Have you heard promises that going gluten free will help you lose weight, feel less bloated, and have more energy? Are you ditching bread, cereal, and pasta in an effort to slim down and flatten your stomach? While I agree that ridding your pantry of gluten is generally a good idea, I think a lot of people are taking the wrong approach.
A brief history in nutrition…
During the low fat diet craze of the 80s and 90s, Americans were taught that dietary fat is a contributing factor for obesity and heart disease. Instead of just lowering their fat intake, they replaced the fat with imitation fat “franken-foods.” I get it— butter tastes good, so why not engineer a “healthier” alternative? Margarine and non-dairy spreads were touted as healthy replacements, and people swapped their morning eggs with a toasted bagel smeared with fat free cream cheese. Guess what happened? You don’t have to guess… as you know, America just got fatter and sicker.
In 2009 science did some backpedaling and the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a Meta-analysis of epidemiological studies that basically boils down to the following: “You know everything we told you about saturated fat causing heart disease? Yeah, that’s wrong. In fact, it’s more likely that all the nutrients we replaced the fat with are probably the cause.” That’s a bold statement, and it’s still confusing a lot of people because “unhealthy saturated fat” and “heart healthy grains” were indoctrinated into our brains for so long. How could science have gotten it so wrong? Not only were they wrong, they actually had it backwards. Fast-forward to present day…
Gluten free has replaced low fat as the latest trend. The inclination toward gluten intolerance and celiac disease is considerable, and there are many theories as to why gluten is making us all sick and fat. Dr. William Davis, Cardiologist and author of the best-selling book, Wheat Belly, noticed that his patients weren’t getting better under the standard dietary protocol of increasing whole grains and decreasing fat, but he noticed great improvement when he prescribed a gluten-free solution. In his book, he defends his theory that the hybridization and processing technics used on modern wheat is the culprit of the widespread health issues that are associated with consuming gluten.
Mark Sisson of Mark’s Daily Apple suggests that the problem with grains is that they have high concentrations of proteins called lectins. Lectins are the natural defense mechanism that Mother Nature gave to plants and animals to ward off predators. While present in many natural foods, the highest concentration is in grains, especially wheat. Lectins bind to the lining of the gut and cause disruptions in the gut microbiome as well as breaches in the gut lining also known as leaky gut syndrome.
I recently watched Michael Pollan’s documentary, Cooked, on Netflix and his theory is that historically, bread has been made with very simple ingredients (wheat flour, water, and salt), and then the dough underwent a fermentation process before baking which aided in the digestion process. Today, a loaf of bread from the grocery store may contain as many as 37 ingredients, and usually fermenting the dough is skipped. Instead of simply cutting out or reducing their intake of gluten, people are replacing gluten with gluten-like food. Instead of just eating more vegetables, they’re turning to gluten free waffles and gluten free muffins, but the problem is all the junk we’re replacing the gluten with is likely doing more harm than good.
This is an ingredient list for Authentic Foods Gluten-Free Blueberry Muffin Mix:
Ingredients: granulated cane juice, rice flour, tapioca starch, cornstarch, potato starch, blueberries, rice bran, baking powder (sodium pyrophosphate, sodium bicarbonate, cornstarch, monocalcium phosphate), natural vanilla flavor, natural dairy gluten free flavors, baking soda, salt, citric acid, xanthan gum, sunflower oil. *may contain milk.
If you aren’t aware, ingredient labels are required to list the ingredients in order of volume which means that granulated cane juice (read: sugar) is the most prominent ingredient. Right on the label, it reads: Food for Healthy Living, but it’s chock-full of sugar, which I think we can all agree is one of the worst offenders when it comes to unhealthy food.
So what should you do instead?
Don’t fall into the trap of food marketers. Instead of turning to processed (and likely sugar-laden) foods as a replacement for the gluten, eat whole foods instead. Beware of foods that make health claims on labels because the healthiest, most nutrient dense foods rarely come with a nutrition label. I think one of the biggest pitfalls we face as Americans is everyone is too busy to cook, so convenience foods are necessary for us to get through the day if we want to eat. We need to figure out a way to get back to the kitchen! When we cook, we control the quality and the quantity of the ingredients. I’m often told that even though their weekly grocery bill might be higher, people who do the Eat Clean, Live Clean Challenge usually save money because they cook more and eat out less. Plus, I don’t know about you, but I’d rather spend more money on my food and less money on prescription medication any day!