I bet you’re waiting for me to write all about gluten and how it’s evil and should be avoided at all costs! Well, I can’t say that I’m in that camp. I’m more in the camp that for some people gluten doesn't work and for others it might be just fine.
First of all, gluten is a protein found in certain grains like wheat, barley, rye, semolina, etc. The protein, gluten, is what helps give these grains a binding and doughy like effect. For some people they may have a reaction to gluten and others may be completely intolerant to any gluten at all. Someone like this has what’s called celiac disease, and for some celiacs, just a trace amount of gluten can cause vomiting and sickness. An intolerance to gluten might mean you get a headache or stomach ache after consuming something with gluten in it. It is estimated that 30% of the U.S. population has some intolerance to gluten.
So here is what I recommend you consider when thinking about gluten vs. gluten free.
Try a Gluten Intolerance Test - It might be worth it to cut out all gluten for a couple weeks and see how it feels. Are you sleeping better? Do you have more energy? Do you digest food better? Is your skin clearer? Pay attention to how you feel. Then as you add gluten back into your diet see if you have any reactions: stomach ache, headache, stuffy nose and congestion, fatigue... This elimination and adding back in process will let you know if you have some intolerance to gluten and can then help guide you as to what you want to do and what works for you.
Is Gluten Free healthy? - Is there a sticker on everything now a days that says gluten free, or is it just me? We are in the middle of gluten free everything! Cookies, candies, waffles, breads, cakes, drinks….I think I even saw a gluten free sticker on a bag of carrots at the grocery store. Carrots are naturally gluten free in case you were wondering. So, why do so many people swear by gluten free? Well, keep in mind that gluten free, before we had gluten free triple caramel double stuffed chocolate chip cookies, simply meant cutting out most grains, which meant limiting carbohydrate intake. So, this meant that people were eating mostly whole foods that were minimally processed in order to eat gluten free. My point, gluten free can be a good thing for everyone, when done right. Lesson: Just because it says gluten free, doesn’t mean it’s healthy or good for you!
Practice Moderation - Now our 13 year old daughter has a mild gluten intolerance. Does that mean that she will always have gluten free pizza and never get to taste a real donut? No, of course not! She is lucky enough to have learned what her limits are. She also knows the consequences of too much. For some, however, a zero gluten policy is 100% necessary. My point is to know and understand what works for you and how you can begin to manage this inside your lifestyle. The rules of “just a little bit better” apply to going gluten free. If you can make your nutrition a little bit better by limiting gluten and, in turn, this helps you choose more whole foods that are minimally processed, then you are doing just a little bit better.
Sprouting - One option that can help if you do have a gluten intolerance or if you don’t digest grains well is to sprout your grains or to purchase sprouted grain products. When a grain is sprouted it decreases the amount of phytates in the grain. Phytates can cause digestive issues and inflammation. For some who can’t tolerate gluten, having sprouted products can help. It’s something you may want to test out on your own. Sprouting has other wonderful benefits that go beyond digestion. For example, with sprouted grain products all the nutrients become much more bioavailable, meaning if a grain has vitamin C or iron in it and it’s not sprouted, much of the nutrient can’t be absorbed into the body. But with a sprouted grain the body is able to absorb almost all the nutrient available in that grain. One of my favorites is Ezekiel Bread!
Your goal, whether you choose to be gluten-free or not, should be to eat more fresh foods and limit your intake of highly processed (from a box, the bakery, and the drive-thru) foods.