Disclaimer – I’d just to like remind my readers that I am not a medical professional, not a dietician or nutritionist, nor am I any kind of medical or health care authority. None of the information below or in any other blog post on Life Despite Lupus is meant to replace professional medical advice and care.
I have always been highly skeptical of “miracle” diets and crazy food combinations. At this point I’m sure everyone’s heard of them – how juicing can cure all your ailments, or if you only drink lemon water and eat cucumbers you can fix your blood’s PH levels and how you can totally subsist off of grapefruit and cottage cheese, or dripping rare steak and potatoes. Ask ten people for diet advice and you’ll be sure to walk away with twenty or more plans to try.
What does “gluten-free” mean?
Gluten is protein typically found in wheat, rye, barley and oats. While for most people, it doesn’t cause any harm, to those with Celiac’s Disease or a gluten sensitivity, this protein and the foods that contain it can cause serious and painful symptoms. Gluten-free foods are simply products that have replaced gluten-containing foods with alternatives that don’t contain gluten. It sounds simple, but once you begin really reading your favorite product’s nutrition labels, you quickly find that gluten is lurking in many foods you never imagined contained wheat. My biggest surprises were finding gluten in just about every sauce, condiment and soup on my supermarket shelf (flour is typically used to thicken liquid products) and processed meats (pepperoni? Say it ain’t so!)
The gluten-free debate
Like anything else, each side has its supporters and detractors. Supporters of a gluten-less diet point to diseases like Celiac’s Disease and sister-diets such as the Paleo diet as proof that our bodies just weren’t meant to process the sheer amount of gluten that is typical in our diets now. One of my favorite TV chefs, Marcus Samuelsson, actually has a great post on his website about the gluten debate, which outlines some good points such as the fact that how our wheat is processed for consumption now is vastly different (though not necessarily better) than how our ancestors made the grain safe to eat. And, of course, there are plenty of celebrities who are actively endorsing a gluten-free lifestyle (though personally, I think doing anything just because someone on tv does it is just dumb). The anecdotal evidence, while not scientific, is if anything, overwhelming.
Detractors point to lack of conclusive research to support that gluten is actively harmful to the average person, some implying that going gluten-free can actually be more harmful than helpful. Some of the red flags mentioned include the fact that going gluten-free, like any other restrictive diet, might also result in cutting out necessary vitamins and minerals. Also, there are very few, if any, studies that specifically link gluten alone to illnesses (with the exception of Celiac’s) and critics are quick to point out that other ingredients found in food could be the culprits instead.
Should you go gluten-less?
I finally decided to go gluten-free as part of desperation move to better my health. The change came part and parcel of a detox/cleanse program which included also omitting eggs, all dairy, all refined sugar, nightshade vegetables (sometimes assumed to increase inflammation in autoimmune illnesses), peanuts and some other things. Along with this dietary change, I was also taking a cleanse powder (kinda like a multivitamin in powder form, mixed into a shake) and digestive enzyme supplements – all in addition to my normal, doctor-prescribed medications. I’m on week 4 now and have noticed many positive changes: my blood pressure has dropped back into the normal range, my cholesterol plummeted, blood sugar improved and I’ve lost a few pounds. I got a bunch of energy back. Sounds like a good deal, right?
However – there’s nothing to suggest that any of these changes are only because of omitting gluten. At the same time I also cut out as much processed food as possible, opting for raw nuts and fruits as snacks instead of crackers and cheeses (though I really miss cheese). After reading some articles about the nutritional value of kale and other dark leafy greens, I started having more of those. I recently cooked eggplant for the first time, substituting that for pasta in my own version of rollatini. All these other changes are factors that can’t be ignored when it comes to improving your health and diet.
Before choosing whether or not to try going gluten-free ask yourself: What does “gluten-free” look like to you? Like veganism, if you’re planning to simply swap out your normal gluten-stuffed, sugar-loaded, chemical-laden and highly processed foods with, well, simply gluten-free highly processed foods, then you probably aren’t going to get very far. Processed food is still processed food and processed food is likely never going to have the same complex, nutritional combination of enzymes, minerals and vitamins that are found in natural foods.
However, if you don’t have a gluten sensitivity (and this is something to check with your doctor) then having a bit of bread with a diet of veggies, lean meats and a low amount of processed foods probably won’t kill you. But going gluten-free can also be a good start for weeding highly processed foods out of your diet and expanding your palate with new grains such as quinoa or millet.
Have you gone gluten-free? What changes have you noticed? What tips would you give for someone deciding to go gluten-free or not?
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