How do you know if you should go gluten-free? Are there signs and symptoms? Does everyone need to go gluten-free? Do I myself eat gluten-free? Is it just a new health craze? What is celiac disease? And what the hell is gluten, anyway? I'll be discussing all of this and more in today's blog post...
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I'm diving head first into the topic of all things gluten and gluten-free today.
Gluten-free - the latest health craze?
Let me start off by saying that gluten-free is NOT simply a trend or the latest health craze. There is real value in going gluten-free or at the very least, being gluten-aware (more on this later).
It's true that many commercial products (most of which have nothing to do with gluten anyway) use the term 'gluten-free' on their packaging. This is one way that marketing teams use something called health washing: wanting to appear health conscious and appeal to health conscious shoppers when in actuality, these products have little to do with health. But it's easy to believe that this is the latest health fad when even your pack of sponges reads gluten-free!
just because it says 'gluten-free' doesn't mean it's healthy
It's also true that a lot of packaged gluten-free products on the market are sadly, unhealthy and loaded with a lot of other crap. Just because it's labelled gluten-free, doesn't mean it's healthy. Junk food (even gluten-free) is still junk food. The flours often used in gluten-free products (like cookies and pretzels) can be refined and not necessarily good for you. So, what do you do? How do you make sound choices if you're wanting to eat gluten-free? I suggest eating food that's naturally gluten-free and keeping the packaged stuff to a minimum. But I'll break this all down for you a little later on.
what the hell is gluten anyway?
Gluten is a protein found in grains such as wheat, kamut, spelt, rye and barley. It's what makes pizza dough stretch and white bread roll into a little ball (I can't be the only one who did this as a kid :P) . It's also conveniently hidden in a lot of packaged and processed foods as a binder because of its gluey nature. This is why it's so important to read your labels!
Should I go gluten-free?
Well, if you've been diagnosed with celiac disease you don't have a choice. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder. When someone with celiac disease consumes gluten, their body reacts by mounting a full fledged immune response that attacks the small intestine. This leads to crippling cramps and diarrhea. If you suspect you have celiac disease, don't ignore it and consult your primary health care provider.
Even if you don't have celiac disease, you can still experience some of the negative effects of consistent gluten consumption. Buuuuut, you can also experience some of the incredible benefits of avoiding gluten - like ditching the permanent "food baby" you've been carrying around 😉.
Signs & symptoms of gluten intolerance:
- digestive discomfort: gas, bloating, cramping, diarrhea or constipation
- arthritic pain
- weight loss
- "chicken skin": formally known as Keratosis Pilaris. It looks like red, raised bumpies on your skin that resembles goosebumps except these bumps don't go away. Usually found on the back of the arms.
- brain fog and fatigue after a glutenous meal
- depression ,anxiety
- hormone imbalances such as PMS and even infertility
- joint pain
Technically, no! Not everyone NEEDS to go gluten-free. But, you would certainly benefit from reducing the gluten in your diet (at the very least). Be aware of your glutenous grains and non glutenous grains (see below) and be mindful of hidden sources of gluten. When creating your weekly meals, be mindful of how often you're consuming gluten. Where possible, swap out glutenous grains with non-glutenous grains and maybe even consider going grainless and eating more paleo-style meals every now and again.
In our home, we strive to reduce the gluten in our diet. We opt for gluten-free grains where we can and even go grainless a lot of the time. With that said, we don't deprive ourselves either. Every now and again I enjoy a piece of sprouted whole grain toast and pizza on spelt dough from Nature's Emporium (if you haven't tried it, I highly recommend it 😋).
- gluten-free oats
- oats (This is a tricky one! Oats don't contain gluten. However, they are sometimes processed in a facility that handles wheat and can therefore be contaminated. If you do have celiac disease, I suggest buying oats specifically labelled gluten-free)
grains containing gluten
- duram flour
Foods you can still enjoy
- fruits and vegetables
- seafood and meat
- dairy and eggs
- nuts and seeds
- oils and butter
- spices and herbs
- condiments such as vinegar, mustard and gluten-free tamari
- gluten-free grains
foods to avoid if you're going gluten-free
Unless labelled gluten-free or made with gluten-free ingredients, you'll want to avoid:
- cookies and crackers
- pastries and other sweets like cakes
- soy sauce, gravy and other sauces.
Easy Gluten-Free Swap Outs
- FLOURS: coconut, nut flours like almond meal, brown rice, quinoa or buckwheat flour. You can even use chickpea flour. Bob's Red Mill has a gluten-free all purpose flour that makes baking a cinch!
- PASTAS: quinoa, rice, or bean/lentil pastas.
- CRACKERS: rice crackers or my fave, Mary's crackers!
- BREADS: there are plenty of great brands that offer gluten-free varieties such as Silver Hills. ** I'm going to be completely upfront with all of you - I've never had a gluten-free bread that I've actually and thoroughly enjoyed. So I choose to keep my bread intake to a minimum and WHEN I do want bread I purchase Ezekiel or Silver Hills sprouted whole grain breads. I keep them frozen and pull a piece once in a blue moon when I feel like it.
- CEREALS: look for gluten-free varieties like Nature's Path - Mesa Sunrise or naturally gluten-free puffed quinoa or millet cereal. I also really like brown rice crisps.
sample gluten-free 1 day meal plan:
option 1: Green smoothie
option 2: Organic free run egg veggie omelet with 1/2 avocado
option 1: Brown rice with sautéed broccoli, seasoned with gluten-free tamari
option 2: Chicken salad loaded with greens, veggies and a balsamic/olive oil vinaigrette
option 1: quinoa pasta topped with dairy-free pesto and shredded chicken
option 2: grass-fed steak with roasted veggies and sautéed kale in olive oil and herbamare
option 1: apple slices with almond butter
option 2: hummus and veggie sticks with Mary's crackers
water, green juices, coconut water, pure fruit juices, coffee and tea
If you are considering going gluten-free or simply looking to reduce the gluten in your day to day diet, strive for real, whole foods. That should always be the priority. And limit the packaged, processed stuff where you can.
Resources you may find useful:
Tell me, what are some of your favourite and trusted gluten-free brands?