I cannot help but notice all of the new gluten-free options available now, I even have some friends that are avoiding gluten even though they do not have celiac disease. Is this just a fad? How do I know if I should avoid gluten or not? I do not feel like I have any digestive issues so have never really thought I need to avoid it. I do have allergies and eczema but do not see how these could be related to eating gluten.
Thank you for your question regarding gluten. It certainly has gained popularity recently, and for good reason.
Many people are avoiding gluten because they often feel that their health improves after they cut it out - less bloating and digestive issues, more energy, weight-loss, and mental clarity being some of the most commonly reported.
Please note that there is definitely a healthy way to go gluten-free and a not-so-healthy way. There is now an abundance of gluten-free products that are highly processed junk-foods - the wheat or other gluten containing grains have simply been replaced with corn starch, white rice flour, and other low fibre, nutritionally-void ingredients that quickly spike blood sugar. You most likely will not experience the health benefits of going gluten-free is you still eat highly processed and refined grain products - gluten-free or not.
If you do decide to avoid or decrease gluten, look for products made from gluten-free whole grains, and even better if they are also sprouted grains.
Other products/recipes to consider would be grain-free and gluten-free options, which are abundant in the raw vegan diet. Some examples of these include zucchini noodles instead of gluten-free corn noodles, romaine leaf instead of gluten-free bread/buns, and nut/seed based pie/cake/cookies instead of gluten-free flours.
A common misconception is that if you do not notice any digestive discomfort after eating gluten, that you can continue to eat as much as you want. The truth is, that our health depends on the health of our digestion. The effects of gluten on each of our individual digestive systems will vary from very obvious (ie. IBS, bloating, stomach cramps) to so subtle that you often won't experience any symptoms (ie. chronic low level inflammation, leaky gut syndrome, malabsorption, increased mucoid plaque, and dysbiosis). These often unnoticed symptoms eventually lead to issues beyond the digestive system, including: allergies, asthma, skin rashes, low energy, difficulty concentrating, poor memory, eczema, arthritis, joint pain, and more!
You may want to try eliminating gluten for at least 30 days and then reintroduce and notice any changes.
Please refer to the Infographic below for more information.
Shawna Barker BSc., RHN is a nutritionist specializing in vegan diets.