If you’ve been outside your house, even just once, in the last couple of years, there’s a good chance you’ve heard one of today’s hottest nutrition buzzwords – “gluten-free.” As a confirmed celiac diagnose-e and someone who follows a strict gluten-free diet, even I have mixed feelings about it and want to clarify a few misconceptions about the term. One the one hand, I get excited that there are so many options and choices for me to eat, whether it’s on the road traveling or out with my girlfriends for the night – however, there is also another part of me, the nutritionist part of me, that sincerely wishes the media wouldn’t blast gluten-free terminology around like the newest T-swift song until everyone either hates it or ignores it. There is growing evidence to suggest that Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity is just as harmful, if not more in some cases, as Celiac Disease (1) and, in all cases, leads to systemic inflammation, negative changes in genetic expression, and hyper-permeability of the gut. So, with that in mind, I think all the gluten-free options flooding the market is a fantastic expansion on what it means to eat for your body. What I DO NOT think is great is that marketing companies and big industrial food manufacturers are taking advantage of the fact that probably 90% of the population doesn’t fully understand what gluten-free entails and are using it synonymously with the concept of health, vitality and as a free pass to eat anything with a GF stamp on it.
Here it is people: Gluten free simply means that there are either A. No detectable levels of the protein found in wheat, barley and rye known as gluten in a food because it is inherently gluten-free or B. If, due to cross-contamination, gluten concentration is less than 20 ppm (parts per million). That’s it.
Gluten free does NOT mean these things:
1. A food is healthy or should be a part of your regular diet.
2. A food does not contain other harmful or unhealthy ingredients.
3. That you can eat as much of that food as you want.
4. That that particular food is free of calories, nutrients or other compound that will otherwise affect your waistline.
5. That the sugars, industrial oils, preservatives, dyes and chemicals in that food are now somehow better for you.
Look, I totally understand how easy it is to be confused by packaging at the store. You see a soft green and brown, all-natural looking package with more certifications stamps than you can even name and a big GF on the front. You think, well, it MUST be good, look how carefully they packaged it! Then you flip it over, and low and behold, there’s an ingredient list longer than a classic novel and 30 grams of sugar per serving – of which there are 3! To top it off, there are also at least 5 preservatives at the bottom of that list and three different food thickeners since the sticky “glue-tin” has been omitted. Does this mean because it’s Gluten-Free that you should be eating it? The answer is NO – definitely not.
I see this happen more frequently than I’d like to, however. In fact, just the other day I had someone tell me that they switched from a gluten-free diet back to their old eating habits because they felt like they were consuming too much sugar and gaining weight again. At the risk of sounding somewhat blunt, sugar intake has nothing (NOTHING) to do with your sugar intake and, in fact, should reduce, rather than increase, that amount. If you are consuming more sugar and processed foods on a gluten free diet than before, it’s because you have gravely misunderstood and misrepresented what a gluten-free diet should look like or what that term encompasses. So, to help clear up any confusion, I’ve made two lists below of what we will refer to as a “Nutrient-Dense Gluten-free diet,” and a “Western Foods Gluten-Free Diet.”
Foods eaten on a Nutrient-Dense Gluten-Free Diet:
Grass-fed, pasture raised or wild meats, game and poultry
Raw or Organic Dairy
Organic Vegetables and lots of leafy greens
Small amounts of non-gluten grains (if optimal for your body): rice, non-gmo corn, oats etc…
Nuts and seeds
Healthy Fats and Oils, including saturated and non
Water, mineral water
Some coffee or green tea
Occasional Treats – These DO NOT make everyday appearances
Food eaten on a Western Foods Gluten-Free Diet: These refer to daily consumption NOT the occasional splurge as listed above
Conventional meats and poultry
Very little vegetables
Very little fruit
Lots of non-gluten grains including: Gluten free crackers and chips, Gluten free pizzas, Gluten free oats, Gluten free pasta, Gluten free cookies and pastries….
Nuts and seeds in granola or granola bars with lots of sugar
Water, juice, soda and coffee
Can you see the difference? Going gluten-free, but not changing up the general dynamic of what you put on your plate will result in just as much internal inflammation, weight gain, blood sugar dysfunction and overall malaise as if you were to continue eating that irritating little wheat protein. We can’t simply go on blaming gluten without taking a look at some deeper changes that need to place at a functional root level. Gluten-free will not cure all that ails you if you choose to continue living in a way that tears your body down rather than builds it up. So, with that said, if you have gone gluten-free, (or are considering it), make sure that your diet is filled with real, nutrient-dense foods that will provide you with vitamins, minerals and compounds needed to support and repair a living, breathing human. This is the only body you get, treat it well.