In my over 10 years of experience in the health and fitness industry, I've seen many trends come and go…Grapefruit diets, liquid diets, low carb diets, cauliflower diets (ok, I made that up), but there is always "a new popular kid in town" and weight loss ideas that are the "cool in thing" to do.
It seems like these days everyone is going Gluten Free and avoiding gluten like the plague, but is this strategy really the best way to lose weight? Let's dive into the topic a little deeper.
What exactly is Gluten?
First I will tell you what gluten is NOT. Gluten is not a grain, but is a component of grains and cereals. Gluten is actually a protein and is most commonly found in wheat, rye and barley. Since most breads, cereals, crackers, pasta and many packaged snacks all contain either wheat, rye or barley, these foods are all gluten-containing foods.
There are many grains that do not contain gluten such as wild rice, corn, buckwheat, millet, amaranth, quinoa, and some oats. So people who are avoiding gluten will still eat and enjoy these foods or any food made from them.
What's the big deal about gluten anyway?
Going "gluten free" has become all the rage in the weight loss and health industry. Just as going low fat or low carb had its time in the limelight, it seems like the new fad and trend is to go gluten free (c'mon, all the cool kids are doing it). There is a small percentage of people (less than 1% in the United States) that DO need to avoid gluten at all costs because they suffer from an extreme allergy to gluten called Celiac Disease. This is a very serious disease that needs to be diagnosed and treated by the right medical professionals and should not be taken lightly.
A greater percentage of people are not walking around with Celiac Disease (trust me, you would know if you had it), but have a moderate to severe intolerance to gluten where their digestive system simply cannot process this particular protein causing them symptoms like gas, bloating, and digestive difficulty. Another problematic side effect of gluten intolerance is the inability to lose unwanted fat off your body, making it extremely difficult to even lose a few stubborn pounds.
With that being said, I'm going to tell you something extremely important about gluten. READY? You Do NOT have to give up gluten in order to lose weight and be healthy. With gluten free being the latest cool topic on the weight loss circuit, everyone seems to believe that going completely gluten free is the only way to lose weight. Now, I'm not saying there isn't value in giving it a try and many people have experienced drastic changes in their health and weight when going gluten free, but I want you to take your health journey at your own comfortable pace and follow a plan that is livable and doable for you.
The benefits of going Gluten Free.
The biggest benefit for those who even suspect they may be even slightly gluten intolerant is a relief of their digestive symptoms and weight loss. Yes, people who have struggled for some time even just trying to lose a few pounds have seen a dramatic change in their health and weight loss efforts when taking some time away from gluten and gluten containing products.
Here is a simple step by step process if you think gluten just may be the culprit in your struggle to lose those unwanted pounds.
1. Go back to the "Grains" chapter of your manual and review the symptoms of a potential gluten intolerance. As mentioned above, some are gas, bloating, abdominal pain, and fatigue ( a more extensive list can be found in that Grains chapter).
2. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above on a regular basis (3-4 times per week), it would be well worth a try to go gluten free for a minimum of 2 weeks. This means avoiding foods like most breads, cereals, crackers, pasta and processed snacks. Your manual has details on exactly which foods to stay away from and how to still eat delicious meals while staying gluten free.
3. Get creative and try new recipes focusing on proteins, vegetables, fruits and grains like rice, quinoa and millet. My family absolutely loves beef and vegetable stir fry over rice, grilled fish over quinoa salad and millet hot cereal for breakfast with chopped nuts and fruit. The choices are endless and your meals do not have to include bread or pasta to be super delicious.
A special NOTE and something extremely important to remember. Be careful and weary of most "Gluten Free" products! I actually think most of these products do more harm than good and can stall and/or prevent weight loss. Here are the ingredients listed on the back of "gluten free" crackers that are promoted as healthy and ideal for a gluten free diet:
potato starch, rice flour, buckwheat flour, eggs, palm oil, modified corn starch, dextrose, salt, yeast, hydroxypropyl methycellulose, sunflower lecithin, cream of tartar, ammonium bicarbonate, natural flavor.
Does that sound heavily processed or what????
Here are the ingredients of a breakfast cereal advertised for children as healthy and part of a nutritious gluten free diet:
organic corn meal, organic whole grain corn meal,?organic evaporated cane juice, organic peanut butter, organic molasses, organic cocoa, sea salt, organic soy oil, natural flavor, tocopherols (natural vitamin E).
I don't know about you, but that's definitely not something I am going to give my son, especially with the soy oil in it!
Remember, you don't have to go gluten free to lose those stubborn pounds, but it just may be the key to weight loss if you've been at a standstill for some time. Again, it would be helpful to refer to the "Grains" chapter of your manual and review some of the potential symptoms and meal plans that are ideal for avoiding gluten in the easiest way possible.