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To Gluten or Not

Is a gluten-free diet all it’s cracked up to be? What do you lose when you take gluten out of your food? Read on to find out whether or not a gluten-free diet is right for you and your body.


What is gluten?


In today’s world, the term “gluten-free” keeps being thrown around without consumers actually knowing what gluten is and why they may want a product to not have gluten in the first place. In short, gluten is a general name for proteins in wheat, rye, barley, oats, and triticale. This means that gluten is found in products you’d expect like bread, but also ones you might not expect: beer, candy, and even soy sauce, to name a few.


What are the health benefits of gluten?


Many products that contain gluten are actually quite good for you. Studies have shown a higher gluten intake can lead to a decreased risk of type II diabetes. The foods that contain gluten also provide a lot of nutrients and fiber for our bodies.


In the US, enriched grains are fortified to contain large amounts of added nutrients, including folic acid, which is especially critical for pregnant women to prevent birth defects. Because of these added grain nutrients, foods that contain gluten can also be a great source of Vitamin B, iron, zinc, calcium, and phosphorus.


Fiber is also a critical component you get when you eat several gluten products. According to the Mayo Clinic, dietary fiber has numerous benefits, including but not limited to lowering cholesterol levels, controlling blood sugar levels, and achieving a healthy weight. Many glutenous foods are naturally rich in these dietary fibers, such as whole wheat products, and can be good for your health.


The hidden not-so-good gluten products


But, glutenous grains on the market are not always the healthier option. Processed whole grains, also known as refined grains, have lower fiber and nutrient levels. These can also cause metabolic problems because of how our bodies absorb the sugars more quickly than those from intact whole grains; it’s why you get hungry again after having a snack of white rice or white bread.


Businesses can still use loopholes to market processed grains as “whole grains” on the packaging, so make sure you’re checking the Nutrition Facts panel for a whole grain at the top of the ingredients list, such as barley, buckwheat, or millet. This will help make sure the gluten products coming into your home are truly filled with nutrients and fiber.


So why is everyone going gluten-free?

With an estimated up to 50% of the human population suffering from a gluten sensitivity, it’s possible that you yourself may have a sensitivity without even knowing it. When you have a gluten sensitivity, many side effects can occur after consuming gluten, including stomach upset, headaches or migraines, fatigue, depression or other mood disorders, joint pain, muscle cramps, skin problems… the list goes on and on.


With such a large population suffering, it’s no wonder many people feel better once they go gluten-free! Celebrities who claim a gluten-free diet improved their skin routine may just have a sensitivity themselves and saw results because they stopped consuming a product their body has trouble processing. While there is no evidence to suggest going gluten-free has any correlation with weight loss, if you do have a sensitivity, the removal of gluten from your diet can lessen the discomfort or pain brought on by any of those side effects.


Test for Celiacs First


If you think you have a gluten sensitivity, it’s best to check with a doctor before removing gluten from your diet yourself. It’s important to know if you have celiacs because more precautions and health concerns will come into play with your dietary restrictions. Going gluten-free makes it harder to test for celiacs disease. You’d have to reintroduce gluten to your diet for several weeks before getting a celiac test, which will be uncomfortable at best and painful at worst if you truly do have celiacs, so it’s better to get your celiacs testing done before you go gluten-free.


Unfortunately, there’s no non-celiac gluten sensitivity testing, so if you’ve already been tested for celiacs, the best thing you can do is listen to your body and the signals it's sending off. Do you often feel nauseous or have bowel issues after consuming wheat products? In that case, maybe a gluten-free diet is in your best interest. Try making some substitutions in your life like going for a gluten-free pizza dough and see if you feel any better.


You gotta make the right replacements


If you’re considering transitioning to a gluten-free diet, it’s a good idea to look into fortified gluten-free alternatives that contain the nutrients you’re missing out on. Some gluten-free whole grains, such as amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat, teff, millet, corn and rice, can be good, natural sources for nutrients.


It’s also recommended you take a multivitamin or individual vitamins to help make up the vitamin deficit, just to make sure you’re covering all your bases. The last thing you want is to bring on a vitamin deficiency when you’re trying to make healthier choices for your body.


Only about 5% of Americans consume the recommended daily amount of fiber, so it’s already a national issue. When pursuing a gluten-free diet it’s essential to substitute your intake of fiber with alternative sources like brown rice, quinoa, fruits, vegetables, and beans. It takes more tracking and awareness to get enough fiber with these foods, but stick to a healthy plan and you’ll be fine.


To Gluten or Not?


Mindful eating is important no matter your diet, and you should be aware of what you’re putting in your body. If gluten products are making you sick, talk to your doctor and try going gluten-free. If your body can process gluten just fine but you want a healthier diet, pursue whole grain options in the grocery store. Whether you choose to go gluten or gluten-free, it’s important to make informed decisions about your diet and what’s best for your body.


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