The idea of “gluten sensitivity” is a hot topic – some believe that we could all benefit from reducing or eliminating gluten from our diets, while others hold fast that celiac disease only affects a small portion of the population and that the rest of us need to quit wringing our hands.
What’s the deal?
Is Gluten-Free Really Better For You?
I have been gluten-free for about five years, and while I’m not a nutritionist, I can spell out for you the benefits that going gluten-free “the healthy way” has provided for me and my husband on several levels:
- You eat less carbs overall. When you’re gluten-free, you automatically pass on bread baskets, breaded menu items, and many desserts. If you are conscious about stable blood sugar and maintaining a healthy weight, going gluten-free can help you avoid excessive carbohydrate intake on a regular basis.
- You eat more whole grains. As long as you don’t eat gluten-free processed junk food, going gluten-free can help you to learn how to select new ingredients and to cook more skillfully. When we dropped gluten from our diets, we learned about amaranth, buckwheat, millet, and more!
- You are exposed to a wider variety of ethnic diets. When you are gluten-free, you learn that the Western diet is uniquely saturated with wheat products. Sometimes, trying something new, like Indian or Vietnamese cuisine, gives you a glimpse of an alternative palate.
- You eat more vegetables. Cutting wheat from your diet doesn’t remove all carbohydrates or whole grains, obviously, but it does open up more opportunities for filling your plate with vegetables as replacements for certain wheat products. Cauliflower can become a pizza crust, and quinoa can replace bread crumbs in meatballs, for example.
- You read more labels. Our decision to go gluten-free led to many more healthy decisions, such as reading more labels and asking, “Why is THAT in there?” Forget the unpronounceables. SUGAR is in everything, and is often a bedfellow of wheat. Becoming more discerning label-readers helped us to reduce our refined sugar intake dramatically.
- You heal inflammation. Not everyone has inflammation, I get it. It’s a buzzword right now that may be driving some people crazy. But it’s true that people suffering from autoimmune diseases and inflammation often benefit from eliminating gluten from their diets. Don’t feel quite right in your stomach or your energy levels? Give a gluten-free diet a try for a month and decide if it helps your symptoms! You may not have celiac but cutting gluten may help something else.
- You eat less processed foods, and more whole foods. It’s not necessary to be gluten-free to do this, but it gives some serious incentive! Because wheat permeates so many packaged items, we found that going gluten-free improved our cooking skills.
- You become more mindful about eating in general. Again, as long as you don’t automatically switch to gluten-free junk food, going gluten-free allows you to be more sensitive to your dietary needs (especially energy needs) and to be more thoughtful in food selection and preparation. This can be an enlightening and empowering experience.
- You don’t miss out. At first, it seemed impossible that we wouldn’t be able to enjoy long lists of doughy items in our home ever again. After while, though, this dilemma lost its charge. We realized that life was more than food, and that the human experience is extremely adaptable.
- You are not risking mineral deficiencies. People who cut animal products, for example, (hopefully) know that they are prone to B12 deficiencies and need to take a supplement. If you are gluten-free, on the other hand, cutting out wheat does not put you at risk for any imbalance. It is a safe and easy diet modification with which to experiment.
Interested in trying a gluten-free diet? Let me know in the comments if you have any questions about food preparation!