The big question I get all the time from my patients is: “Do I really have to go gluten free?”. As with all things in health and wellness, there isn’t a simple, one-size-fits-all answer. The answer is both yes and no.
Deciding to become gluten free is a genuinely healthy dietary shift for the majority of people. It can lower cholesterol levels, improve digestion, and increase your energy levels. Removing gluten from your diet helps repair your small intestine, helping you to better absorb nutrients.
What is Gluten?
Gluten is mainly found in wheat. It is a type of protein that is inflammatory in the body and hinders and slows down the absorption of the nutrients from the food we eat. A large percentage of people who suffer from autoimmune disorders are allergic or intolerant to gluten. In addition to wheat products, you’ll find gluten in foods like oats, barley, rye, pizza, pasta, white bread and more. Gluten is also hidden in many of the processed foods and sauces on the market. So in order to avoid gluten, you actually have to avoid much more than just wheat and flour products.
Gluten free diets are generally prescribed for patients suffering from celiac disease. Celiac patients are severely intolerant to gluten when it comes in contact with the small intestine. But you don’t have to be diagnosed with Celiac to benefit from going gluten free. For instance, diabetic patients who follow a gluten free diet have seen their blood sugar levels decrease significantly and feel they have more energy to exercise and go about normal day-to-day activities. In addition, autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis have also seen the benefits of following a gluten free diet.
How can I avoid gluten?
In order to avoid gluten, you’ll want to eliminate the following things from your diet:
- Wheat (including wheat starch, wheat germ and wheat bran)
- Durum Wheat
- Cracked Wheat
- Oats (unless they’re gluten-free)
You’ll find these flours in all types of noodles, cookies, pastries, muffins and also in more unsuspecting products like malt vinegar, chicken broth, salad dressings, soy sauce, veggie burgers and even in seasonings and condiments.
Going gluten free is a very healthy dietary option for your body and it’s easier than ever to find products that fit this lifestyle change. Gluten free products are made with “wheat substitutes” like tapioca or almond flour which are easily digestible for most people. But, as an advocate of eating a whole food diet rich in nutrients, I want to caution you to use gluten substitutes sparingly. The real way to maintain a life filled with health and vitality is to eat mostly fruits and veggies with a small amount of non-gluten grains and pasture raised organic meat if you choose.
While going gluten free isn’t always easy, the first step is to change your mindset. Take the time to consciously prepare yourself. Tell yourself that you are making this change for the health of your body. Let your body know that you are prioritizing its well being and are going to be making some changes in support of your life. And as always, before you make any large dietary changes, it’s always important to consult a naturopathic physician who can help guide you in making more informed decisions about your health.