Due to the increasing popularity of the Paleo Diet and The Kick Acid Diet, gluten-free eating is now popular amongst fitness enthusiasts, medical experts and the lay person alike. For many, it has proven to be a healthy diet that has improved people’s lives. Gluten-free diets have been shown to reduce the symptoms of Celiac disease, as well as to reduce digestive discomfort, increase energy and promote weight loss for a significant number of people.
What is Gluten?
Gluten is a protein found mainly in wheat, barley and rye. It is the glue-like substance responsible for the consistency of baked goods. Gluten is made up of a bunch of different proteins, the most abundant of which is gliadin. Gliadin is the protein that causes most of the issues caused by gluten.
In a relatively short-amount of time, our daily eating habits have radically transformed, from a healthy diet of animal meats, fruits, vegetables and nuts to a dangerously high amount of grains, simple sugars, table salt and processed foods. Many experts attribute the rising cases of degenerative diseases, atherosclerosis, type II diabetes, osteoporosis, and some forms of cancer to this dietary transformation.
Why Gluten-free eating is the most Healthy Diet for Many People
In addition to the increased incidence of degenerative diseases, gluten triggers an immune response in a lot of people, many of whom aren’t even aware of it. When over stimulated, the immune system creates inflammation, resulting in a variety of different symptoms. This is why no two individuals with a gluten intolerance suffer exactly the same way, and why many people have trouble isolating gluten as the cause of it all. Symptoms of gluten sensitivity or intolerance include painful joints, skin rashes, mental fogginess and mood disorders, to name a few. And, making it even harder to pinpoint, sometimes the immune reactions triggered by gluten can take place up to six months after it is eaten!
Gluten sensitivity targets the entire body, but affects mainly the intestines and the thyroid gland. When the body’s immune system is triggered by gluten and starts to attack the intestines, it is known as Celiac’s disease. When the walls of the intestine are damaged, they can no longer absorb nutrients. Early symptoms of Celiac’s disease include bloating, gas, indigestion, diarrhea, nausea and reduced appetite. If the condition persists, signs and symptoms related to malnutrition start to become evident.
Gluten antibodies also attack the tissues of the thyroid gland. This damage can lead to a form of hypothyroidism, characterized by weight gain and a sluggish metabolism.
Fortunately, there are many gluten-free substitutes on the market today, that can easily be incorporated into a healthy diet. Listed below are common substances and flours that can be used when making your favourite baked goods. Be aware, however, sensitivities and allergies to these alternatives can be present as well.
- Xanthan gum
- Guar gum
- Corn starch
- Arrowroot flour
- Rice flours
- Bean flour
- Nut flours
- Potato flours
Healthy Habits for the Gluten Intolerant
Depending on someone’s level of sensitivity to gluten, some may still be concerned about the healthfulness of these alternatives, as well as the dangers of gluten cross contamination. If this is the case, I offer you the following alternatives.
Regularly preparing food at home is a great habit to develop for any healthy diet. By giving you control of which ingredients are going in to your food, preparing all of your gluten-free meals and snacks at home can make life much easier. But there are still ways for gluten to come to contaminate your food. A few simple rules can ensure that your food stays clear of gluten.
- Place all gluten-free foods in a pantry or fridge so gluten particles don’t accidently settle into these foods
- Thoroughly wash all dishes and cutting boards.
- Label all gluten-free foods.
Unfortunately, you don’t have control over a restaurant’s kitchen. But asking a few simple questions can be helpful when trying to moderate the gluten in your diet.
- Request that your meal is prepared in a separate and thoroughly washed pan.
- Ask that your meal is prepared using separate utensils and cutting surfaces.
- Call ahead and let the restaurant know of your request.
Due to the layout and the sheer number of shoppers at grocery stores, cross-contamination is a risk. In addition, the gluten-free label is an unregulated label. As such, it’s more of an advertising and marketing ploy than it is a guarantee. That’s not to say, however, that gluten-free products contain gluten. Most manufacturers are ethical and have the consumer’s best interest in mind. Nevertheless, it’s better to side with caution.
Having your Gluten-free Cake and Eating It To
Consuming a healthy diet similar to our ancestors is the best way to minimize, or cut out entirely, the amount of gluten you are eating every day. For some people, low–fat animal meats, nuts and seeds, organic fruits and vegetables are the most ideal foods for a healthy diet.
By following the recommendations given above and being aware of gluten-free alternatives, many people can avoid the discomfort they typically experience when ingesting too much gluten. If you suspect that you may be suffering from Celiac’s disease or a thyroid disorder, please consult with a qualified healthcare professional.