Gluten Free-yes or no?

Gluten-free diets have become super popular in the last five or so years. More and more restaurants, even fast food chains, are offering gluten-free options. All the same, if you ask someone what gluten is or if it is healthy (or not), chances are you are going to get a confused look!

Ten years ago, I discovered I was gluten-intolerant, guided by Dr. Chris Barney of Performance Chiropractic. I was suffering from many symptoms: allergies, asthma, upset stomach, skin problems, excess body fat, fatigue, slow exercise recovery, diarrhea, constipation, hemorrhoids, canker sores…  and I was surgically treated for an anal fissure! Dr. Barney recognized these symptoms and immediately mentioned GLUTEN INTOLERANCE. I jumped on his recommendation and immediately took all the gluten out of my diet. Not surprisingly, I lost about 5 pounds in three days. Also, my asthma disappeared, the severity of my allergies eased, my digestive system became more reliable and the various skin and fatigue issues literally disappeared!!! A few months later I was formally diagnosed with Celiac Disease by my Endocrinologist.

Many of my friends and clients have asked me what gluten is. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, oats, barley and rye. Those who are gluten intolerant or have Celiac Disease cannot break down this protein and have "allergic" reactions: including bloating, digestive issues and all that I previously mentioned.

There are numerous benefits to eating wheat, oats, barley and rye, even though gluten itself doesn't offer special nutritional benefits. The many whole grains that contain gluten are rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals, such as B vitamins and iron. Studies show that whole grain foods, as part of a healthy diet, may help lower the risk of heart disease, type-2 diabetes and some forms of cancer. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that half of all carbohydrates in the diet come from whole grain products. A 2005 report from the American Dietetic Association warned that gluten-free products tend to be low in a wide range of important nutrients, including B vitamins, calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium and fiber.

There is nothing wrong with the rest of us trying a gluten-free diet to see how we feel. However, there are challenges in doing so.

Becoming gluten-free means saying NO to many common and nutritious foods. Gluten shows up in many whole-grain foods related to wheat, including bulgur, farro, kamut, spelt and triticale (a hybrid of wheat and rye).

In order to be gluten-free, one must avoid all foods containing gluten. Many breads, pastas, sauces, seasonings and sweets contain gluten. For those with Celiac Disease, this is a lifestyle change that can be very difficult, especially when socializing, dining out and traveling!

Gluten-free products are also expensive because of the special processing and cooking equipment necessary. True gluten-free products must be prepared in a completely gluten-free zone. This generally means a completely separate kitchen, which adds to the cost.

In addition, gluten-free products have a shorter shelf life. Since many of the bread products do not have preservatives to keep them fresh, a loaf of bread can spoil after just a few days. As a result, I always freeze or refrigerate mine.

Give a gluten-free diet a try if you are experiencing stomach problems, acne, asthma, headaches, allergies, digestive issues, bloating or body aches and pains. If you do not feel a difference within a few days (like going from a downtown traffic jam to a secluded island), by all means, return to your regular eating habits.