Could a Gluten-free Diet be the Answer to Some of Your Perplexing Problems?

Over the years, I’ve noticed that some foods just do not agree with my body. Milk and many dairy products cause my stomach to distend like I’m six months pregnant. Red meat lays stagnant in my digestive system like a rock. White processed starchy carbohydrates play havoc with my blood sugar and lead to extra weight around my mid-section. I know it sounds like I’m a bit of a drama queen when it comes to food, but I’m really not. I’ve just grown very aware of my body and its signals.

If eating a certain food causes me to feel bloated, gassy or lethargic, I know I should avoid the food culprit, especially if a pattern of behavior is apparent. Fortunately, my husband is sensitive to the same foods as I am, which makes cooking meals a bit easier.

Well, it looks like there’s a new offender on our list: gluten. Gluten is a protein that is found in wheat, rye, barley and its assorted byproducts. Individuals with celiac disease have difficulties digesting this protein, which destroys their small intestine and affects the absorption of nutrients.

While full-blown celiac disease affects about 1 percent of the U.S. population, health experts believe that gluten intolerance lies along a spectrum. Symptoms of gluten sensitivity include diarrhea and constipation, bloating and gassiness, weight gain, fatigue, irritability and more.

While neither of us eat a lot of white, processed foods, I was surprised to see that gluten also can be found in whole wheat products, such as bread, couscous, seitan and more.

Cardiologist and author Dr. William Davis, believes there’s another reason to eliminate wheat from your diet. Davis states in his book, “Wheat Belly“, that most foods made of wheat flour cause blood sugar to rise higher than almost any other food, including table sugar. Eliminate all wheat products from your diet, he claims, and you can reduce common medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, arthritis and irritable bowel syndrome.

Davis also has seen another remarkable side effect of reducing wheat consumption: an average weight loss of 25 pounds in many of his patients.

With that in mind, I decided that our household would experiment with reducing the amount of wheat and gluten we consume. My husband, understandably, was distressed by the idea.

“No bread or cereal?” he moaned. “What are we going to eat for breakfast and lunch?”

So, I set out to explore the options available to those gluten-intolerant folk. Luckily, most stores carry a wide assortment of gluten-free alternatives. Whole Foods and Fruitful Yield predictably have a large selection, but surprisingly enough, even traditional grocers like Dominick’s have a section for the gluten-free.

Both processed and whole wheat pastas are off limits, but Dominick’s carries a variety of gluten-free pasta options. I bought an imported Italian gluten-free pasta made from corn, and my family thought it was good. Other options include pastas made from brown rice and quinoa.

Common foods like rice, potatoes and quinoa, and more unusual grains such as amaranth and buckwheat, are all naturally gluten-free.

Even dessert lovers need not fear. Most grocers carry a variety of gluten-free pastries and desserts. We tried a mini chocolate gluten-free cake from Dominicks that was delicious.

Since wheat flour is forbidden for those with gluten sensitivities, many gluten-free bakers use nut crusts, rice flours and more. One word of caution: Gluten-free doesn’t necessarily translate to less calories. The mini chocolate cake that we tried had about 200 more calories than a comparable slice of regular chocolate cake. And the nuts used in crusts, while they are healthy options, can still overload your daily caloric limit.

Elmhurst’s newly opened Bleeding Heart Bakery creates pastries and cakes that can accommodate any dietary restriction, including vegan, gluten-free, nut-free and sugar free. In addition, they are committed to using organic, local and sustainable ingredients whenever possible.

Need a gluten-free birthday or wedding cake for a family member? You can order a specially made cake online or in person. You’ll also find an assortment of gluten-free items in their bakery, including cupcakes.

Gluten can be a hidden ingredient in many products, which makes grocery shopping as challenging as taking the CPA exam. Pickles, ketchup, sausages, soy sauce, boxed and canned soups, medicines, lipstick and even communion wafers may contain gluten. Reading labels is essential; luckily the FDA requires wheat and other food allergens to be clearly identified in the ingredient list.

Can eliminating or reducing gluten and wheat help you lose weight? While this topic has caused much controversy among scientists and the medical profession, it can be worthy of a try for each of us.

Who knows? You may end up losing those stubborn 10 pounds and feel much better as well.

This post was originally published in my column, Forever Fit, in the Elmhurst Patch, on November 12, 2011. You can read my other articles about healthy living and fitness in the Elmhurst Patch every other Friday.

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Comments

  1. I think doctors are going to expand the criteria for what constitutes Celiac Disease as time goes on, I was sick all my life and once I figured out gluten was a factor my health improved a ton!

  2. Recently, I kicked dairy out of my life. But you’re so right in saying that wheat is a villain for many of us as well – even foods made with whole wheat. But I’ve only cut down on these.

    Good thing that I live in the southwest, where delicious foods made from corn (rather than wheat) are widely available, since you’ve now got me thinking that I need to be as absolute in my rejection of wheat as I’ve been with dairy!

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