Gluten Free…Is It For Me?

Published September 15, 2011 by Jasmine

I love to eat! I particularly love to eat sweets. Lately my three favorites have been: 1) Ghiradelli 60 or 72% Dark Chocolate squares; Ghiradelli Dark Chocolate and Caramel squares; and orange scones from Au Bon Pain. My favorite non-sweet snack is a double jalapeno cheddar bagel also from Au Bon Pain. And I wonder why my weight is constantly fluctuating! If you are working out to lose weight, make sure you are watching what you eat.  When it comes to weight loss, your diet trumps exercise.  If you are simply looking to maintain your weight, exercise will be more important.

So back to today’s topic.  I am in a class at the gym called E.A.T. which stands for Education, Accountability, and Teamwork. In all honesty I wouldn’t be in the class except for the fact I had free Lifetime dollars to use and the trainer is great, she is very knowledgeable and passionate when it comes to nutrition. Each week we have a new topic and a new challenge.  This week our topic was gluten, and our challenge was to go gluten-free for a week. I’m on day two and so far it is not so bad. I am not a big bread, cereal or pasta eater.  My downfall will be baked goods, and my double jalapeno cheddar bagel!

I decided to write this post because I wanted to share what I learned in case it could help someone else. Gluten doesn’t just affect those with celiac disease. “Non-celiac gluten intolerance is a lesser-understood but no-less-serious condition capable of igniting inflammation, the first stop on a path toward chronic illness.  Yet not all doctors understand the condition or take it seriously,” says naturopathic doctor Donielle Wilson, ND. So just because a doctor tells you that you don’t have celiac disease that does not mean that you don’t have an intolerance to it. There are two ways to determine if you have an intolerance to gluten.  1) You can have your blood tested for IgG antibodies.  2) If you want a free test, you can eliminate gluten from your diet for two to four weeks, and then reintroduce it. If your symptoms (which I will discuss shortly) improve without it, but come back when reintroduced, you have an intolerance to gluten.  Only about 1% of Americans have celiac disease, but 30-40% of Americans have a non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

The problem with eating gluten if you have a sensitivity to it is that it causes inflammation in your body. It damages your intestinal lining, and undigested food particles get through gaps in the damaged lining and enter your blood stream. The immune system then treats those particles as bacteria or a virus, thus causing more inflammation. According to the 2002 New England Journal of Medicine, at least 55 different disorders have been linked to eating gluten. A few examples are anemia, epilepsy, type 1 diabetes, cystic fibrosis, and hypothyroidism.

Gluten is primarily found in the following grains: wheat, rye, barley, spelt, kamut, triticale, and sometimes oats (due to cross-contamination). So what is the big deal? Why does gluten cause so many problems? Grains have only been around for about 15,000 years, but humans have been around for about 2 million years. For many, many years we never had grains, and many of our bodies have not yet adapted to them. However, the average American consumes 150 pounds of wheat each year. You are among the average American if you eat toast or cereal for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, pasta for dinner, or 100 calorie snack packs. It adds up quick!

So do you have an intolerance to gluten? There are a number of possible symptoms, and some people will have no symptoms at all. Keep in mind that symptoms can be delayed for up to a few days after eating gluten. The following are possible symptoms:

  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Bloating
  • Gas or belching, especially after meals
  • Indigestion
  • Swelling
  • Fatigue
  • Joint pain
  • Headaches
  • Skin rashes or issues
  • Nutrient deficiencies
  • Bone density loss
  • Irritability
  • Depression
Obviously many of these symptoms could be indications of something else.  So the best thing to do is cut gluten out of your diet and see if the symptoms go away. I personally have many of the symptoms and have had them for quite some time. As far as bowel movements go, I feel like I am always at one extreme or the other.  The next three sentences might be TMI so skip ahead if you would like.  A few years ago I was just doubled over with pain in my stomach.  I went to the doctor and they did a few x-rays.  He told my I was literally full of shit.  I ended up having to take a prescription laxative for two weeks. I have digestion issues…seems like more often than not I have an upset stomach after eating. I swell/retain water like we are in a drought. I am always tired, lately I believe this is due to my decreasing hematocrit. (I thought working out was supposed to give you more energy?) I also get a fair amount of headaches. So this gluten-free week will be interesting.  The only problem is that I have been feeling sick to my stomach for about five weeks now, so I may not actually notice a big difference because something else is going on in my body.
So if you are anything like me, the first question is what can I eat?
  • Meats: chicken, turkey, beef, buffalo, lamb (stay away from processed or imitation meat)
  • Fish, shellfish, tuna
  • Eggs, cheese, milk, yogurt, cottage cheese
  • Vegetables
  • Fruit
  • Beans, lentils, legumes
  • Nuts, seeds, nut butters
  • Oils
  • Grains: rice, corn, quinoa, buckwheat, millet, amaranth, teff, sorghum
If you are a big bread and pasta fan, there are gluten free options available.  However, it is always best to opt for foods that are naturally gluten-free. So if you have any of the symptoms mentioned above I challenge you to go gluten-free for at least a week and see how you feel.  I would love to hear from those who try it.
I would like to thank my friend, and trainer, Sherry for sharing all this great information with me this week!
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