A decade ago, not many Americans had even heard of gluten. Today, a survey says that almost a third of our population is trying to avoid this protein found in wheat. But is it just a passing fad? Not for those who suffer from the gluten-induced celiac disease, which irritates the small intestine and causes indigestion. A gluten-free (GF) diet helps them keep the symptoms in check. But plenty of Americans are taking to the diet simply as a means of fitness and weight loss. Find out if you should join their ranks, or let it pass.
1. Get Tested
The only real reason to adopt a GF diet is if you have celiac disease, and the only way to find out is to get tested. If you have minor symptoms like decreased appetite or fatigue, try eliminating gluten from your meals. If the symptoms persist, take a blood test to detect antibodies related to an abnormal immune response. If the blood test is positive, a biopsy could be performed to confirm inflammation in the lining of the small intestine.
2. Don’t Be Fooled By Labels
Morton Tavel, clinical professor at the Indiana University School of Medicine, points out that the stores now sell products labeled low-fat, low-sugar, low carb, all-natural, organic, non-GMO, dairy-free, probiotic, as well as gluten-free. He adds that virtually none of these labels signifies any scientifically grounded benefits to health. Worse yet, a closer look at the GF food labels reveals that many of them contain fewer vitamins, less fiber and more sugar.
3. Wait 21 Days
For many people, following a GF diet drastically improves their digestion, energy and overall health. However, when people end up replacing their favorite foods with GF alternatives, they sometimes consume even more processed food under the misconception that a GF cookie is healthier than its normal counterpart. As a result, they sabotage their diet. The best way to go gluten-free is to wait for 21 days before introducing any GF alternatives to your diet. For the first 21 days, simply eliminate gluten and fill up on fresh, unprocessed foods. In doing so, you will give yourself enough time to find out if this diet is for you.
4. Substitute Smartly
Alicia Woodward, editor-in-chief of Gluten Free & More, says you should eat mostly single-ingredient gluten-free foods such as meats, nuts and seeds, fruits and veggies. If you eat whole-grain foods, opt for brown rice, sorghum, amaranth, teff or millet. Roberta HC Jenero, founder and CEO of Figure Facts in Chicago suggests brown rice and whole-grain brown rice products, certified GF oats, whole grain corn, wild rice, amaranth, millet and sorghum. Buckwheat and quinoa, though not grains, can be substitutes for cous cous or wheat. Have 3-4 cups of these substitutes per day.
5. Be Wary Of Weight Gain
Alexander J Rinehart, a certified clinical nutritionist, points out that gluten sensitivity can lead to fluctuations in weight, as it disturbs your ability to absorb nutrients. When your gut improves after eliminating gluten from your diet, you could gain some weight quickly. You could also experience bloating and constipation initially, since your gut may not be used to eating veggies and whole grains. Try probiotics, natural anti-microbials, botanicals and digestive aids to help ease your system and restore balance.
Switching to a GF diet is a lifestyle change and, like anything new, it takes some getting used to. Weigh out your options and take some time to find out if this diet is for you.