In this three part series, I’m sharing with you how to think lifestyle and not short-term quick fixes. I’ve always promoted implementing nutrition and fitness strategies to enhance your lifestyle. As a food and fitness loving dietitian and a columnist for Bakers Journal (an industry magazine featuring breads and sweet goods), I can’t imagine my meal plan without gluten containing whole grain products and pasta.
Is gluten-free in 2014 right for you? Yes – it is if you have Celiac Disease (CD) or gluten intolerance. However, if you’re an otherwise healthy individual, is this complex and costly way of eating something that will enhance your lifestyle? In 2013, the most-searched diet (via Google) was the Paleo Diet (aka the Caveman Diet). This time last year I blogged about how the Caveman Diet was popular with bodybuilders and CrossFitters and was catching on with the mainstream. The Paleo Diet is gluten-free. Now, let’s explore gluten-free for both the CD and healthy populations.
What is Gluten?
Gluten is the general name for the storage proteins (prolamins) found in wheat, rye and barley. The actual names are gliadin in wheat, secalin in rye and hordein in barley. These proteins when mixed with liquid perform important functions in baking including the structure and texture of breads, sweet goods and pizza crusts. Up until about three years ago, most commercially made gluten-free products were lacking taste, texture and flavour, not to mention good nutrition!
Celiac Disease (CD)
Health Canada declared celiac disease as one of the most common chronic diseases in the world and has acknowledged how seriously underreported this epidemic is. CD is an autoimmune disease that has a variety of symptoms and needs to be medically diagnosed through a blood test and intestinal biopsy. When people with CD eat gluten containing food products (with the specific storage proteins), the absorptive surface of the small intestine becomes damaged. A gluten-free diet is part of the life-long therapeutic treatment for this population. Continued exposure to gluten can result in vitamin and mineral deficiencies causing conditions such as anemia and osteoporosis; neurological disorders and other autoimmune disorders.
Gluten-free diet research and CD
- A cross-sectional questionnaire survey completed in Sweden analyzed the effects of a gluten-free diet on chronic disease symptoms, health care consumption and risk of developing associated immune-mediated diseases. All symptoms, with the exception of joint pain, improved after diagnosis and a gluten-free diet. As well, both health care consumption and missed work days decreased; however, in this study there was no effect on other autoimmune diseases (1).
- In a long-term human study with over 900 celiac patients (both children and adults), it was concluded that a gluten-free diet has a protective effect over individuals at risk of other autoimmune diseases (2). In fact, individuals that ate a gluten-free diet over a ten-year interval had an incidence of less than half for developing other autoimmune diseases than the people who did not follow a gluten-free diet.
Gluten-free for healthy individuals?
Despite lack of conclusive scientific evidence to support wheat or gluten-elimination diets for weight loss or health promotion in people without CD or gluten intolerance (unlike CD, there is no validated diagnostic test for gluten intolerance/sensitivity), similar to the Caveman Diet, people are looking at ways to lose and control weight. So I say, “Think lifestyle, not complex quick fixes.” Let’s look at some more facts:
- Often gluten-free products have an undeserved health halo. Gluten-free products are a $90-million enterprise in Canada and $10.5bn in the United States (2013); and within these reported sales, the snacks category was reported the largest. Let’s remember this is a business! Most gluten-free products are more expensive than the existing gluten containing product. The good news is, finally manufacturers are creating more nutritious, flavourful gluten-free products.
- Unqualified health professionals including celebrity endorsements and media outlets have embraced this trend, which further influences the general population to consider this dietary modification. Dr. Oz has become a gluten-free advocate. As well, celebrities such as Miley Cyrus and Lady Gaga have credited their weight loss to gluten-free diets.
- You may ask is Dietitian Jane categorizing Dr.Oz’s nutrition competency with Miley Cyrus’…My point is: It is important to get your nutrition information from health professionals who are formally and scientifically educated in food and nutrition.
Think Lifestyle Part One : Gluten-free in 2014 Bottom Line
The gluten-free trend is predicted to continue in 2014 for the non CD population. Going gluten-free may get you to decrease the amount of refined, processed foods from your meal plan including sugar sweetened cereals, industry breads and cookies. By eliminating your intake of these products, the calories, sugar and fat that you’re cutting from your diet can help you to feel better, have more energy and discard the pounds.
However, if you choose to replace some of these products with the gluten-free equivalents do not assume that every gluten-free item is good for you or has the healthy nutrients of the original product. Gluten-free cookies are cookies, and these items should always be eaten in moderation! Remember we are learning more about the relationship of the gut and overall health, so it is important to Think Lifestyle and not become too focused on one specific ingredient, food or food group!
Stay tuned for Think Lifestyle Part Two: The Triple Reality (Food, Fitness and Sleep)
- Norström F, Sandström O, Lindholm L, & Ivarsso, A. A gluten-free diet effectively reduces symptoms and health care consumption in a Swedish celiac disease population. BMC Gastroenterology. 2012; 12(1):125.
- Cosnes J et al. Incidence of autoimmune diseases in celiac disease: protective effect of the gluten-free diet. Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology. 2008;6(7): 753-758.