I've been hemming and hawing over writing a "how to be gluten free" post for months now, but every time I started to write it, I realized I had too much to say and not enough focus.
I've been gluten free since I was 11. I was diagnosed with Celiac just before Thanksgiving that year, and spent Thanksgiving crying in a bathroom because I couldn't have gravy, cornbread, stuffing, pie...or a variety of other scrumptious fare. So when I say I'm "gluten free", I don't mean "when I feel like it/because it's a fad/just recently." I mean: I do not eat anything with gluten in it, ever, and haven't in well over a decade.
|Before the diagnosis, I was extremely underweight and always sick. Check out those knobby knees!|
(I'm going to try my best not to be preachy, but damn, this is such a soap-box issue for me.)
Let's start with a definition
. Most Celiac research groups (and the FDA) agree that anything with less than 20 ppm (parts per million) of gluten is considered gluten free. (If you're eating something with 5 ppm and you eat a lot of it, and then the total is more than 20 ppm, then can it still be considered GF?) Also, the "20 ppm" rule isn't an actual federal regulation. So more specifically, I consider "gluten free" to mean that it's made with non-gluten-having ingredients.
There are two kinds of people who may find relief in going gluten free.
The first are those with a diagnosed sensitivity or intolerance, such as a gluten allergy or Celiac. The second are those with other autoimmune disorders or intestinal disorders, such as Crohn's Disease. Either way, your doctor should be the one telling you to go gluten free, not some trendy fitness magazine.
Especially during New Years, when people set out to try new diets and lose weight, I see too many articles on the "value" of going gluten free. Here are a few myths debunked:
Myth 1. Cutting out gluten is good for everyone and anyone! FALSE.
Unless a doctor has told you that you would benefit from cutting out gluten (or ANY food), it's probably not going to benefit you. Studies
have shown that those without a medical cause who cut gluten from their diet showed no actual improvements in their health.
Myth 2. Going gluten free is a great way to lose weight! FALSE.
There are just as many high-sugar, high-calorie, high-saturated-fats foods that are gluten free. These days it's so easy to find GF food, and so much of it is unhealthy. The only way going gluten free will help you lose weight is if you don't replace your usual foods with gluten free options, which really just amounts to following a low-carb diet anyway, and avoid snacks like candy, ice cream, French fries, etc.
(Fun fact, I gained a ton of weight quickly when I was diagnosed because I was so malnourished before. So if you really have Celiac, you may even gain weight, not lose it.)
Myth 3. I have Celiac, but it's okay to eat some gluten once in awhile! FALSE.
I really hate this mentality. If you've cut out gluten and your body has started to heal itself, it becomes more
susceptible to the dangers of gluten if you ingest it. Go 100% GF if your doctor has told you to.
(I get how hard the transition can be. I was lucky; I was diagnosed late but my sister had been GF since she was 18 months old, so GF food was already a staple in my house and my transition was easier. But sometimes you just need to suck it up and do what's right for your body, especially when the long-term effects could include osteoporosis and cancer.)
|Unfortunately, with Celiac, you can't pick-and-choose; all gluten needs to be avoided. (From mimiandeunice.com)|
Myth 4. No one "needs" to be gluten free; it's just a fad! FALSE.
Yes, it's become a fad thanks to Hollywood/celebrities and diet trends, but 1 in 133 people have Celiac, and gluten allergies really exist. There is no pill or cure other than to completely cut gluten from your diet. (I think the abundance of people going gluten free without a diagnosis has helped to create this fourth myth.)
Believe me, the side-effects of gluten for those of us who really need to be gluten free are proof enough. (But in case you're still doubtful, I have the blood tests and the endoscopy images to prove it!) If gluten intolerance were a made-up affliction, my mom wouldn't have spent my childhood cooking two meals (one regular, one GF), baking GF bread, or spending tons of money ordering specialty foods from Canada.
|Delicious, easy to find in stores, and you have to love the whole grain option...but not cheap.|
Being gluten free is expensive. Special options at restaurants often cost an extra $3-5. A loaf of gluten free bread usually runs about $4, compared to just over a buck for regular bread. Who would choose to spend that extra cash if it weren't medically necessary? (In fact, if you have proof of diagnosis, you can sometimes get a tax deduction
because of the cost of GF food.)
My point here is that if I had a choice, I wouldn't be GF. I would eat the cheaper options; I would partake in the potlucks at work; I would enjoy the snacks my students bake for me during the holidays.
All this is to say that when you're looking into a way to make your daily meals healthier, cutting out gluten (or any single food group) isn't the way to do it.
Add more vegetables to your diet. Eat more lean protein. Learn what a serving size really is and abide by it. Avoid overdosing on saturated fats and high-sodium foods.
And if you've noticed a correlation between your mood, bodily functions, and energy levels and gluten-rich meals, see a GI. An actual diagnosis is the right place to start.
for lots of excellent information on Celiac, GF recipes, foods that contain gluten, recent research, and more.
What myths or misconceptions have heard about gluten free diets?
Do you have Celiac or another diagnosed reason to avoid gluten? Share your story!
Do you have any questions?