Dear readers – today we have a great guest post about the gluten-free trend – debunking the myths around the gluten-free trend written by Conor Adkins. Enjoy and let us know what you think in the comments below!
“Can you eat that?”
“What do you eat?”
“Can you eat anything?”
If you hear any of these phrases with any regularity, it might mean you’re gluten-free. I hear them frequently… I’m one of the many Americans out there who have been gripped by the strange “fad” that’s sweeping the nation. It’s not uncommon anymore to go gluten-free, and most people understand what gluten is and why it’s becoming more popular to eliminate it from their diets.
But while some of the facts out there are true (i.e. excess gluten isn’t good for you whether or not you’re gluten-intolerant; gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and other grains), there are also plenty of myths that aren’t quite as accurate.
Myth #1: Gluten-free People Can’t Eat Anything
It’s true that gluten-free eaters don’t have as many options as do people whose immune systems actually accept the protein. Eating out is more difficult, and reading the ingredient labels at the grocery store becomes second-nature. But there are plenty of gluten-free substitutes out there—you can get gluten-free tortillas, brownie mixes, pasta, and even donuts, bagels, and everything else that’s usually laden with wheat flour.
Since I was diagnosed as gluten-intolerant six months ago, I’ve added more fruits, vegetables, fish, beans, and eggs into my diet. For the first few weeks of my new diet I tried every gluten-free bread on the market until I realized that it was just easier to go without (or substitute corn tortillas, rice cakes, or polenta instead). Now I hardly eat bread at all, and most of the time I don’t miss it.
Myth #2: Just a Little Won’t Hurt
If you’re choosing to go on a gluten-free diet because you want to see what the hype is all about or you just want to see if it makes a difference in how you feel, then this myth is not actually a myth: just a little gluten won’t hurt you.
If, however, you’ve been diagnosed with celiac disease (or the less-serious “gluten intolerant”), nothing can be farther from the truth. Even the smallest trace of gluten can cause intense discomfort for those with celiac, including stomach pain, rashes, and digestive issues. Long-term effects can include anemia, diabetes, infertility, and even cancer.
So yes. For those of us who are going gluten-free for medical reasons, even a little bit can hurt.
Myth #3: Going Gluten-Free Will Help Me Lose Weight
I’ll admit that I believed this one when I was first diagnosed. The thought of giving up my favorite desserts, pastas, and breads was disheartening, but the thought of shedding a few pounds was more than welcome.
Unfortunately, simply eliminating wheat doesn’t do it. Most people who try going gluten-free to lose weight fall into a deceptive little trap that actually causes them to gain weight…and I know how it works from personal experience!
Most people think that they can keep eating the way they always have, and just substitute all of the gluten with the gluten-free versions. The truth is, the flour substitutes (and other ingredients) used in gluten-free foods (such as potato and tapioca starch, rice and corn flour, millet flour, etc.) are loaded with starches, fats, and sugars. Think about it. These flours are made from potatoes, rice, and corn…of course they’re full of starch (a simple sugar). You’re not eating healthier by going gluten-free unless you make a complete lifestyle change, which leads to the next, and possibly most widely believed, myth.
Myth #4: Gluten-Free Diets are a Universally Healthy Option
Now, this isn’t 100% false. But neither is it completely true. If you simply substitute gluten-free products for all the breads and pastas you can no longer eat, you’re going to be eating worse than you did when you ate healthy whole grains. (The right whole grains, not the processed, fake stuff some manufacturers call “whole wheat”, which has been stripped of healthy nutrients and is partly to blame for why so many people are turning up gluten-free in the last few decades…but that’s a topic for another article.)
If you choose to go gluten-free, you’ve got to do it right. Give up breads and starches almost completely and focus on eating more fruits, vegetables, meats, and protein. Make sure that you’re still getting all of your healthy, essential vitamins and minerals; if you cut gluten, you’re going to need to supplement your new diet with plenty of fiber, calcium, iron, and other nutrients that are largely absent from gluten-free products.
It’s not easy, and it’s not necessary for most people. If you want to try it, feel free. Those of us who have to be gluten-free might wonder why you would ever give it up voluntarily, but we’ll (reluctantly) admit that it’s a healthier lifestyle as long as you do it right.
Other myths are just blatantly untrue. No, just because it’s not bread doesn’t mean it’s gluten-free. No, celiac disease isn’t uncommon—it affects 1% of the population, or one in every 141 people. No, gluten won’t cause you teeth problems—you won’t have to rush to your emergency dental clinic in Hamilton if you accidently eat a pickle (yes, some have gluten in the brine), though if you’re gluten-intolerant you might experience other symptoms. Yes, you can still go out to eat—you just have to call ahead and make sure the restaurant offers gluten-free options.
So whether you’re going gluten-free by choice or necessity, make sure you understand the diet so that you can still eat the way your body needs to stay healthy.
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