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The Gluten Free Craze

Research has showed us in recent years that whole grains are good for us.  So why are so many people giving up wheat, barley, soy, and rye in what appears to be an all-out war on products with gluten?  Is there good science that shows us gluten is not a good thing for our bodies or is it a fad into which we’ve all jumped, assuming since the anti-gluten campaign is everywhere it must be justified?

You probably hear the phrase “I’m gluten free” often and wonder if you are missing something important that you should be incorporating into your diet. Some grains are naturally gluten free, such as millet and quinoa, and are becoming quite popular. Many books claim that gluten free diet will help with autism, weight loss, and several other health conditions.

So should we all be avoiding gluten? Honestly, for most of us, a gluten free diet doesn’t appear to offer many health benefits. In fact, it may bring unwanted results such as weight gain and nutritional insufficiencies.  For those truly suffering from Celiac Disease the elimination of gluten is very important.  Celiac Disease is an inherited autoimmune disease that causes damage to the small intestine when gluten is ingested.  For those people, gluten free eating can be truly life-changing.  However the true statistic is that only one percentof the population is actually affected with true Celiac Disease. I recently had a conversation with my functional medicine doctor about this very subject.  His conclusions after treating many, many people have been that the gluten-free craze is a huge fad that in many cases could cause health problems.

You may have friends or co-workers who have slimmed down after giving up gluten. Going gluten free may initially lead to shedding some pounds or dropping a few dress sizes, because the weight loss is typically caused by cutting out gluten based starchy foods, which are loaded with refined carbs, like pasta, crackers, bagels, white bread, and baked goodies.  Cutting those things out of your diet and replacing them with veggies and whole grains like wild rice, and quinoa, naturally cuts excess refined carbs (which love to feed our fat cells), and results in newfound energy. However, going gluten free can eventually lead to weight gain if you’re not careful.  This is because after a while, people still crave breads and other starchy products and many of the gluten free options have no fiber or protein and are very carb dense.  Increasing your carb load (especially with the gluten free substitutes like rice flour or tapioca flour) at the same time you’re giving up important proteins and fibers could end up being a recipe for unintended weight gain.

Bottom line: If you’re looking to lose weight, and you think you may have Celiac Disease, I recommend getting a blood test.  Your doctor will be able to test you easily for it.  If you find you’re not a true Celiac, then there may not be enough evidence at this time to suggest you will benefit from eating gluten free. Before making this plunge into the gluten-free world, examine the rest of your eating habits first. Your weight gain probably might have more to do with consuming too many sugar packed foods (read your labels – sugar is hidden in many things). If you do determine to eliminate gluten from your diet, keep in mind that gluten free foods are often low in calcium, B vitamins, iron, zinc, magnesium, vitamin D, and fiber. Make sure to eat plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts,  lean meats, dairy, and legumes to get the important nutrients your body needs.


About Crystal Dwyer Hansen
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