Is gluten free healthy? Many people seem to have made their mind up that it is, much to the joy of food manufacturers everywhere who can pretty much double the price-tags of foods that fall under the gluten-free umbrella.
Paleo master Adam Farrah asks: ‘Is gluten ruining all your internal and external gains, or is avoiding it just emptying your wallet?’
Is gluten free healthy? A brief history
Last year’s gluten-free market was worth $4.2 billion. But is going gluten free merely a marketer’s dream or a legit health concern?
Gluten, the protein in wheat that makes bread and the like ‘doughy’, is the new nutritional bad guy because more people are sensitive to it than 10 or 20 years ago. In fact, researchers at the University of Tampere, Finland, found a 1,500% hike in the incidence of celiac disease (a sensitivity to gluten) over the past 20 years.
Beyond celiac disease, a number of medical doctors are finding correlations between gluten consumption and an array of problems including: ADHD, anxiety, depression, chronic headaches and migraines, diabetes, epilepsy, inflammatory conditions and digestive disturbances. None of which make for good training partners.
Here are the main things you need to know about going gluten free:
The paleo connection
With the popularity of paleo diets that avoid gluten, this way of eating has taken on a ‘fad diet’ mystique. However, many people who neither have celiac disease nor are aware of having gluten intolerance look, feel and perform better when they exclude grains an gluten from their diet. Just ask any CrossFitter and they’ll tell you.
Whether these anecdotes will eventually be proven by the science remains to be seen – the placebo effect can be one hell of a drug.
Gluten-free junk is still junk
Stroll into many supermarkets and you’ll find plenty of gluten free chocolate bars and the like. However, being gluten free doesn’t make them good for you – it is simply labeling and marketing misdirection. Plenty of gluten-free food is just plain-old junk food.
Do only people with celiac disease need to go gluten-free?
Many people who are sensitive to gluten still test negative for celiac disease because many of the testing protocols for celiac disease or gluten sensitivity are decades old. You can check out glutenfreesociety.org for more on this issue and general information on gluten sensitivity.
Gluten problems can mean other problems
Medical and dietary experts like to reduce things to a single cause – a molecule, protein or hormone – which is why when people go gluten-free they can see inconsistent results. If your immune system is oversensitive and your gut wall is inflamed, you’ll be reactive to other foods too.
Most commonly things like nuts, dairy and eggs will be problematic. Just removing gluten isn’t going to do a lot until the overall inflammation and immune stimulation is addressed. For some, gluten isn’t even the issue and they’re falling down a rabbit hole to nowhere.
Some gluten-free grains – such as corn, oats and rice – have proteins that are similar enough to gluten to elicit an immune response in people with celiac disease. Another common irritant can be casein protein, so if you’re having digestive problems it might be worth cutting it out and assessing how you feel.
The only way to know if you have a problem with gluten or grains in general is to remove all grains from your diet for 30 days and evaluate how you look, feel and perform and then reintroduce them one at a time and continue your evaluation with a food journal.
Be sure to approach this experiment without a bias against gluten because this will lead to you looking for signs that gluten is the devil. Have a stomach ache? Must be the gluten. Miss the bus? Gluten. Got fired from work? All gluten’s fault.
Remember, you’d rather not be intolerant to gluten, since living a life without bread and beer is a life not worth living, right? On a more serious note, it also diminishes the respect given to people who genuinely suffer with celiac disease. It reduces their ailment to “fad” status and is why most people’s claim of being gluten intolerant is met with rolled eyes – and that’s not fair on people who genuinely suffer.
So, is gluten free healthy? It’s not inherently healthier than foods that contain gluten, but for people who have the unfortunate struggles with digesting gluten, going gluten-free is without doubt the healthier and more comfortable option.
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