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What’s Gluten Got To Do With It?

Gluten is certainly all the rage.

And considering May is Celiac Awareness Month, we thought there’s no time like the present to talk a bit about this ever so hot topic.

From the ever so popular Paleo Diets popularized by Crossfit Gyms everywhere to celebrities claiming how going gluten free is the secret to weight loss success.

The list can go on … fitness pros to celebrities, diet docs to soccer moms.  In fact, it’s so popular we saw a "Gluten Free" at the Kentucky Derby!  Yes, amidst the horses, bourbon, mint juleps and a sea full of hats … a gluten free stand inside Churchill Downs.

So what is gluten anyhow?

Why does it get such a bad wrap? And is it deserved or a hyped up "diet secret" of the stars?

Gluten is a protein found in many carbohydrates, such as wheat, barley, and rye, among others.  Basically, most cereals, pastas, breads, and the like contain gluten.  Of course there are gluten free alternatives to these products as well.

Let’s take a step back for a minute.  There is a specific autoimmune disorder where people don’t digest gluten — this is called Celiac disease — and it affects 5-10% of the population. Again, May is Celiac Awareness Month.

Outside of those with Celiac, gluten still gets a bad wrap. 

Here are some of the reasons people have told us or cite for eliminating gluten:

  1. It’s not digested properly
  2. It bloats them
  3. It causes weight gain
  4. It hurts recovery from training
  5. It causes joint pain
  6. Our ancestors didn’t eat grains, so why should they?

Outside of the last one, 1-5 are all symptoms of a person who may have  celiac.  So the first thing a person should do is to get tested to see if they truly have gluten sensitivity. Even if the test does come back negative, however, there is still a possibility of non celiac gluten sensitivity. 

Having worked with people who have celiac in the past, true gluten insensitivity can be challenging.  There are cases where you have you use different cooking tools as the tiny bit of cross contamination from one pot to another or toaster to another, for example, could cause a reaction.

But those who try to eliminate gluten — without a true diagnosis or sensitivity — surely wouldn’t have that same concern.

What we often tell people when it comes to gluten is that foods with gluten are not inherently "bad."  On the flip side, the foods that often do contain gluten may not be the best.

Eating loads of refined carbohydrates — bread, cereal, pasta, muffins, pastries, etc — certainly isn’t great. 

Please do drastically reduce these in the diet.  It’s not a knock on gluten itself, but the sugar, food colorings, and other junky ingredients that are added to these (Froot Loops anyone?).

Also, what people often don’t think about, is just how many foods may actually have some form of gluten in them … from soy sauce to hot dogs, ketchup, beer and deli meats.

And beer … who wants to give up beer?  While the debunked argument of "eating like our ancestors" continues to resurface, we can assure you if Caveman had access to beer, they would drink it!  Regularly (heck, what else was there to do?)

At the end of the day, here’s our take:

  1. Gluten itself is not bad (nor do you need to give it up) — unless you have a true gluten sensitivity (like Celiac). 
  2. Many of the common foods that have gluten are junky — processed, overly sugared garbage — so toss those
  3. Gluten free doesn’t necessarily mean healthy.  I’ve seen and eaten gluten free cookies, hot dogs and many other similar foods.
  4. If you think you are sensitive, focus on naturally occurring gluten free grains.  These are high in fiber and loaded with great nutrients.  Here’s a short list of some solid choices:
    • Amaranth
    • Buckwheat
    • Nut flours (like almond flour)
    • Coconut flour
    • Chickpea flour
    • Quinoa

Don’t necessarily throw gluten under the bus.  It’s currently "trendy" to do so, but simply make smarter choices, focus on high fiber grains vs. refined junky carbs, and you’ll be doing a great job in terms of making strides to reach your physical goals.

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3 Responses to What’s Gluten Got To Do With It?

  1. Tj Atanasov May 8, 2012 at 5:29 pm #

    It’s great to see somebody put it so simply re gluten etc. My daughters and I are all celiac. My son with aspergers is not, but we had our specialist advise that putting him on the celiac diet would be an interesting trial. After a few weeks we saw behaviour and sleep improvements. Most gluten free cooking we do from home seems so much lighter and makes you aware of exactly what you are eating. While gluten itself isn’t a no go for most I think the processing of wheat and other gluten substances and the additives have a lot to answer for! There are so many alternatives but they are all so expensive and celiac products here in Australia rarely seem to be on significant special. Although we found that with most of our diet consists of nuts, fruit, vegetables,eggs, meat and grain alternatives its only the treats that take any real thought. We look forward to any further celiac info you can forward.

  2. Lake Forest Chiropractor May 16, 2012 at 10:05 pm #

    I’ve been hearing so much about this gluten free diet, from the Internet and the news. Cutting down on mostly junk foods anyways seems like a great lifestyle choice.

  3. Christian May 12, 2013 at 7:05 am #

    There is a lot of “stay away from gluten” going around these days. This gives a well rounded picture on what the real deal is with gluten.

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