Gluten free diets have become trendy in the last few years and many experts think this is a bad thing. People with celiac disease need to keep away from gluten for health reasons, in fact, they can be very sick if they consume the least bit of gluten. However, many people who are not celiac decide to cut out gluten for digestive reasons or for other health reasons. Some have even tried it as a means to lose weight. Is this a healthy thing to do?
As a health coach, people often ask me about going gluten-free and whether it would help or not. The answer is not simple. I think it’s important first to evaluate the current diet as a whole. Someone who eats a lot of processed foods, added sugar, and not many vegetables would first benefit from changing to a healthier diet all together. If the diet is already healthy and digestion is still difficult or other issues are present, trying a gluten-free lifestyle could be an option.
But first I need to define what going gluten-free means: It means eating foods that do not contain gluten. For some reason, many people believe that eating gluten-free means going to the supermarket and buying groceries from the gluten free aisle alone. This is never healthy and I would never recommend any of my clients do this. When I recommend that someone try and stir away from gluten, it usually means sticking to the vegetable and fruit sections of the supermarket, eating fresh meats, fish, beans, nuts, seeds, and sometimes, some brown rice, quinoa, or gluten-free oats. I have purchased items in the gluten-free aisle such as gluten-free soy sauce which contains even less ingredients than regular soy sauce or buckwheat and oat flours that have not come into contact with gluten. But all the processed foods that are in that aisle such as cookies, cake mixes, chips, spreads, syrups, and so forth, are just as processed if not more processed than regular processed foods which I never recommend to anyone. If you are already eating a wholefoods diet, with minimally processed foods, you may find that there isn’t a huge difference when you remove gluten. Granted, some people are attached to bread and this could be difficult to cut out. There are some alternatives that can be healthy but not just any gluten-free bread is healthy.
Before deciding to try a gluten-free diet, there are a few things to consider. First, you may want to check with your doctor to make sure that you are not celiac. Once you eliminate gluten from your life, it is impossible to do the tests to find out if you have the disease. You may think that it doesn’t matter since you will be cutting out gluten anyways but if you are celiac, you have to be very military about your consumption of gluten, and you have to watch out even for any cross contamination. If you are simply avoiding gluten for better digestion or for other health issues, you may not be so rigid about avoiding all cross-contamination (although you still want to be careful). Therefore, it is important to know where you stand before starting this diet. You also have to be ready to prepare more foods at home, get into the kitchen more, which is healthy anyways, and you have to see how it can impact your social outings and get-togethers with family and friends. Your loved ones hopefully should support you but it could mean not going out for pizza as often as you used to do with your friends. Again, there are so many delicious alternatives, but this could mean getting into the kitchen instead of ordering or eating out. More restaurants are offering gluten-free options and these can be good occasionally, but again, the quality of your food may be better if you make it yourself. And if you are cutting out gluten for health or digestive issues, keeping away from sugar and additives is equally important which is why I don’t recommend always eating the gluten-free options in restaurants.
Once you decide to remove gluten, plan your meals in advance to make sure you are not left stranded with no options. There are so many recipes on line or on social media that can be delicious. Just remember that whole foods are best. If a recipe involves added sugar, canola oil (which is highly refined), or white rice flour, it’s not a great idea. Think of breakfast ideas, lunch ideas, and dinner ideas. Before trying new things, you can survey what you already eat and see if anything is already naturally gluten-free and from there, you can see what other meals you can add on. You may be able to make some simple ingredient swaps to your usual meals. Using the help of a health coach or nutritionist can be helpful to make a healthy meal plan that is complete with all macro and micro nutrients.
- If you do this, try to take it on as a fun health challenge and be gentle with yourself if you make mistakes. The idea will be to see if you feel better while removing gluten and if you do, then why not keep it up. After trying it out for a full month, you will have a good idea. If you decide to keep it up, you can find new recipes and new ideas for many more meals that you can incorporate to make this a lifestyle.
- If you do have a sensitivity, avoiding gluten may improve many issues such as lack of energy, bloating, brain fog, skin issues, and more.
- If you want to truly feel better, you will want to improve your diet altogether and not just remove gluten.
You may also have other sensitivities and removing gluten alone may not be enough. Trial and error is probably your best bet but with the help of an expert always to make sure you do not have any deficiencies in your diet.
Here are some delicious naturally gluten-free recipes that I love: