Gluten—it’s that ubiquitous word most of us don’t understand. We see it on menus from quick-serve to Michelin-rated restaurants. Generally followed by “-free,” it’s easy to vilify gluten as the latest health scare, that nefarious thing we must avoid or else. But, or else what?
That’s precisely the point. Most us have no idea what gluten is, and more specifically, if we should avoid it or not. Think of gluten as a shark. It’s not good or it’s not bad. It just is. Just don’t dive head first into the ocean, punch it in the snout, provoke the beast, and then realize you’re a poor swimmer. Shark don’t care who you are. When it attacks, it’s just doing its shark-y thing. For example, eating an occasional slice of pizza is fine, but if you are eating highly processed foods like bread, pasta, cookies & cake all the time its not doing you or your body any good. Neither is eating gluten-free bread, pasta, cookies or cake, but more on that in part 2 of this series.
First, what is gluten?
That’s a good question. The simple answer is it’s a protein found in barley, wheat, and rye. It’s basically what makes bread soft and chewy. But avoiding barley, wheat, and rye altogether isn’t enough to avoid gluten. Things can get tricky because we live in a world of processed foods. There are many foods today made with byproducts of barley, wheat, and rye. And that’s why it’s become so important to clearly label foods as “gluten-free” or otherwise.
But why should you care about gluten?
- Because of celiac disease. This is an autoimmune disease that impacts about 1% of the America population. With celiac, your small intestines are attacked, preventing them from absorbing nutrients. Fortunately, you can live with celiac. If you do have it, it’s important to avoid gluten, as there are many side effects. The most common include diarrhea, depression, and joint pain. Rarer side effects include heart disease and cancer. If you think you might have celiac, please see a doctor. Please don’t try to diagnose yourself at the first sign of a stomach ache.
- While gluten allergies haven't been scientifically proven, a lot of my clients and myself included feel better and perform better living a gluten-free life. Eating gluten-free makes it a lot easier to whole foods and less processed junk. Anecdotally, our clients have had more energy, slept better and generally felt better. In addition, my clients who adopted a gluten-free lifestyle saw greater gains in terms of performance and body composition than those who did not.
Now that you know the basics, stay tuned for Part 2 of this topic. I’ll cover how you can live a healthy life without gluten, regardless of if you’re allergic or not.