Should You Try To Go Gluten-Free?

February 19, 2013   48 Comments

Gluten-free foods are a big new product category. At my local cafe, I could choose to eat a gluten-free muffin.

Gluten Free Advice

My cafe got me thinking about the benefits of going gluten-free, which means giving up cupcakes, pizza, bread, pasta, etc. to avoid the gluten found in wheat. If I had toast for breakfast, pizza for lunch, and a hamburger on a bun for dinner, this would be tough!

Gluten sensitivity is a fairly new area of research (see Gluten-Free, Whether You Need It or Not). Researchers aren’t sure how widespread the allergy to gluten is at this point.

Anecdotal evidence suggest that certain people can benefit from a gluten-free diet. I have a friend who went gluten-free a couple years ago and says he has more energy and less sinus infections. I’m sure plenty of you have friends like this.

Thinking about how much wheat, barley, and rye you eat on a daily basis is not a bad thing. Those of us who are trying to decrease the amount of processed foods we eat should take a look at it, but not necessarily because of gluten. Wheat is in a bunch of processed foods and so when we cut down on wheat, we will hopefully eat more fruits and vegetables.

What do the experts say? From the above article:

“It is not a healthier diet for those who don’t need it,” Dr. Guandalini, medical director of the University of Chicago’s Celiac Disease Center, said. These people “are following a fad, essentially.” He added, “And that’s my biased opinion.”

I have noticed that certain gluten-free foods, like my favorite frozen waffles, are less healthier than the their wheat counterparts. I discovered this by mistake when I purchase gluten-free waffles and checked the fiber amount (1 gram) versus the 6 grams found in the original style.

My advice is that if you want to go gluten-free don’t substitute the pizza, pies, and waffles with gluten-free versions, just stop eating pizza, pie, and waffles and see how you feel.

With my plan, you get the benefit of eating less processed foods in your diet whether or not you are actually sensitive to gluten. You really can't lose!

Have any of you adopted gluten-free diets? How has it helped you?

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First 20 Comments: ( See all 48 )

Great post! I debated about going gluten-free, but now I'll skip it!!

I am currently experimenting with a gluten-free way of eating to see if it will help my tummy problems. It isn't as difficult as I thought it would be. I do find myself eating less proccesed foods and lots more fruits and veggies. And my tummy is thanking me.

I think it's similar to the low-fat diet in the 80s. At first, people lost a bunch of weight on low-fat diets, because there were avoiding overly processed foods. Then, the food industry caught up and there were all these products. So low-fat no longer meant low calorie and people ate as much as they always did calorie-wise (because sometimes you need more low-fat ice cream to get the same satiation as from a smaller amount of the full-fat variety).

That said, in my 40s I seem to have developed some food sensitivities (I'm not calling them allergies). Avoiding gluten and dairy makes my digestive system work better and for me, not against me.

I personally do better just avoiding, with a few substitutions (there's this lemon-almond flour cake that I make and just love). Because in general, I find that having a gluten-free waffle is very dissatisfying. I make pasta sauce and serve it to my kids over pasta, and I eat it over polenta, for example.

Lisa, This post is terrific. The crux of the matter* is that giving up bread/pizza/bagels/muffins/beer in favor of whole foods is smart. Whether that eliminates gluten or not is not the issue. Paying attention to what you eat, making healthy choices, and shopping responsibly will make anyone feel better, inside and out! (*I realize Celiac and gluten intolerances are real; my comment is aimed at those who haven't been diagnosed but think that hopping on the GF bandwagon will cure what ails them.)

Thank you! Thank you for being a voice of reason. I was a little worried when I saw the title of the post and thought "here we go again." Going gluten free when you don't have an issue with gluten is like giving up peanut products when you don't have a peanut allergy. Unfortunately marketers win in the media. I have a very good friend who's 9 year old son has celiac disease and she is THRILLED at the new gluten-free products on the market. That doesn't mean I'll start eating them. I'm just glad they are there for those who need them.

I can give up everything (, bagels, bread..) BUT I WILL NOT GIVE UP MY BEER!! Therefore, gluten free is not for me.

Appreciate getting your thoughts on this one. While I do believe some people benefit from a gluten free diet, the prevalence of it is like the next magic pill for weight loss. IMHO it's not.

For the rest of us it's a good reminder (those w/o true gluten issues) to continue to pay attention to ingredients and making wise choices. I continue to be amazed at the growing amount of shelf space dedicated to "gluten free" - it certainly isn't "process free." Just like "fat free" foods wasn't the answer to weight loss, "gluten free" isn't either.

I personally like Dr. Oz's segment on Gluten Free Diets...lots of great information! Thanks to his list of symptoms, I went gluten-free about 6 months ago and feel MUCH better now! However, I have to say I am working to get off 10-15 lbs because my mind went into starvation mode! OMG--if I can't eat breads, pastas, and pizzas I will starve to death! Of course I haven't--now I have to relearn to eat more healthy!

You're so right about gluten-free being a fad. I get annoyed when people give me a hard time about my food choices. After working with a gastroenterologist for about a year, I decided to give up wheat (not gluten) about 7 years ago. My stomach troubles completely cleared up, and so did my skin. (I used to have terrible psoriasis.) Now when I explain to people that I don't eat wheat, they dismiss it with an "Ugh, so YOU'RE gluten-free, too?" As if it were a personal choice.

On another note, our society is so food-centered and wheat-centered that this lifestyle really puts a damper on my social life. I'm fine if I can plan my family's meals and eat at home. However, it's very difficult to eat out and at other people's homes. Wheat and gluten are in absolutely everything, and people don't even realize it unless they have to live the lifestyle themselves.

You've hit it on the head - it's the substitutions that are less healthy, not the actual gluten free lifestyle. Gluten-free cookies, for example, tend to have more sugar and less nutrition than their wheat-based counterparts, mostly to cover the taste of strong bean flours, etc. .

You don't have to think of gluten free as impossible, especially if you don't have celiac & it won't "kill" you if someone touches a piece of bread before touching your food.

For gluten free, concentrate on what you CAN have. You can have all fruits, all vegetables, all meat, all fish, all dairy, all rice, all potatoes, all nuts, etc.

A rule of thumb -- if you're going gluten free, in general it means shopping the perimeter of the store rather than the middle.

My thoughts exactly!

I think the issue for many people (those without celiac disease) is not whole grains per se, but the way they are processed. For hundreds/thousands of years across many cultures, grains were sprouted (just by laying harvested in the fields), soaked and/or fermented before use in breads, porridges etc which changed their chemical composition and made them more digestible for humans. Modern, industrialized farming and ended all of that -- and brought with it a host of problems. There is a lot of good information (including scholarly work) on the web about grains and fermentation. Check it out!

There is more than just a problem of celiacs. I would strongly recommend looking at Dr. Davis' Wheat Belly cookbook to understand how to be wheat free with healthy foods rather than the processed, higher sugar, gluten free processed foods that are touting "gluten free."

I do believe some people may be sensitive to gluten, but I'm on the it's a fad side. I have a friend who in addition to gluten can't have dairy and a whole list of other ingredients and its almost more like an eating disorder. Not surprising she used to be heavy and now she's not but she rationalizes her elimination of a lot of foods as allergies. In the end snack girl right cut out the junk and you'll feel better and look better! Oh exercise is good for digestion too lol!

I think a lot of people out there are more sensitive to foods than we all realize. I agree that a lot of it has to do with the way our foods are grown, harvested, and processed. The end result, however, is the same. Erin's friend who is perceived as having a borderline eating disorder is probably sensitive, but not intolerant or allergic to those trigger foods. I feel her pain. It is definitely perceived as an eating disorder, when in reality we are trying to self-medicate for a food sensitivity in a society that doesn't recognize their existence. Our bodies are delicate systems. Once we find the triggers that interfere with our individual bodies' functioning, we will be healthier and happier.

Great info! If you don't need to go gluten free, save yourself the trouble. My family went gluten free (dairy free, soy free, etc) based on all of the allergy testing and real life experiences we endured. I could have never dreamed ten years ago that I would be one of those people who couldn't have whatever I wanted. But the sinus infections, flu systems, thyroid problems, weight gain and inability to lose the weight consistently (even with a trainer) and fatigue ultimately led me to this new way of life. We are much healthier, the kids aren't sick all the time and we feel better overall. I miss the days of throwing whatever I wanted (or was cheap) in the cart at the store, eating at drive thru's on the really busy days, and not thinking twice about reading a label for anything more than figuring how many points something might be. So, if you don't need to go gluten free, don't worry about it! If you do, or if you experience a host of issues, try it, learn it and you'll feel better for it. If you aren't sure, request food allergy testing. While it isn't the be-all, end-all, it offers the perfect starting point to uncovering a mystery and your body will definitely thank you for it. :)

"My advice is that if you want to go gluten-free don’t substitute the pizza, pies, and waffles with gluten-free versions, just stop eating pizza, pie, and waffles and see how you feel."

Yes, eating gluten-free doesn't necessarily mean it is healthier food--many gluten free foods use processed flours just like their wheat counterparts (ie: white rice flour). I am gluten-free, and try to only choose whole-grain gluten-free baked goods for obvious reasons.

What makes me upset are comments I hear from others suggesting living gluten-free is a fad. I feel it is very rude to dismiss those who have sensitivities to wheat. I would love more than anything to down a whole pizza, but I know I would pay for it for days of feeling awful, with stomach cramps, and other symptoms I don't want to mention online. So, I am in the process of learning how to make my own GF pizza (using whole grains), which will never be as great as the real thing, but I physically feel much better in the long run.

Now I feel bad for saying that I agree that eating gluten-free is a fad. I should clarify. What I meant was that it's becoming trendy for people to go gluten-free because they have vague ideas about it being a more healthy lifestyle. I cannot tell you how often I've heard people saying that they are eating gluten-free because it's better for you. Obviously, if you don't have Celiac (or some other type of sensitivity or intolerance), a gluten-free will not be beneficial.

I don't have celiacs but my body doesn't know how to process gluten, so I've been off of it for quite some time now and I feel so much better. I have more energy, not as many migraines and no bowel issues. When I do 'cheat', I feel awful! I know that some ppl want to just experiment and treat it as a 'fad', but not everyone does this. Some of us need to eat this way and substitutes are nice from time to time. I wish they were more healthy, but unfortunately, we get what we get right now.


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