To Gluten or Not To Gluten

Dear Leah Renee, 

I may be behind the times here, but I hear and see “gluten free” just about everywhere now between products in the grocery store and when I go out to eat.  Is this just another diet like Atkins or Paleo, or is it something that is more serious?  I’ve heard there is a disorder that people can have, but it seems like anyone and everyone is going off gluten.  What’s the deal?  Thanks!  ~Naomi C., Burlington, ND

Gluten free pizza, gluten free cookies, gluten free beer, and gluten free menus seem to be all over the place these days!  In the past few years, more than ever, the term “gluten free” has become widely known.  It certainly was not this way 10 years ago!  While the terms Celiac Disease and gluten intolerance have more recently been recognized, the conditions themselves have been a reality for many people for many decades.  Most cases went un-diagnosed, yet one in every hundred people are said to have a problem with it.  Those with Celiac Disease actually have an autoimmune disorder which damages the villi in the small intestine when gluten is consumed.  When the small intestine is damaged, we cannot properly absorb all the nutrients we need to from the food we eat.  Gluten, a protein found most commonly in wheat, rye, and barley, cannot be tolerated by those who have Celiac Disease or are gluten sensitive or intolerant.  For some, it’s so serious that the food they eat, products they use, or the even the environment they’re in are not be contaminated whatsoever with gluten.  Serious reactions can occur.

Being gluten free does not mean walking down the gluten free aisle of the grocery store and stocking up on all items labeled as such.  In fact, most foods that are gluten free are naturally so and don’t have labels on them with an extensive list of ingredients.  There’s typically one ingredient in most naturally gluten free items: Apple.  Orange.  Salmon.  Kale.  Tofu.  Blueberries.  Lima beans.  Banana.  Rice.  What do all of these have in common?  They’re in their pure state.  They’re gluten free.  No matter what diet you’re on, the truth is consistent with what’s healthiest for you; no diet out there is chock full of ingredients and preservatives AND good for you.  When our liver recognizes our food, it knows how to process it, and our body is working pretty efficiently.  When it does not recognize what we’re eating, because it contains man-made chemicals and synthetic ingredients, it slows things down and can build up, making our body more sluggish.  The same goes with the digestive system.  A big part of feeling good and looking good is making sure our organs are functioning at optimal levels.  Our liver is a major organ and needs to be taken care of the best we can.  Everything goes through it–it’s our body’s way of filtering and deciphering what to keep, what to excrete, and what to use as fuel.  When that gets stopped up, also known as a fatty liver, it stops being so efficient, and the effects accumulate over time.  Gluten falls into a category that too can stop your system from working optimally.  It causes inflammation, even in people who are not necessarily diagnosed with an intolerance or Celiac Disease, and this effects the digestive tract.  If you put the wrong kind of gasoline in your car, it could cause the entire thing to stop performing the way you want it to.  If you want to have the energy you seek and feel good, it’s good to look at your diet first because what you put in is what you get out.  That is possibly WHY “gluten free” has become so mainstream; so many more people are being diagnosed with it, and others are finding they simply feel better when they omit it part or full-time from their diet.

It’s OK, just like on any diet, to have those items that are not in their natural state because we all need balance and for goodness sake, they taste good!  If you are gluten intolerant (or want to explore!), but all means, take a stroll down those aisles and pick up something that you’ve been wanting to try that is labeled “gluten free”.  But, just like being diabetic, or having any other matter that effects watching what we eat, natural foods are still always your best bet when keeping well and feeling your best.  It is important to know which natural items are not acceptable for you to consume as well, depending on your ailment.   As someone who is gluten intolerant myself, diagnosed back in 2002, I think it’s awesome how aware people are now of gluten intolerance and how much easier it is to eat out and not worry so much about getting sick.  Unfortunately, it is a real condition that some of us have to live with for the rest of our lives, and maintain a gluten free diet forever.  It is not just a fad, it alone will not necessarily make you lose weight.  It’s a way of life.  BUT, you do not need to be diagnosed to enjoy gluten free foods as well; you may find it works for you too.  🙂

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