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Gluten is a mixture of proteins that are found in various types of grain, including wheat, barley, rye, oats and a few others.
Gluten-free eating plans were originally designed for people who suffer from celiac disease, which is a severe allergy to gluten. “Simply put, the immune system of a celiac reacts negatively to the presence of gluten in the diet causing damage to the inner lining of the small bowel which reduces the person’s ablility[sic] to absorb nutrients including: iron, folate, calcium, Vitamin D, protein, fat and other food compounds.” (Health Canada)
Over the years, doctors, nutritionists, dieticians and wellness guides began to recommend gluten-free diets to their clients who suffered from IBS, many of which saw improvements when following this type of eating plan.
These days, it is both a popular trend and an honest attempt by many to improve health. The question then becomes, is it more popular than healthy?
Approximately 1% of the population – and this is shown to be relatively standard around the world – suffers from celiac disease. This is not a negligible amount of people – it is certainly enough of a concern to be aware of and educated about the disease. But it is also not an overwhelming prevalence. If you have 100 friends, 1 of them might have celiac disease.
In contrast, in the USA, 23.5% of deaths are caused by heart disease. More than 23% of people DIE from heart disease, let alone the people who continue to live with this. That means if you have 4 friends, one of them is likely to DIE from heart disease. It is estimated that over 90% of women in the USA have at least one risk factor for heart disease. 90%!!!! (The Heart Foundation)
I don’t, in any way, want to downplay the serious nature of celiac disease, but I do want to impress upon you the reality of the situation – if you are going to worry about your food intake and how it relates to your health, you would be much better off focusing first on all the foods that have been proven to cause heart disease. Statistically speaking, you’re much more likely to be within the 90th percentile, than the 1%.
But, this is an article about Gluten, so let’s continue.
As mentioned previously, many professional health and wellness experts found that symptoms of IBS were reduced when their clients followed a gluten-free diet. If they didn’t have celiac disease, why would this have happened?
There are a few possibilities. Some people have sensitivities to gluten, so this could help. More likely, however, it was the type of gluten they were consuming – the food-like products that the gluten came packed inside – that was the problem. What I mean by this is that many food items that contain gluten are part of the Standard American Diet (SAD) and are horrifically bad for you, so if you removed them from your eating plan for any reason – gluten or otherwise – you will start to heal your body.
Fast food, for example – burgers, pasta, pizza, breads and processed meats – is almost always full of gluten, and therefore wouldn’t be welcome in a gluten-free diet. They are also frighteningly high in trans and saturated fats and empty carbs, and frighteningly low in any nutritional value. Removing these foods from your diet, whether or not you are sensitive to gluten, is a very good idea.
When you get rid of these foods, you have three options: don’t replace them with anything, replace them with equally processed gluten-free foods, or replace them with wholesome, nutrient dense, plant-based foods.
If you don’t replace them with anything, you are restricting your caloric intake. You will probably lose a bunch of weight, but it is highly unlikely you will actually get much healthier, because you aren’t properly feeding your body.
If you replace them with similarly processed, gluten-free varieties of the food you used to eat, your health will probably more or less stay the same. It may improve, depending on what you eat and on how strong the placebo affect is on you, but if if you are one of the 99 out of 100 people who don’t suffer from celiac disease, removing gluten from your eating plan and changing little else is not likely to help you in any way.
Now, on the other hand, if you remove those fast food items from your daily routine and you replace them with foods that have high nutritional value – fruits, vegetables, beans/legumes, and even WHOLE GRAINS (with gluten, but NOT processed and stripped of their nutritional value, their very reason for being) – your health will probably skyrocket.
Your body will actually have the resources it needs to properly digest your food, healing sensitive stomach. It will finally be able to send the right carbs/proteins/fats to the right organs in your body, awakening your brain, heart, and even skin! It will have the vitamins and antioxidants required to boost your immune system and fight off diseases – everything from the common cold to the dreaded heart disease and cancer. It can use the minerals you give it to enforce your bones, and all the systems that help you function in life – sleep systems, digestive systems, circulation systems, etc.
I encourage you to read that last paragraph again. All those functions that you THINK your body should be taking care of for you automatically can ONLY happen properly if you give it something to work with. Most fast food has very little nutritional value, there is nothing for your body to use to operate properly, leading to IBS and a whole host of other difficulties.
To sum up, it is not necessarily the presence of gluten that is the problem, it is the lack of nutrition.
If you have been diagnosed with a gluten related intolerance or disease, please continue to be gluten-free. If you haven’t, please don’t get swept up in the promise of weight loss and miracle cures. If you have a problem, it will only resolve itself if you actually fix the root cause, not simply because you hope and wish and pray that the newest, easiest trend to hit the market will magically fix your life.
I’m really sorry, but it just doesn’t work that way. If you’d like to learn more, Dr. Gregor focuses on this topic quite a bit, and has some pretty impressive statistical data and information to rely on: NutritionFacts.org: Gluten
I think I’m getting more and more controversial as I continue to write daily – what do you think of this? Do you like? Dislike? I’d love to know your feedback AND your experience with gluten!