Have you gone gluten free? Is it something we should all be doing? I see many clients who feel
they should choose gluten free, not because they feel bloated when they eat it, but because they have heard that gluten is a toxin. So let’s start with the simple question – what is gluten? And should it be considered a toxin in our bodies?
Literally, gluten means ‘glue’. It is a protein compound found in certain grains (wheat, barley and rye). It gives the dough elasticity, helps it rise and keep its shape, as well as giving the final product a chewy texture. Whether gluten is a toxin is a more difficult question to answer. Grains have been hybridized to become drought-resistant, bug-resistant and grow faster. They are also deamidated which means they have been made water soluble. These hybridized, deamidated grains have been shown to produce an immune response in many people. So the grains and gluten per se could very well be acting as a toxin in your body. However, there are many people who can tolerate gluten, so if you don’t have any side effects when you eat grains containing gluten you can definitely still continue enjoying them.
Many people have put themselves on a gluten free diet and are feeling there is a dramatic improvement their health. What I want to make you aware of is that you may be feeling better because you have cut out excess calories (often found in flour-based snack foods). I have worked with many clients focusing them on balanced nutrition and lifestyle and their symptoms have disappeared, without needing to cut out gluten completely.
However, if it is gluten that is causing your symptoms, let’s take a look at how we can do this in the best possible way so that there is no deficiency of vitamins, minerals and fibre.
The basis of a healthy gluten-free diet, as with any diet, should be natural, whole foods. Fish, chicken, lean meats (ostrich is a
fantastic option), fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy products as well as nuts, seeds, avocado and olives are all safe for people with gluten intolerance.
Eating gluten free does not mean that you have to eliminate the whole carbohydrate category of foods from your diet. You can still get enough nutritious carbohydrates. Be careful with gluten-free products though. Aside from their expense, they tend to be low in nutrients such as B vitamins, calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium, and fibre. This is because many gluten-free products are made with refined, unenriched grains and starches which contain many calories but very few vitamins or minerals. It is therefore best to choose whole foods rather than processed (gluten-free) foods mostly. Some grains that don’t contain gluten include rice (brown and wild are best), quinoa, amaranth, millet, sorghum and whole corn. And starchy vegetables as well as legumes are also a good source of nutrients and carbohydrates. Try rather using these foods as your source of carbohydrate.
And of course treats should only be enjoyed occasionally by all, whether you want to lose weight or be healthy! Enjoy the gluten-free products occasionally but be mindful that they may be high in saturated fat, cholesterol or calories, and low in nutrition. Make sure you learn to read labels. Always check the ingredient list so that you are aware if any unhealthy ingredient has been used. I encourage clients to choose foods that have fewer ingredients.
If you make the decision to go gluten free, do so with awareness and add those carbs that will keep your diet as healthy as possible. And enjoy your food, gluten-free or not!