What The Hell is Gluten And Should I Avoid It?
by Abby Osborn
Last night I ate some gluten free cookies. Since I’m in the fitness world I should be eating all natural, organic, gluten free, taste free, basically tree bark in order to stay healthy and fit right?. We’ll talk about what those other things mean later, but today let’s talk “gluten.” Anyways, back to what I was saying, I ate gluten free cookies yesterday, NOT because they were gluten free but because they were fucking good.
WHAT IS GLUTEN?
The marketers do a damn good job of making you believe that gluten is the next thing to wipe out the human population. Gluten is a NATURALLY (high emphasis on the natural part) occurring protein in wheat, barley, rye and several other grains. It helps foods maintain shape acting as a glue that holds it together. Yeah I know it’s not very sexy right? Gluten has been an ESSENTIAL part of our diets for years, but each decade we need to come up with a new fad and buzz word so gluten-free is to this era what low carb and the Atkins fad was in the 1990’s and in fact, most people that go gluten free actually have no idea what it actually is.
SHOULD I AVOID IT?
Depends. Gluten CAN be very harmful….to less than 1% of the population that has celiac disease. Celiac is a serious autoimmune disorder that when a person eats gluten it causes the immune system to attack the small intestine and prevents the body from absorbing nutrients. Celiacs definitely CANNOT eat gluten. On the other hand, there are people that have gluten sensitivities or wheat allergies who should avoid gluten, but once again, SMALL percentage of the population. Don’t let google talk you into thinking you need to avoid gluten or else your skin will start to fall off. Unless you have one of the 3 conditions I mentioned above, gluten is actually very safe.
HOW DO I KNOW IF I HAVE CELIAC OR ALLERGY TOWARDS GLUTEN?
IF you believe that you do have celiac, allergies, or sensitivities get tested OR eliminate gluten from your diet for a few weeks and introduce it back in. If you start having adverse reactions, well then you know. I hate to be “that guy” or in this case “that girl” but you probably do not have celiac (.3-1.2% of the population) and you probably do not have a gluten sensitivity (3-7% of the population). Once again, I’m sure the mainstream magazines and media have you convinced that you feel like shit every time you eat pasta and bread so then you have to spend money on gluten free products.
I’m not saying you’re crazy if you feel like shit and have reactions after eating gluten containing foods, but it’s probably not a gluten sensitivity that’s causing your symptoms, it could be IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) or a reaction to poorly absorbed, short-chain carbohydrates (FODMAPs) like grains, beans, dairy, and even some fruits. Common sense suggests that if a certain food makes you feel like crap, then stay away from it.
CAN GOING GLUTEN FREE BE HARMFUL? (Yeah I’m going there)
If you decide to go gluten free because you think it’s “healthier” I’m going to tell you that it may backfire on you. When you start avoiding grains you then eat fewer products with enriched nutrients, and this could lead to deficiencies in iron and calcium. Adequate fiber intake could also be an issue because many sources of dietary fiber come from products that contain gluten (whole grain breads, cereals, etc). Oh and let’s not forget the INSANE cost difference and money you have to shell out for a gluten free product.
You’ll never in a million years convince me that gluten free cookies, cakes, and pizza are “healthy.” These products still contain calories and in fact when you take gluten out of products then the need to add extra fat, sodium and sugar are used to compensate. So technically speaking gluten free can sometimes make you gain more weight which is kind of what we want to NOT do right?
BUT WHY DO PEOPLE LOSE WEIGHT GOING GLUTEN FREE?
Often times when someone first goes gluten free and they start losing weight, they contribute their weight loss to eliminating gluten. More often than not, a person loses weight on a gluten free diet because they are now eating less since most gluten containing foods tend to be higher in fat/carbs and calories. If Bob goes from a diet of processed junk food to eating fruit, vegetables, and other whole food items, of course he’s going to lose weight since weight loss happens when you’re eating in a deficit.
Bottom line and what I want you to take away, if you honestly think you have some form of gluten allergy or celiac then please get tested or see your doc. If you feel euphoric because you cut gluten free foods out of your life, continue to do so. Otherwise, there’s really no reason to have to cut gluten out. Don’t let Dr. Oz convince you to have to go spend 3x as much money for gluten free to be “healthier” and I’m sure he gets a cut for product promotion anyway. You want to be healthy? Eat more whole foods, consistently exercise, eat less processed foods, and drink more water.
BMJ. 2015 Oct 5;351:h4347. doi: 10.1136/bmj.h4347.