Thinking of going Gluten-Free because it’s become the latest food trend? You may want to rethink your decision!
Yes, going gluten-free has become all the rage these days. Everyone is giving up gluten — from supermodels to Hollywood starlets, health fanatics to yoga gurus made ever-popular by Instagram….let’s just say it’s become rather fashionable to cut back on gluten. But if you haven’t been diagnosed with celiac disease or suffer from terrible consequences of gluten sensitivity, a gluten-free lifestyle may do you more harm than good.
Before we can discuss the terrible consequences of giving up gluten, let’s first discuss what exactly gluten is. No, gluten is not something toxic and sinister that lurks in just wheat!!! In fact, gluten is a protein that is found in lots of grains – like wheat, barley and rye, and is made up of two protein groups – gliadin and glutenin. It’s what makes bread springy and light, pizza dough stretchy, and it’s also the thickening agent for dressings and sauces. So it’s not just bread and whole-wheat tortillas that contain gluten; stock cubes, soy sauce, beer, biscuits, cakes and even chocolate have gluten in them.
Research has found the prevalence of celiac disease in the USA to be 0.71%. Studies have also found that celiac disease is hereditary, and occurs frequently not only in patients with gastrointestinal symptoms, but also in first- and second-degree relatives and patients with numerous common disorders even in the absence of gastrointestinal symptoms.
So what does this mean for the rest of us, who neither have celiac disease, nor suffer from symptoms of gluten sensitivity, like constipation, diarrhea, bloating, fatigue and skin rashes when we do consume gluten?
A gluten-free diet is crucial for those who suffer from celiac disease, an autoimmune condition for which no treatment is currently available. And while celiac disease is on the rise, there is no logical explanation for the disproportionate increase in growth of the gluten-free food industry. There was a time when it was hard to find gluten-free foods, but today, every supermarket has dedicated aisles that sell tons and tons of food options that are gluten-free. In fact, market research shows that a vast bulk of the GF (gluten-free) products is being bought by people who don’t suffer from celiac disease at all.
Why is that a problem, you ask? Here’s something you probably didn’t know — If you are not allergic to gluten, a gluten-free diet comes with dangers for your good health, especially if you follow such a diet without consulting a professional dietician or nutritionist. Research has found that quite a few commonly consumed packaged GF foods are higher in fat and carbohydrates and lower in protein, iron, and folate compared with regular products, besides being more expensive. Also, a gluten free diet can result in a nutritional imbalance, for celiac patients and non-celiacs alike. Research has also linked a gluten-free diet to increased risk of obesity, metabolic syndrome and new-onset insulin resistance. There is evidence of high sugar intake, and low fibre and mineral intake, on the gluten-free diet.
It’s not just that. Going gluten-free without diversity in your diet exposes you to more toxins as you are on a restricted diet. Scientists have found increased mercury levels in those who eat a gluten-free diet. The theory is that when you take out hard-to-digest foods like gluten, grains and beans from your diet, the body’s immune and digestive systems become adversely impacted. Immunity gets compromised and lowers the body’s ability to flush out toxins like mercury.
For many of us, the idea behind going gluten-free is to avoid bloating, gastritis, constipation and to improve gut health. But did you know that if you don’t have gluten sensitivity or celiac disease, eating gluten-free will harm gut flora and reduce immune function?! Spanish scientists have found that a gluten-free diet leads to reductions in beneficial gut bacteria populations.
And it’s not just your gut microbiome that suffers on a gluten-free diet. In fact, you may struggle to eat enough fiber on such a restrictive diet. Unless you cook from scratch at home every day and make sure your diet includes plenty of fibrous vegetables and gluten-free carbs like brown rice and quinoa, you may not be getting enough fiber. Whole grains are the easiest way to eat more fiber.
That’s not all — giving up gluten can also be detrimental to your heart health. Scientists were unable to find any link between long-term dietary intake of gluten and risk of coronary heart disease. On the other hand, the avoidance of gluten may result in reduced consumption of beneficial whole grains, which may affect cardiovascular risk. Experts do not recommend a gluten-free diet for people without celiac disease at all.
While gluten itself does not contain unique nutritional benefits, the whole grains that contain gluten often do. Most breads and cereals are fortified with B vitamins and iron. So the simple fact is — going gluten-free will increase your risk of developing a micronutrient deficiency. This is particularly true for those who rely on processed foods for a quick meal, instead of relying on vitamin-packed fresh fruits & vegetables, protein and iron rich meats like turkey, beef and chicken, and gluten-free grains like brown rice, millets, sorghum and quinoa.
Swedish scientists have found evidence of poor vitamin status in celiac patients who have been on a gluten-free diet for 10 years. These patients were found to be deficient in folate, vitamin B-6 and vitamin B-12, and related plasma vitamin levels. Most gluten-free diets rely on highly processed and low nutrient-dense starches, such as white rice, potato and tapioca flours. Not only are these foods much lower in fiber, they are usually not fortified with B vitamins or iron, unlike traditional wheat flour products.
If you don’t have a lot of time to cook at home and your gluten-free diet is not based on Whole Foods, chances are that you will have to depend on packaged foods to be able to maintain a gluten-free diet. It’s quite easy to feel like your choices for processed foods are justified as soon as you see the gluten-free label, but are they? In the end, processed foods are just that – heavily processed, lacking in nutrients, and loaded with sugars, additives and preservatives to elongate their shelf life and make them tastier.
If your diet still comprises of gluten-free bread, pizza, cakes, pasta, bagels, Rice Krispies and cookies, you can’t honestly say that you have made any real dietary changes. What you are doing is setting yourself up for nutritional deficiencies, weight gain, and a plethora of other issues. You can’t seriously believe that eating such a diet will actually make you healthier?! Unless you enjoy cooking and like to spend time in the kitchen creating gluten-free versions of your favorite recipes, you will not get healthier just by giving up gluten!
We have established that giving up gluten can result in some terrible consequences. If you are still keen on cutting back on gluten, it’s imperative that you consult a doctor or a licensed dietician or nutritionist before you do so. Only with the help of expert guidance can you create a healthy diet plan that is gluten-free but not nutritionally imbalanced.
However, if you would like to eat a diverse diet that contains heart-healthy grains but is not accompanied by the less-than-desirable symptoms of eating gluten (think bloating and gastric discomfort) the key may be to learn to cook your grains the right way.
Why does gluten get such a bad rep? Truth is, gluten is a hard-to-digest protein, which is the primary reason why it is associated with gastrointestinal distress. If your digestive system is not working optimally, gluten will not be completely broken down in the stomach. It will pass through the stomach undigested, and when eaten in excess, it will cause irritation to the intestinal villi.
The easiest way to avoid this is to prepare, store and cook grains the right way. By soaking, sprouting and fermenting grains, the harmful components in grains that our body struggles to digest are all taken care of, making grains more digestible. Sprouted wheat flour has decreased protein, gluten, sedimentation value, starch and crude fat. Grains prepared in this way have much higher nutrient levels.
In fact, soaking all grains (like barley, bulgar or oats) overnight will soften them and activate enzymes that breakdown and release the protein, so they become easier to digest. If you like to eat wheat, try whole-wheat ground into a flour whole, allowed to soak and ferment over 3 days to make sourdough bread, eaten with grass fed butter. We assure you this is the best way to avoid all the unwanted symptoms you associate with eating gluten!!!