Are gluten-free diets healthy? It depends.
While gluten-free diets are sometimes dubbed as just another crazy fad there are those that benefit from removing gluten. However, just because you decide to go gluten-free does not mean you’re going to necessarily reap mounds of benefits. Education and execution are key.
There are times a gluten-free diet can actually do more harm than good.
First, what is gluten, really? And why might someone benefit from a gluten-free diet?
What is Gluten?
Gluten, the protein found in wheat, barley and rye, functions like glue. When flour is mixed with water, it creates a stretchy, doughy mixture that allows bread to rise. Unfortunately, the proteins in gluten are a common food sensitivity. You don’t have to test positive for Celiac disease or have gluten antibodies to have problems with gluten. [efn_note] “Celiac Sprue | NEJM.” https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMra010852. Accessed 20 Jan. 2019.[/efn_note]
Modern Day Gluten is Everywhere
Modern-day gluten, which is a hybrid and different from what your grandparents grew up on, can affect both gut and immune health. Our modern day gluten can be dissolved in liquid to be used in everything from hair products and toothpaste to lunchmeat.
Naturally gluten-free grains, oats, nuts and seeds often come in contact with gluten. Thirty-two percent of inherently gluten-free grains examined in a 2010 study from the Journal of American Dietetic Association were found to contain significant amounts of gluten, and over half of samples contained traces of gluten. [efn_note] “Gluten contamination of grains, seeds, and flours in the United … – NCBI.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20497786. Accessed 21 Jan. 2019.[/efn_note] Whether it’s because it’s processed on shared equipment with gluten or because it sits in a storage silo or transportation vehicle with a gluten-containing grain, these cross-contaminated items can be problematic. Items sold in the bulk bins of the grocery store can easily be contaminated, as well.
Gluten Leads to Leaky Gut and Autoimmune Disease
Researcher and renown gluten expert Dr. Alessio Fasano revealed the connection between gluten and leaky gut. When you eat gluten, a chemical called zonulin is released, opening up the tight junctions in your gut, allowing all sorts of food particles (that should stay contained) out and about into your bloodstream. This can spell problems with a capital P, since intestinal permeability, also known as leaky gut, is a precursor to autoimmune diseases according to Fasano’s research. [efn_note] “Leaky gut and autoimmune diseases. – NCBI – NIH.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22109896. Accessed 20 Jan. 2019.[/efn_note]
A Bad Gluten-Free Diet
So, with the link between gluten, inflammation and disease, going gluten-free is on many people’s minds. Sadly, many are doing it all wrong.
The Gluten-Free Swap
Just subbing your favorite wheat-filled foods with gluten-free flour filled counterparts isn’t doing you any favors. In fact it could be hurting you, big time.
Gluten-free flours generally have a higher glycemic load. The extra carbs and effect on blood sugar can cause issues with obesity, insulin resistance and diabetes. Higher carbohydrate diets from even gluten-free flours can also hinder achieving weight loss goals by increasing hunger and increasing insulin.
Corn, a common gluten-free flour, can be problematic because of the presence of aflatoxins a common mold found on corn. [efn_note] “Global Risk Assessment of Aflatoxins in Maize and Peanuts – NCBI – NIH.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3748761/. Accessed 20 Jan. 2019.[/efn_note] Not to mention, corn is one of the most heavily genetically engineered crops with heavy pesticide use.
Letting Gluten-Free be your Free Pass:
If you find your brain always substituting the word “gluten-free” with “nourishing” or “healthy,” think again.
If you’ve ever said “I can have that!” when looking at the GF labels floating around the cookie, cracker and cereal aisles, you may need to rethink your gluten-free diet and stop viewing that gluten-free label as a free pass for indulgence.
You may need a change if you see your diet as a:
- Free pass for more desserts: If you find yourself pouring over the latest Instagram gluten-free cookie post every single night instead of only enjoying them as an occasional treat.
- Free pass to skip on nutrient-dense foods: If you’re just subbing the bun on the burger and swapping wheat tortilla for corn, you could be missing out on the food changes that could actually benefit you in the long run. It’s possible to do a gluten-free diet and still have the SAD (Standard American Diet) of little veggies, poor fat and protein sources and lots of sugar or lots of simple carbohydrates that turn to sugar. That space on your plate could be used for vitamin-rich fare.
A Well-Formulated Gluten-Free Diet:
The answer? A balance gluten-free diet should come from whole foods, not packages.
Ideally, your entire gluten-free diet should come from the parameters of the grocery store. Just leave that “gluten-free” center aisle of granola bars and bread alone.
Your gluten-free diet should be health-promoting.
What in your health needs to change right now? Are you pre-diabetic? Needing to lose a few pounds? Trying to balance your hormones to conceive? Make sure what you eat supports your end goal by including hormone-producing protein, brain-protecting fats and carbohydrates from sources that won’t spike your blood sugar. Get a jump start with this free 3-day meal plan.
Individualized Nutritional Guidance
Wanting extra help on how to formulate the best diet for you? Already gone gluten-free and wondering why you still have gut woes?
Gluten is just one of many factors that could be contributing to a leaky gut. Addressing any intestinal permeability could positively affect your mood, cognitive abilities, fertility and overall vitality.
Schedule a functional medicine consult today to not just get rid of symptoms but to address the cause of those symptoms.
- Take inventory. On your next shopping trip, do you have more items from the produce section or the center aisles, where all the boxes and packages reside?
- Take the whole food challenge. See how many days in a row you can go without eating any form of processed foods, including “healthy” granola bars, crackers, chips. Remember, just because they have labels like “organic” or “gluten-free” or “non-GMO” does not mean it’s supporting your body and your health goals.
- “Celiac Sprue | NEJM.” https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMra010852. Accessed 20 Jan. 2019.
- “Gluten contamination of grains, seeds, and flours in the United … – NCBI.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20497786. Accessed 21 Jan. 2019.
- “Leaky gut and autoimmune diseases. – NCBI – NIH.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22109896. Accessed 20 Jan. 2019.
- “Global Risk Assessment of Aflatoxins in Maize and Peanuts – NCBI – NIH.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3748761/. Accessed 20 Jan. 2019.