But is the "gluten-free" craze just another fad, or does it really mean something? How much does gluten really affect your health? This week, we're delving into the details to uncover the truth about gluten, and what kind of impact it has on your health.
So, just what is gluten? And how can it affect your health and your weight?
As you may or may not know, gluten is a protein found in grains, such as wheat, barley, rye, spelt and kamut. At least 3 million Americans – and millions more around the world – cannot properly digest this protein, and that can be more damaging to your health than you might think.
For those with celiac disease, even the tiniest amount of gluten triggers an autoimmune reaction that could result in severe stomach pain, damage to the gastrointestinal tract, systemic inflammation, vitamin and mineral deficiencies and a host of other painful and debilitating symptoms.
However, until very recently, the notion that gluten could have negative effects on people without celiac disease was denied by mainstream medicine.
But the evidence is growing…
- A review in the New England Journal of Medicine linked gluten to 55 conditions, including chronic fatigue, bloating, irritable bowel syndrome, migraines, osteoporosis, anemia, rheumatoid arthritis, depression, ADHD, and even cancer!
- Another study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that people diagnosed with gut inflammation had a 72 percent increased risk of death (mostly from heart disease and cancer), while those with gluten sensitivity had a 35 percent increased risk.
Why Bread, Pasta and Cereal Don’t Fit in Your Genes
If you look back to, say, about twelve thousand years ago, our ancestors hunted and foraged to survive. The main (or sometimes only) meal of the day included things such as fresh-picked greens, berries, nuts, seeds, eggs and anything they could catch or kill. But with the advent of agriculture and the Industrial Revolution, grain-based foods not previously on the menu began to fill our plates.
Today, the average person consumes grains and gluten at nearly every meal… cereal and toast for breakfast… a sandwich at lunch… a granola bar for a snack… pasta and rolls at dinner.
And while 12,000 years might seem like a long time, it is the blink of an eye in evolutionary terms. Our genes have changed very little from those of our Paleo ancestors. And most of us haven’t developed the capacity to handle these “foreign” proteins.
In fact, in Dr. Alessio Fasano's presentation in the Gluten Summit, he stated that, essentially, it is impossible for humans to digest gluten.
The evidence clearly suggests that most of us would be healthier if we did not consume gluten.
However, please note that the term “gluten free” does not automatically equate to “healthy.” (More on that in a minute....)
What About Weight Loss?
The truth is that there is nothing inherent about gluten that will cause you to gain or lose weight. But that’s not the whole story… You see, grains are a high glycemic food. They stimulate the production of insulin – your body’s fat-storing hormone. The more bread, pasta, cereal and flour you consume, the more likely you will be overweight.
In fact, a recent review of the data behind the China Study (not the largely discredited book, but the actual study itself) shows that wheat consumption is the strongest dietary predictor of body weight and is closely correlated with body mass index. In other words, the more wheat you eat, the heavier you are, regardless of height.
So, while it has little or nothing to do with gluten… a gluten-free diet CAN help you lose weight.
But unfortunately it doesn't always work that way for most people. Avoiding gluten itself won't necessarily lead to weight loss. Truth be told, if you follow the advice of many gluten-free "gurus", it could actually increase your chances of gaining weight and raise your risk for disease!
In fact, one of the biggest complaints about the gluten-free diet is that people have a hard time losing weight. Many people actually GAIN weight on a “gluten-free” diet.
I'm glad you asked!
The truth is, most commercially prepared gluten-free foods are no better than their “super-gluten” counterparts! Most of these foods are highly processed and contain chemicals and preservatives. But that’s not the worst part about them…
Gluten-free packaged foods, such as bread, pasta, cookies, crackers and cakes, typically have just as high of a glycemic index as their wheat-based counterparts. Basically, they harm your blood-sugar regulation system just as much as wheat does.
The same goes for make-at-home baking mixes. Not to mention the bread and dessert recipes on most “gluten-free” food blogs.
Most of these foods and recipes are made from rice, corn, potato and tapioca flours and other high-glycemic grains. In fact, most gluten-free flours are even worse than eating a candy bar when it comes to your blood sugar!
And if these foods are not sweetened with harmful chemicals like sucralose and aspartame, they usually contain excess amounts of sugar, agave syrup, or even corn syrup. In other words, the very same unhealthy ingredients that promote inflammation, weight gain and blood sugar issues in the regular foods that contain gluten!
But that doesn’t mean you can’t lose weight AND protect your health on a gluten free diet. Going gluten free – the right way – many experts now believe is the key to healthy longevity.
And the great news is that you can still enjoy some of your favorite comfort foods – like cookies, cakes, bread, pizza and pasta – without harming your health.
For example, check out Kelley Herring's amazing gluten-free, grain-free desserts guide described here. This guide contains recipes for making your own amazing desserts like brownies, cookies, macaroons, and mousse, as well as breakfast biscuits, crepes, tortillas, and sandwich bread, all made without gluten and without any blood-sugar damaging grains at all!
Get your copy of this awesome guide here: Guilt-Free Desserts, plus Healthy Grain-Free Breads and More.
So there you have it - gluten in a nutshell! :-) While just selecting "gluten-free" foods won't necessarily improve your health (unless you have celiac disease), choosing the right gluten-free foods can have a huge impact on how you feel, how healthy you are, and how long you live.
As we always say, everything is connected! Cutting one thing out of your diet and expecting it to make a huge difference in your health (again, unless you have an allergy or strong sensitivity) really won't get you the results you want. But if you approach your health and your diet in a holistic way, and choose natural, whole, healthy foods that your body was designed to eat, you will be well on your way to a happier, healthier, more balanced life.
On a separate note, please note that we will be taking a much-needed vacation from blogging next week so we won't have a regular post, but stay tuned, as we're working on some really cool stuff for you, which I will be announcing soon! In the meantime, be sure to check out our Facebook page for some healthy holistic living news and resources.
To your health!
* Thanks to Dave at PaleoHacks for sharing some of the information used in this article!