Ah, gluten - the buzzword of the moment. Is it really as evil as it's made out to be? And do most of us even know what it is or are we just jumping on the latest health craze bandwagon? I've never been a bandwagon person. In fact, when I was little my mom always said, "If everybody's doing it, it's probably a bad idea".
Jumping on bandwagons usually goes hand in hand with a lack of critical thinking and formulating an educated opinion for oneself. I always encourage my clients to think for themselves and listen to their intuition when it comes to their health, especially when it comes to food trends and diet fads.
So is gluten just another fad or is it a genuine health concern? The answer to both questions is yes.
First of all let me clarify what gluten is. Gluten is simply a protein found in grains such as wheat, barley, rye, spelt, and kamut. It is also found in other grains such as oats that may be naturally gluten-free, but have been contaminated during growth, or processed on the same equipment used to process gluten containing products.
Some people cannot tolerate it at all (e.g. Celiac Disease and wheat allergy) and many have a sensitivity to it (non-celiac gluten sensitivity). Gluten sensitivity is more common in the U.S. because most strains of American wheat are significantly higher in gluten than those found in Europe. For those with gluten sensitivities (up to 1/3 of the American population), eating gluten causes inflammation in the gut which according to The New England Journal of Medicine can lead to a whole host of health issues such as (i) fatigue, IBS, depression & anxiety, autoimmune disease, migraines and the list goes on.
Determining whether or not you are gluten sensitive is relatively easy to do with a simple elimination and reintroduction diet. Dr. Mark Hyman explains how to do that in this great article.
The bottom line in my opinion is that gluten is more likely than not to cause excess inflammation. Inflammation is one of the body's natural protection mechanisms, but we want to prevent excess inflammation which is at the root of most disease including dementia, heart disease, diabetes and obesity to name a few. Following an anti-inflammatory diet can only make you healthier, happier and slimmer so I don't think it can hurt to eliminate gluten. If you do test your sensitivity and have no issues, gluten may not be a problem for you but I still recommend limiting it in the same way that I recommend limiting all inflammatory foods including, but not limited to: sugar (the biggie), processed foods, refined and trans fats/oils, alcohol, commons allergens (dairy, soy, corn, eggs, peanuts) and refined flours.
It is also important to keep in mind that just because something is gluten-free does NOT mean it is a healthy food. There are scads of gluten-free products out there capitalizing on this trend (bandwagon alert) that are far more processed and unhealthy than their glutinous counterparts, so buyer beware.
Listen to your body! If you have inexplicable health problems like digestive issues, skin rashes, fatigue, headaches, joint pain and brain fog, you may want to explore possible food sensitivities. But above all, avoid jumping on bandwagons. If we avoid everything that is supposedly bad for us and try to eat everything that is supposedly good for us we will drive ourselves insane and get confused by all the conflicting info out there.
So stop stressing over your food, do your research, and consult an N.D. or nutrition expert to determine which foods agree with YOU and which do not. Then, enjoy your life and savor all of the wonderful, unprocessed, whole, nutritious and delicious foods that come from nature, not from a factory. Bon apetit!
(i) Farrell RJ, Kelly CP. Celiac sprue. N Engl J Med. 2002 Jan 17;346(3):180-8. Review.