With so much attention being given to the gluten free lifestyle, I wanted to give my opinion and thoughts on the subject. Since this is such a popular topic and since many folks are looking for answers, I want to clarify a few things.
What I WON’T be doing in this article:
- Tell you whether or not you should eat gluten free
- Act like I have the expertise in a field that allows me to say that you should certainly follow a specific diet
- Make sweeping generalizations or give direct nutrition plans to follow
- Get into medical specifics of a gluten free diet
Why did I start so negative? Man. The article just began and I already sound like a downer. Wahh, wahh, wahhhh. The reason why I wanted to make those things clear is because I believe it is important to know one’s own authority on a subject. I am careful to be clear that I simply share my own experiences, and explain how I see certain issues. I don’t pretend to be a health practitioner. I don’t intend to sound like a nutritionist. I don’t pretend to be a personal trainer (though my goal IS to receive the PT certification through NASM).
Ok, now that I was able to get that off my chest, we can move forward.
Let’s start with what “gluten free” means. Gluten refers to a protein complex found in Wheat, Rye and Barley. Those who suffer from Celiacs Disease or gluten sensitivity, suffer adverse health reactions to eating foods containing gluten. The level of sensitivity and symptoms that one experiences while suffering from this condition is not something I will get into in this article. That is a medical issue that should be addressed with your doctor or nutritionist. Maybe both. Whether or not you need to eat this type of diet, for your health, is something that must be discussed with the same professionals.
Therefore, following a gluten free diet refers to eating foods that do not contain gluten. The tricky part is assuming that a certain food is gluten free because you would think it wouldn’t contain wheat, rye or barley. This is why those who follow gluten free diets are very specific about how their food is made, what ingredients are used and what other foods are involved in the cooking process. This is also a reason as to why the “gluten free” logo on foods at the supermarket is so helpful for those following a gluten free diet. The guess work is taken out.
When we eat real, fresh foods, we probably are simultaneously eating gluten free. In general, when you focus on eating a diet full of vegetables, lean meats, fruits, nuts/seeds, you make it pretty likely that you are eating gluten free. This is why, in my opinion, even those who don’t need to follow a gluten free diet because of a gluten sensitivity or celiacs disease, there may be an inadvertent positive result. The easiest way to know exactly what is going into our food, is to prepare it ourselves. When we buy pre packaged, highly processed foods, it takes a lot more work to know exactly what was used in the cooking process. For example, one would guess that soy sauce wouldn’t have gluten. Therefore, making one’s own food with real ingredients is the easiest way to know one is avoiding gluten. In this situation, you could say, even if you didn’t need to eat gluten free because you have celiacs desease, you may be eating better quality food. The previous situation is to compare to someone who would usually eat highly processed, pre packaged foods.
To be fair, there are also junk foods that are gluten free. In the gluten free section at the store, one can find foods such as: donuts, cakes, pies, candy bars etc. Therefore, let it be known that FM is not saying “as long as it’s gluten free, it’s healthier for you.” I do believe that eating real food is beneficial to our health. This does not mean that a gluten free donut and candy bar is somehow not going to fluff us up in the midsection (and many other places).
There are studies that suggest a health benefit to eating gluten free for the general population. There are also studies and interpretations to studies that find no need for the general population to eat gluten free. When one should follow the findings of a study and when one should not, is highly dependent on our ability to break a study down and figure out what are valid conclusions. Research/study validity and relevance is a whole topic on it’s own. For a detailed look at how to think critically about research and studies, I suggest the reader listen to the first episode of a podcast called “The Strength of Evidence.” I love the podcast as a whole, but the first episode in the series specifically looks at what makes a study valid and something we should follow. The Strength of Evidence podcast can be found here.
Regardless how one stands on the gluten free discussion, we still stand to benefit from being cognizant of the foods we choose to eat, and how they are prepared. This never changes, regardless of the type of diet we follow. I realize this article title made it seem like once one read this article, FM would answer the question posed. It didn’t, because I didn’t mean it to. What I did mean the article to do, is pose ideas one may consider and seek their own personal answers.
I, personally, eat gluten free because of a health reason specific to me. However, I will write about this in a different article.