very close attention to whether or not your symptoms disappear.
Note: Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease and is different from gluten intolerance. For people with Celiac disease, the absorptive surface of the small intestine is severely damaged by gluten, resulting in an inability of the body to absorb nutrients. If you suspect you may have Celiac disease, visit your doctor immediately for proper diagnosis.