One quick walk down the average grocery store aisle will have hundreds of packaged goods yelling at you. Fat-free! Carb-free! Sugar-free! Fine, we’re used to those. But now gluten-free? What does that mean? Is it a diet? And do I need to pay attention?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley, and over 2 million Americans cannot properly digest it. This is referred to as Celiac’s disease, which is a digestive disorder that affects the smaller intestine when an individual cannot tolerate gluten. When wheat products are consumed, the intestine is unable to absorb the nutrients from the food, which leaves the body malnourished. Think of it as clogging your your pipeline. While the symptoms vary, the common side effects are abdominal bloating and pain, chronic diarrhea or constipation, and fatigue–clearly issues no one wants to deal with on a daily basis.
I’ve struggled with digestive issues in the past, and while I’ve never been diagnosed with having Celiac’s (though I’ve certainly been tested), I know that keeping wheat out of one’s diet can help with unpleasant effects. Often it’s easy to blame digestive issues on IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) when a doctor isn’t able to prescribe a quick fix, but the truth is that many people are allergic to wheat products and don’t even know it.
How do you tell if you’re allergic to gluten? Spend one week eating a completely gluten-free diet. Eat as you normally would, but just be sure to leave out any wheat products. On the 7th day, take a moment to think about your body, and how you have felt over the past week. As I’ve mentioned before, listening to your body is the best way to keep your health in order. (Such a simple concept, right?) On day 8, incorporate gluten back into your diet and see if there is a reaction (no matter how small). It may not be immediate, but compare the way you feel on day 8, 9 or 10 with the way you did on day 7. If you think you may be at serious risk for Celiac’s disease, do consult a physician.
So, if after your trial run, you do find that you’re happier and healthier without gluten in your diet, the next step is understanding how to maintain a healthy diet without going crazy. How to avoid gluten gluttony?
To start, substitute your wheat carbohydrates (like white rice, couscous, bulgar, etc) with grains like quinoa, millet, and brown rice. These grains are very easy to prepare and can be found at most health food stores. Try to find almond flour to use in place of regular flour for baked goods. Make your own granola with gluten-free oats. Get creative.
One obvious option is to steer clear of carbs altogether, but it’s not all that practical (or healthy). So, here are some examples of how I follow a gluten-free diet about 75% of the time, without missing out on carbohydrates (our bodies and minds need carbs in order to run properly!).
- Nature’s Path offers a variety of cold breakfast cereals that are gluten-free and low in sugar. I’ve been enjoying the Whole O’s with a handful of blueberries and almond milk in the mornings.
- Rice cakes are a great snack and easy to work with. I love Lundberg’s brown rice cake with a little bit of almond butter spread on top. A great breakfast (with a banana) or afternoon snack full of complex carbs, good fat, and quality protein. Rice crackers are equally good in place of chips and other crackers (I’m a huge fan of these).
- I love desserts and especially baked goods, so freedgoodsco has been a huge blessing in my life! The rich, gooey brownies are made with gluten-free flour and use only the finest, organic ingredients for a treat that doesn’t leave you wishing you hadn’t. Since my recent discovery, I’m claiming the Blondie as my favorite (though really you can’t go wrong). Delicious.
- Lara bars are my go-to everything bar. Preservative-free, gluten-free and just downright tasty, I have a case of these on hand at all times should I need to supplement a meal or need some energy on the go. My favorite flavor, Cashew Cookie, lists the following ingredients: cashews and dates. Not too much to be confused by there!
Fortunately, a lot of food companies and grocery stores are beginning to cater to the gluten-free set through labeling. Take a look around, it is becoming less difficult to find cookies, crackers, and other wheat-free creations to satisfy and nourish a gluten-sensitive diet. So if you are curious and would like to consider a week without gluten, do plan ahead and consider the options to keep on hand. The last thing you want is to be left high and dry with a bag of chips as your only option.
Since I’ve started to keep an eye on my wheat intake, I’ve seen a huge difference in the way I feel: more energy, my body feels lighter, and rarely do I feel uncomfortable after a meal. While I don’t think I’ll commit myself 100% to a gluten-free diet, I do recognize that limiting wheat does my body good, and I plan to continue exploring gluten-free alternatives (and brownies).
Consider what effects wheat is having on your body. Can you try to limit your intake?
3 comments July 23rd, 2009