If you are one of the 1 in 1,000 people that have been clinically diagnosed with celiac disease (a wheat protein allergy) then read no further. However, if you are one of the 1.6 million Americans that are following a gluten-free diet today in hopes of losing weight and have no gluten intolerance, then this post is most certainly for you.
Gwyneth Paltrow, Kourtney Kardashian, heck even Ryan Reynolds have all praised their gluten free diets for helping them shed unwanted weight–none of them suffer from a gluten intolerance, none of them have celiac disease. As such, this diet has become one of the latest health and diet “trends” of the last few years. Walk into any grocery store in virtually any town in the United States for proof—aisles dedicated to gluten-free food, gluten-free bakery items, and yes, even gluten-free vodka. So what exactly does it mean to be “gluten-free”?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and triticale (a combination of wheat and rye). It acts as a “glue” in foods such as cereal, bread, and pasta, helping them hold their shape. For celiacs, a gluten-free diet means avoiding all foods that contain the protein, even in the smallest amounts. Breads, beer, candies, cereals, cakes and pies, french fries, pastas, processed meats, and soups are among some of the foods that should be avoided. Makes sense right? Cut out pasta, beer and French fries and lose weight?! Kind of! But, before you jump on the gluten-free bandwagon there’s a lot you need to know.
You may have read some alarming headlines lately regarding gluten-free diets. A study conducted by the University of Illinois found that following a gluten-free diet may expose your body to more arsenic and mercury—toxic metals that have been linked to a higher risk of heart disease, cancer, and neurological problems. Wait, what? So you’re blood stream will flooded with arsenic and mercury but you’ll look darn good in your skinny jeans??! How? Why?
Gluten-free diets tends to include a higher intake of rice as a replacement for wheat products, and since rice may accumulate arsenic and mercury from fertilizers, soil, and water, the researchers set out to investigate the potential health implications of going G-free.
For their study, they identified 73 people (ranging in age from 6 to 80) who reported eating a gluten-free diet between 2009 and 2014, and tested their blood and urine. The researchers found that on average, those people had almost twice the concentration of arsenic in their urine and 70% higher mercury levels in their blood, compared to people who were not gluten-free. What this study tells me is that an informed and educated relationship with food is always the best relationship you can have with food. If you’re still interested in adapting your diet to fall within the frame of “gluten-free”, I think it’s important that how you eat gluten-free matters most.
Here are some tips for doing just that.
Eat more whole foods. Remember when I mentioned the aisles full of gluten-free items at your supermarket? Virtually everything comes gluten-free now (bagels, bread, cookies, pizza crust). It’s important to remember that when gluten is taken out, a lot of other random stuff has to be added in. Read labels. Often time’s gluten-free items are higher in sodium, unnecessary preservatives, sugar and are stripped of the good stuff like fiber, vitamins and minerals and antioxidants. Focus on consuming more whole/fresh foods and ingredients and research the many whole foods that are naturally gluten free.
Consume Safe Seafood. Gluten-free diets seem to be rich in seafood and lean protein and since we’ve already seen through this study that gluten-free diets point to higher levels of mercury in blood and urine, making smart seafood choices is very important. Low-mercury options include wild Alaskan salmon, Atlantic mackerel, rainbow trout, shrimp, and clams. Varieties with moderate mercury levels include cod, crab, canned tuna, lobster, mahi mahi, and sea bass. High levels of mercury are found in shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and grouper. Fish is always a super healthy addition to your diet. Make sure you’re making a smart choice.
My recommendation is to find the good in gluten–unless you’ve been clinically diagnosed with a sensitivity or intolerance. Living a gluten-free lifestyle is extremely difficult to follow 100% of time. It’s limiting and it’s expensive. But more importantly, avoiding gluten increases your risk for nutrient deficiencies since many of the foods that contain gluten contain essential nutrients, vitamins and heart-healthy whole grains.
So yes, cut back on the beer and the French fries but don’t be afraid to find the good in gluten. Read your labels, eat a wholesome, fresh, varied diet, and never, ever, jeopardize your health for those skinny jeans. Kourtney Kardashian is over-rated anyway. 🙂