Health Benefits of a Gluten Free Diet
There are a number of ways you can change your diet to be healthier, and changing to a gluten free diet is one of them. Gluten is the combination of two proteins in wheat that form a bond when wet. This is the basis of most flours and is often found in other food products like ketchup, soup and various processed meats.
Gluten didn’t become a household name overnight, though. When the industrialized food revolution started in the mid-20th century, gluten was found to be linked to certain health conditions like celiac disease due to the enzymes and chemicals added to extend shelf life. Large-scale food production began shortly after World War II ended, and thus the beginning of gastrointestinal disorders.
The link between gluten and certain diseases has been extensively explored over the last several decades, and it has been found that gluten and diabetes are closely connected. Bread and other wheat products can cause glucose levels to spike and constantly high glucose levels can lead to Type 2 diabetes, a disease in which the body becomes resistant to the insulin produced by the pancreas. People with Type 1 diabetes have an increased risk of developing celiac disease. For those with Type 2 diabetes, avoiding or limiting gluten can greatly reduce the symptoms of gluten intolerance and should be used in conjunction with an overall diabetes treatment plan.
Another disorder caused by gluten consumption is the disruption of your body’s delicate pH balance. The pH scale measures acidity within the body; the lower the number the more acid is present. Acids that cause stress to the body’s normal pH balance are quite common in modern food, with animal products often being blamed. But grains are the only plant foods that make acidic by-products. When your body is chronically acidic over a long period of time, it starts using the calcium carbonate and calcium phosphate from your bones to help regulate pH balance, which can lead to osteoporosis and bone fractures.
Gluten intolerance has also been linked to premature aging by preventing cells from working properly. This leads to an increase in toxins within the body that the liver is then forced to detoxify. The liver can’t keep up with the sudden flood of toxins, however, and is forced to allow toxins to enter the blood stream where they attack healthy cells. This unhealthy cycle can lead to signs of early aging, such as dry skin with less elasticity, dark circles under the eyes, hair loss and fine lines or wrinkles.
Eliminating wheat from your diet is an effective way to lose weight because removing the gliadin protein in wheat has been linked to appetite stimulation and calorie consumption. Taking this wheat protein out of your diet can reduce your calories by as much as 400 per day. You are also eliminating the high blood sugar and high blood insulin that can lead to the accumulation of fat in susceptible areas of the body.
Choosing a gluten-free diet does not automatically lead to weight loss, but it can play a significant role in lowering overall body mass. Many people report not being able to lose weight on a gluten-free diet, but there are other factors that can keep you from your weight loss goals. Being aware of these can lead to a healthier overall lifestyle.
- Excess carbohydrates – Replacing wheat with gluten-free breads, muffins and cookies means you are essentially switching to foods made with other heavy starches like potatoes, rice and oats. It’s important to make sure you limit carbs while eating gluten-free.
- Fructose – Many modern foods contain high levels of fructose, which can lead to insulin resistance and additional fat. Watch your consumption of foods like syrup, honey, sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup and even fruit.
- Cortisol – This is commonly known as the stress hormone. Cortisol directly effects fat storage and weight gain in stressed individuals. High levels of cortisol cause the storage of fat and excess circulating fat to be relocated and deposited deep in the abdomen. Stress often leads to either overeating or skipped meals, which can cause your body to struggle to regulate itself properly. It can also result in a disrupted circadian rhythm (a roughly 24 hour cycle in the physiological processes of living beings), leading to fatigue during the day and an inability to fall asleep at night.
Daily exercise and healthy eating habits, in addition to eliminating gluten from your diet, can have a significantly positive impact on your weight management and overall health.
Starting a Gluten-Free Diet
If you have tested positive for celiac disease and must start eating gluten-free, you will obviously need to take stricter measures than someone with gluten intolerance or someone simply choosing to go gluten-free. To get started on this lifestyle, depending on your particular situation, here are some steps to follow:
- Get your kitchen ready. If you have a shared kitchen space with others who will not be participating in a gluten-free lifestyle, you will need to purchase separate items and label them for gluten-free use only. This includes silverware, small appliances, sponges and dishes. Gluten-free food should be stored above other foods to eliminate cross-contamination from little bits falling, such as crumbs.
You may also have to remove all cookware and other items that might contain gluten residue to ensure you are not accidentally ingesting leftover contaminants; wooden utensils, non-stick pots and pans and plastic containers can harbour gluten even after washing. Other cookware like glass, metal and Pyrex can be scrubbed thoroughly or run through the dishwasher to remove any gluten residue.
- Remove all foods containing gluten. This sounds time-consuming, and it is, but it’s a necessary part of starting your gluten-free diet. Go slowly through your refrigerator, pantry and even medicine cabinet, to identify foods and products containing gluten so that they can be removed or re-labeled for others in the household that will still be consuming gluten. Gluten-free products will have to be purchased to replace those that will no longer be used.
- Read all product labels. Food manufactures are not required to label a food that contains gluten, so it’s important to be aware of words that mean gluten is an ingredient – for example; barley, rye, wheat, malt, oats, flour and dextrin. If you are unsure of what contains gluten, click here for a list of common foods and terms. Certain foods will always contain gluten unless listed as gluten-free like pasta, tortillas, crackers, cakes and pies and muffins.
- Make a list. When you first start a gluten-free diet, it might be difficult for you to identify foods that are safe for consumption. Make a list of gluten-free foods that appeal to you and are easy to find like yogurt, eggs, fruits and vegetables. Some companies manufacture naturally gluten-free products, like the Tostitos brand, while others label their products as “certified gluten-free.” It is a good idea to take a trip to the grocery store before purchasing new foods to get an idea of what is available without gluten.
Making Gluten-Free a Lifestyle
The choice to go gluten-free for your health is one that should be celebrated, but the change doesn’t come overnight. It will take a lot of discipline and willpower to resist the urge to revert back to the foods you know and love. Recognizing they were ultimately causing you to feel unwell will help overcome the feelings of doubt you may have about choosing this lifestyle. And that’s ultimately what it is; a conscious choice to eat gluten-free as a new way of life, not as a fad diet.
Eliminating gluten from your diet may initially lead to feelings of withdrawal, but this is simply your body’s way of ridding itself of the toxins that have become a normal part of your diet. You might find it easier to start with small substitutions rather than go completely gluten-free to help your body become adjusted to the overall change.
It is also important to have a network of support during the transition, and there are plenty of online resources that understand your choice and will help you succeed. The Gluten Intolerance Group has been a source of support for 40 years and offers information and one-on-one support for those living a gluten-free lifestyle. You can also check with them to see if they have a local support group you can attend. Remember, you are not alone on your journey! Many people choose to stop eating gluten for health reasons, and connecting with those who can offer advice and a shoulder to lean on will go a long way towards your ultimate success.