The gluten-free craze is huge in America, probably more prevalent than you think.
In fact, Gallup conducted a poll that shows that 21% of Americans actively try to include gluten-free foods in their diet. That’s one in five or 68.4 million people. According to a study, 3.1 million Americans live completely gluten-free lifestyles, roughly one in a hundred.
At this point, it’s safe to say the gluten-free lifestyle has become commonplace.
But why do people go gluten-free? Do doctors even recommend it?
And, oh yeah,
What is gluten?
Gluten is a protein–not a carb, even though that’s what you’d think. It’s found in wheat, rye, barley, and triticale—a newer grain that crosses between wheat and rye. It helps food maintain their shape, like glue holding food together. It gives bread that elasticity. That’s why many gluten-free breads don’t have that stretchiness.
Where can you find gluten? In wheat products like bread, pasta, cereal, soups, and even salad dressing. Foods that are processed in facilities that use gluten may be cross-contaminated by it. Even rice or quinoa could be cross-contaminated with the gluten, so check the labels if you’re trying to avoid it!
Most beers and some wines have gluten in them. If you’ll be avoiding gluten, you may have to avoid alcohol as well. Alcohol also has negative effects on the brain, heart, liver, and pancreas, if consumed in excess.
Why do People go Gluten-Free?
Many go gluten-free for medical reasons. Celiac disease is a fairly rare auto-immune disorder (about one in a hundred have it) that prevents people from eating gluten or else their intestines will become inflamed and damaged. Some also have non-celiac gluten sensitivity, which can cause headaches and numbness. Some simply go gluten-free for the believed health benefits.
If you’re planning to go gluten-free, the shift will not be easy. Changing your diet never is! But if you find a plan and a community of like-minded people, you’ll have no problem sticking to a plan. We want to emphasize the community aspect: people are amazing. You will find so many people supportive of your journey and lots of resources in friends and online.
One thing to keep your eyes open for is your nutrients. Of course, we can get a lot through fruits and vegetables, but enriched products can also be a good source of vitamins and minerals. You may need to take supplements for things like calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D (especially if you’re also going dairy-free).
It’s always a good idea to consult a medical professional before going gluten-free. If you do have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, doctors will have to assess the symptoms you get when you eat gluten. Your health is the top priority. We’re very lucky to have medical experts so that we don’t have to diagnose ourselves!
Why some people avoid gluten, even if they are not sensitive to it?
There are obvious positives for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. But what about those of us just looking to improve our diets? Here are some reasons that many go gluten-free for:
Whole grains (such as those that contain gluten) may leave behind undigestible parts that ferment and produce gas in our digestive system. Although whole grains have multiple health benefits, reducing flatulence sounds like a plus for many.
Avoid leaky gut syndrome
This is a condition that may cause toxins to leak into your bloodstream due to a malfunctioning gut. Symptoms include bloating, gas, and cramps. People with intestinal diseases, such as Celiac, are the ones primarily affected by the syndrome. However, many who do not have an intestinal disease avoid wheat for fear of the syndrome.
Fear of inflammation
People with certain chronic health conditions, such as arthritis or asthma, may be prone to developing non-celiac gluten sensitivity. This is mainly due to a protein found in wheat that may trigger inflammation in those populations.
Wheat contains phytic acid which is considered an “anti-nutrient.” It may prevent the absorption of minerals such as zinc, iron, and calcium.
Some people claim that after a week or two of going gluten-free, their blemishes go away. Although that is usually a sign of gluten-sensitivity, many individuals are willing to give it a try.
Luckily, the gluten-free lifestyle is not foreign in any part of this country. Most restaurants will have plenty of options for you. You won’t have to change the way you live. Here are even some great gluten-free recipes for you.
Many people feel better
Many say they simply feel energized and positive after going gluten-free. This may be a result of eating more fruits and veggies after removing a large portion of starchy foods from their diets.
There’s so much in store for your gluten-free lifestyle! But beware—just because something is gluten-free does NOT mean it’s healthy.
Food companies are experts at getting you to spend money. There are so many processed, pre-packaged, mass-produced gluten-free treats packed with sugar and devoid of nutrients. Go to any grocery store and you’ll see just as much gluten-free junk food as “normal” junk food. Always read the labels so that you know what you’re putting in your body.
Just because those cookies come in an earth-toned package doesn’t mean they’re healthy. Are they gluten-free? Great! Read the label. See things in there like sugar? Flour (which turns into sugar)? Weird additives you’ve never heard of?
If you’re going gluten-free for health reasons but don’t feel like you are meeting your health goals, you might need to dig deeper into what’s holding you back. Maybe it isn’t gluten that you should focus on. Pay attention to small behaviors that you want to change and work on them one at a time.
What to Do?
Our favorite way to avoid the food industry’s tricks is to stick to foods that don’t have complicated, hard-to-read labels! That means going for the fresh fruits and vegetables in the produce aisle. Eat real food!
At Fresh n’ Lean we only use fresh, organic ingredients–and we’re gluten-free. Thus whatever your path is to going gluten-free, health is just around the corner. Shop smart and reap the benefits! You’ll be happier for the effort.