It seems as though many athletes and celebrities are claiming their winning streaks, athletic performance or svelte figures on eliminating gluten from their diets. With all this talk, it seems that “gluten free” has become the new fad diet. But let me back up…
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, spelt, kamut, barley, rye, triticale and malt (flavoring and vinegars). Oats don’t naturally have gluten, but they are often manufactured in plants that process wheat. Gluten is also used as a preservative or sweetener so it may be found in many packaged foods like ketchup, soy sauce, salad dressings, soups, sauces, lunchmeat and hot dogs. Here (click the link) is a great resource for label reading and product information.
Three million people are currently living with Celiac Disease, an autoimmune disease, where gluten triggers inflammation and damage to the small intestine. This is a very serious and life threatening disease that can impair nutrient absorption. For them, avoiding gluten is a must.
In a smaller, less serious, group are found those that may be gluten sensitive. These individuals have trouble digesting gluten and experience some gassiness, bloating, fatigue, and diarrhea. The trouble is that those symptoms could be linked to others digestive issues as well and may not be a gluten sensitivity.
If you think you may be sensitive, the first step would be to be tested for Celiac Disease. If that is negative, it may be helpful to eliminate all gluten (as outlined above) for a month or so and see if your symptoms improve. If they do, and everything else stays constant, it may be beneficial to avoid gluten.
Grains to include (in addition to lean proteins, fruits and vegetables) that are gluten free would be quinoa, millet, teff, arrowroot, amaranth, buckwheat, brown rice, potatoes, corn and beans. It is important to remember that just because a product is gluten free, does not mean it is healthy. But with all of the attention to a gluten free diet, that is exactly what consumers are thinking. Gluten free cookies are still cookies; no healthier than a regular cookie. Focus on the healthy whole grains listed above to be sure you get adequate nutrients to support a healthy lifestyle.
Is avoiding gluten going to help you lose weight, run raster or perform better? Not at all. But if you are truly sensitive, it may improve your quality of life which may enhance your ability to do so.
Emily Fonnesbeck RD,CD