Gluten-free foods are a hot topic these days. Five years ago, very few people had ever heard of celiac disease. Now, nearly everyone knows someone who follows a gluten-free diet, and it’s rare to find a restaurant that doesn’t offer a selection of gluten-free foods.
I’ve been mindful of the need to cut back on gluten for several years. I sometimes talk a good gluten-free game, but I’ve never fully committed to going completely gluten-free — I have too much of a weakness for doughnuts and pizza. I admire those who are fully committed to a gluten-free diet — especially if they aren’t actually celiac. It’s hard. I definitely try to limit the amount of gluten in my diet, but it takes a big commitment, a lot of planning, and a whole lot of willpower. But even if you don’t have a severe allergy to or intolerance for gluten, there is significant evidence to suggest that going gluten-free can have numerous health benefits.
Dr. Mark Hyman, a leader in the field of functional medicine and author of The Blood Sugar Solution, notes that gluten, along with dairy, is one of the leading causes of internal inflammation, and that internal inflammation is the root of all imbalances that cause chronic disease. There’s enough in Dr. Hyman’s new book to make me think it’s time for me to go fully gluten-free. Some of the problems associated with gluten that he mentions — like canker sores and postnasal drip — I can definitely relate to.
He also notes on his website that an article in the New England Journal of Medicine links gluten to 55 common diseases and health conditions, including osteoporosis, irritable bowel syndrome, fatigue, anxiety, depression, and migraines.
What is gluten anyway?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat and other grains such as barley, rye, spelt, and kamut. Because so many staples of the modern diet — breads, crackers, cookies, cakes, pasta, baked goods, breakfast cereals, hamburger buns, dinner rolls, even beer — are made with wheat, gluten is clearly pervasive in the standard American diet. Many foods also contain hidden sources of gluten, including condiments and salad dressing.
How to test for a gluten allergy
Blood tests can identify a gluten allergy, but may not pick up on more subtle gluten sensitivities. The best way to test your reaction to gluten is to go on an elimination diet. This requires removing all sources of gluten from your diet for several weeks to see if any health issues resolve. After being gluten-free for several weeks, you can start to slowly reintroduce gluten to your diet and see if your symptoms reappear.
Are gluten-free foods healthier?
Because gluten is such a hot topic in the health industry, many people believe that gluten-free versions of their favorite foods are a healthier option. But it’s important to remember that gluten-free junk foods are still junk foods. Cookies, cakes, pies, and other baked goods are still processed foods full of sugar, whether they contain gluten or not. It’s important to limit your intake of processed foods, refined carbohydrates, and sugar. If you have a sweet tooth, you’re much better off eating a small piece of dark chocolate or some fruit than any type of baked goods — gluten-free or otherwise.
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