Should I Consider a Gluten-Free Diet Plan?
“Gluten-free” has been a diet catchphrase in recent years, with many people claiming that following a gluten-free diet has turned their life around, resulting in weight loss, diminishing aches and pains, and the resolution of a whole host of ailments.
But is a gluten-free diet right for you?
Let’s take a look at what going gluten-free can mean for you.
What Is Gluten?
Most people associate gluten with wheat, but it is present in other cereal grains as well, such as triticale, barley, and rye. And “wheat” is a larger category of grains than most people realize.
Wheat grains include:
You can see from the number of items in the list without “wheat” in their names that searching out sources of gluten can be tricky.
Because gluten helps foods hold their shape by acting as a type of glue, it’s often found in surprising food items like sauces, soups, and even salad dressings as well as the things you would expect, such as bread, pasta, and cereals.
Why Celiac Sufferers Must Follow a Gluten-Free Diet Plan
Approximately one in every 133 people in the United States suffers from celiac disease.
This inherited autoimmune condition causes the body to attack the small intestine when a person eats something that contains gluten.
The attack mechanism causes bowel distress and interferes with the proper absorption of vital nutrients.
Because nutrient absorption is affected, celiac can lead to a host of other diseases, including:
Because celiac can have wide-ranging impacts on a person’s health, it’s important for anyone suffering from the disorder to remove all gluten from their diet.
What Can I Eat on a Gluten-Free Diet Plan?
If you’re looking to start eating gluten-free, you might be wondering what foods are allowed on your diet.
A gluten-free diet plan doesn’t have to be boring. The following foods are no-brainers for those avoiding gluten, and they should make up a large part of your diet.
But you needn’t feel like you won’t be able to have grains ever again. Here is a list of grains that are naturally gluten-free. Substituting these for wheat, rye, and barley in your cooking will allow you to keep pizza crusts, breads, and desserts on the menu.
Following these food recommendations will make eating and cooking at home a breeze, but it can be difficult to eat out in restaurants that don’t have options that fit with your gluten-free diet plan.
A few tips to remember is that gluten often hides in soups, salad dressings, and sauces, so choose entrees that are simple, or ask for the sauce to be left off your meal. Dress your restaurant salads with a squeeze of lemon or a splash of balsamic vinegar and a dash of olive oil.
Another hidden source of gluten is medicine, vitamins, and supplements. Gluten is often used to bind or bulk up pills and supplements.
It’s often noted on the label as “starch,” and, while that can also refer to tapioca or potato starches, it’s best to be on the safe side and skip over any medications or supplements with this ingredient listed.
What a Gluten-Free Diet Plan Offers to Everyone
There is compelling evidence that following a gluten-free diet plan can provide benefits for everyone.
Dr. Daniel Leffler, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and an authority on celiac disease states that, “. . . It really does seem to provide some improvement to gastrointestinal problems for a segment of the population.”
Studies show that people who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome, a disorder that causes severe gastric distress, often find their condition improves when they remove gluten from their diet.
Scientists have also found that a segment of the population suffers from what they term nonceliac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) and that these individuals also find relief from gastrointestinal issues when they follow a gluten-free diet.
But what about everyone else? Let’s look at what going gluten-free can do for you.
Recent studies pinpoint the role of gluten in causing widespread and chronic inflammation that can contribute to various aches and pains, as well as to trigger or exacerbate underlying autoimmune issues.
Cancer has also been linked to high levels of inflammation, and so have the following disorders:
Even depression and dementia have been shown to correlate with high levels of chronic inflammation in the body.
Encourage Weight Loss/Reduce Insulin Sensitivity
Eating a gluten-free diet has been associated with weight loss and the prevention or remission of insulin sensitivity in people that follow it rigorously.
Some of the weight loss will be due to the simple, whole-foods emphasis that the gluten-free diet plan proscribes.
It’s hard not to lose weight when you’re removing a good deal of high-glycemic carbohydrates in the form of wheat and wheat products from your diet.
But there is also evidence that gluten itself is a trigger for weight gain as our bodies can develop low-level (undetectable in laboratory tests) sensitivities that cause it to process food in a way that is conducive to gaining weight.
Improved Cholesterol Levels
Research shows that a gluten-free diet is important in controlling cholesterol levels. Eating gluten-free results in an overall improvement in levels of cholesterol, with high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or “good” cholesterol increasing and the ratio of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) to HDL decreasing.
This stabilization of cholesterol levels can lead to improved health through reduced chance of stroke, heart attack, and heart disease.
Reduced Muscle and Joint Aches
Although many muscle and joint aches can be due to overuse or injury, some are definitely caused by low-level inflammation — the very thing that a gluten-free diet plan can help avoid.
Even fibromyalgia, a sometimes-debilitating disorder that causes widespread muscle pain — can be helped by consuming a gluten-free diet.
In fact, one study showed patients had “remarkable” improvement of their fibromyalgia symptoms while avoiding gluten in their diets.
Reasons to Avoid a Gluten-Free Diet
You should always consult your physician when considering a change in your diet. A gluten-free diet, while healthy in many ways, is low in the following nutrients:
If you’re eating a gluten-free diet, you’ll need to supplement for these very important nutrients, so you don’t suffer from deficiencies.
In addition, you should be aware that some prepared gluten-free foods, like boxed preparations, grocery store dressings and sauces, and others can be relatively high in fat and sugar.
This means you should learn how to read labels carefully, so that you’re able to ascertain the levels of nutrients, fats, and other additives in the gluten-free convenience foods you’re purchasing.
There is also some concern among the medical community that restricting gluten when you don’t have celiac disease could lead to increased cardiovascular issues.
The mechanism for the increased risk was the fact that people reduced consumption of grains that were beneficial to heart health.
The Final Word
If you have celiac disease or nonceliac gluten sensitivity, you should definitely act to remove all sources of gluten from your diet. Doing so can increase your health and longevity as well as your comfort levels.
And from the facts presented here, it’s easy to see that a gluten-free diet plan can be right for most people and contribute many health-positive benefits to their lives.
If you’re looking for a diet that will help you manage your weight, lower your chances of getting Type 2 diabetes by lowering insulin sensitivity, reduce muscle and joint aches and pains, or reduce your overall inflammation and increase health — gluten-free might be the way to go.
If you don’t have a disorder that requires a gluten-free diet, you can ease into the gluten-free lifestyle a little at a time. This will give you and your body a chance to adjust to the changes the diet will bring to your health.
It might be a good idea to keep a food diary and a diary of how you feel when you start on your gluten-free journey, so you can catalog how, or if, the diet is making a difference in your life.
As always, talk to your health provider before starting on a new eating plan.