To gluten or not to gluten – that is the question
These days, most everyone has heard of the term ‘gluten free diet’. Gluten free has become synonymous with ‘healthy’, and poor innocent gluten has gotten a bad rep.
Gluten is the protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Gluten gives elasticity to dough and often gives the final product a chewy texture. Unless you have an allergy or sensitivity, consuming gluten in moderation is perfectly healthy.
So how do you know whether gluten is good for YOU? The best way to find out is by doing a gluten elimination diet. This will give you a clue into a possible gluten sensitivity, especially if you are having any symptoms of unknown origin.
My mantra is ‘when in doubt, cut gluten out’. Gluten intolerance is MUCH more common than people realize, and this is because there is 50% more gluten in our food than there was 50 years ago. Our bodies have not adapted to process these high levels of gluten properly. Gluten intolerance is much different than an allergy.
If you have a gluten allergy, consuming gluten can actually damage the small intestine, which can lead to a myriad of health problems in the body, as well as some devastating diseases! An untreated gluten allergy can affect ANY aspect of health, depending where the damage is in the small intestine.
The small intestine is where nutrients are absorbed back into the bloodstream to become the building blocks of nerves, muscles, bones, etc.. So any of these systems can be adversely affected – not just digestion.
For example, if the area where hormones are absorbed is affected, then you may end up with your hormones being out of whack; yet it may be difficult to pinpoint this hormone imbalance as being due to a simple gluten intolerance! I have seen many people with varied symptoms, such as skin rashes, headaches, and joint pains, attempt a gluten free diet.
Their symptoms were fully eliminated simply by cutting out gluten. It’s a wise idea for everyone to do an elimination diet, because something you may currently think is ‘normal’ for you (ex. sensitive skin) may just be a reaction to a gluten intolerance.
However, doing a gluten cleanse is not as simple as it sounds. You need to cut it out 100% for at least 2 weeks to really get an idea of an intolerance. It’s basically go big or go home folk.
Even if you cut it out 99%, that 1% of gluten consumption will still be enough to continue the irritation at the intestinal level, and your symptoms will persist. Included in this article is a list of foods that contain gluten (it’s SCARY long). But don’t let it intimidate you. Just follow these 2 steps on the right and avoid the ones on the bottom:
- Here are some foods to avoid:
- Beer and other grain-base alcohol.
- There are gluten free beers out there!
- Bouillons and broths
- Brown rice syrup (barley)
- Cake flour (wheat)
- caramel color (sometimes barley)
- creamed or breaded vegetables
- dextrin (maltodextrin is ok)
- dry roasted nuts
- fried chicken
- french fries (if coated in flour)
- gravies and sauces
- imitation bacon, crab
- lunch and processed meats
- malt or malt flavoring (barley)
- modified food starch
- this will usually be specified if it is modified cornstarch or wheatstarch
- nondairy creamer
- pastas ( you CAN use brown rice pasta)
- salad dressings
- some herbal teas and flavored coffees
- soup mixes and canned soups
- soy sauce and soy sauce solids
- TAMARI is ‘gluten free’ soy sauce
- spreads, soft cheese, and dips
- udon noodles
- wheat-free products
- wheat free does not mean GF, many contain barley or rye
- yogurts with wheat starch
#1 – Try not to fall in the trap of trading “gluten free” processed food in place of gluten food. There are tons of packaged products now that are gluten free and if you look at the label it is just a bunch of junk that happens to be gluten free! Gluten free does NOT always equal healthy.
#2 – Start with all the foods you CAN eat!
Focus on crowding out the bad by filling your plate with the food items that are safe for you to consume.
- These include:
- ALL fruits and vegetables and leafy greens
- Brown rice, quinoa, millet, oatmeal* (*only if says gluten free, as there is often cross contamination in oatmeal)
- flours of corn (non-gmo) rice, buckwheat, sorghum, arrowroot, garbanzo beans (chickpeas) quinoa, tapioca, teff, and potato, legumes/beans, nuts, seeds
- healthy oils, hummus
- non-dairy milks such as:
Often times, cow’s milk creates systemic problems in conjunction with gluten intolerance, since the casein protein of milk is similar to the gliadin (aka gluten) protein.
Its best practice to eliminate cow’s milk during a gluten cleanse…and we recommend plant based milks anyways, for SO many reasons, but that’s an entire other blog!
If you decide to attempt a gluten-free diet, be patient with yourself and your body. And make sure you consume a wide variety of plant-based foods to ensure you are getting the nutrition you need. After at least 2 weeks of eating 100% gluten free, eat a small meal that contains gluten. Wait about 30 minutes to an hour, and see what happens. If you don’t have any sort of reaction, eat another small meal with gluten and give it at least 24 hours. If after adding gluten back into you diet, you don’t notice an sort of ‘change’ in your body or your mood, then gluten is safe for you! However, if you note any changes, such as: brain fog, stomach ache, gas, mood swings, rash, itchiness, fatigue, etc, then you may want to consider eliminating or reducing the amount of gluten in your diet.