Eating Gluten Free makes me 'healthy', right?
Gluten Free seems like it is the latest health trend. We had the vegetarians, paleo’s, vegans and now the GFs. So, what is the DEAL with gluten?
Gluten is a protein made up of gliadin and glutenin. It is found in wheat, barley, rye and spelt. Its job is to create a glue-like consistency and a chewy texture in food.
SIDE NOTE – gluten is found predominantly in wheat; wheat is a grass and humans weren’t built to digest grass… just saying… 😉
There seems to be some confusion around eating gluten vs not eating gluten so let’s break this down…
There are 3 reasons why people don’t eat gluten
1. You are celiac
2. You have a sensitivity
3. You are choosing not to
If you are a #1 you have an autoimmune disease. That means your body reacts to the gluten in food. Those reactions can look totally different in everybody, but the most common effects include bloating, diarrhea, vomiting, fatigue and anaemia. Over time the immune reaction to eating gluten causes inflammation that damages the lining of the small intestine. If this goes undiagnosed for an extended period of time, serious health issues can arise. Such as malabsorption, depression, arthritis, osteoporosis and the list goes on. So, for people with Celiac disease it is not an option to include gluten in your diet, you must go gluten free.
If you are a #2 and you have a gluten sensitivity, you DON’T have an auto immune problem – yay for you! BUT the hard part is, is that when someone has a sensitivity you may be able to eat SOME gluten and feel okay, but other times if you have reached your bodies ‘threshold’ you will be hit with symptoms. People who are sensitive to gluten may find it hard to find balance here with knowing how much is going to be TOO much, and knowing which foods will set off symptoms worse than others. The easiest way is to simply cut gluten from the diet all together. Gluten sensitivity symptoms include stomach pain, bloating, tiredness and diarrhea. If you suspect you have a gluten sensitivity you may benefit from trialling a strict GF diet for one month and take note of how your body responds. The good and bad news is, you have a choice whether you want to include gluten or not.
If you are a #3 and are simply choosing to exclude gluten from your diet, that is okay as well. Maybe you think you should cut it out because your friends do, or you read an article saying it is good for you to be GF. Whatever the reason, it is important to be aware of a couple of things. When cutting out any food group (in this case bread and pasta etc) you will need to make sure that you are still getting enough nutrients and fibre elsewhere in your diet. The other thing is to make sure you aren’t being tricked in to eating GF processed foods from the shops thinking that it is a ‘healthy option’.
Is gluten free food or gluten free baking ‘healthy’?
My opinion is, SOMETIMES! Just like anything else in life, it is all about moderation. If you are eating baked or processed GF foods only occasionally then yes, I would say that is okay. If it is out of a packet it is likely not going to be that great for you and probably loaded with sugar and other processed nasties that aren’t ideal to be consumed daily.
Generally, foods that contain the most gluten are things that we all know should be avoided or only eaten sometimes... like cake, bread, pizza, burgers, bagels, pasta. These foods are never really classed as ‘health foods’ whether they are GF or not.
A couple of things to consider when buying or baking GF...
Often bought or packaged GF products are full of sugar, thickeners, emulsifiers and other highly processed grains, so I would say eating those foods as a substitute for something that you REALLY miss (just sometimes) would be okay. E.g., BREAD! Sometimes you just really want that piece of crunchy toast with peanut butter or a quick salad sandwich for lunch – YUM. BUT, if you were eating GF bread for breakfast, lunch and dinner all day long until the cows come home simply because you thought it was a ‘healthier’ option, well, think again!
The other thing to consider is, when baking your usual foods but you simply swap regular flour for GF flour you are NOT actually making that baking any more nutritious or healthy. Because by swapping one white, highly processed wheat flour for another highly processed GF flour (probably also bleached and made from corn and rice- hello GMO farming) you are simply leaving out gluten, not improving the nutrient content of that food. Therefore, this type of baking would be best as a special occasion food or a ‘sometimes’ food. That being said, there are some awesome ways to bake gluten free using real whole foods like almond meal, organic brown rice flour, nuts, psyllium husk, seeds, dates, honey, spices etc. These REAL, WHOLE foods are nutritious and filling and are a much better option over simply swapping conventional flour for GF flour. This style of baking can take some getting used to as the textures and consistencies are very different because, hey, there is no GLUTEN for that gluey chewy goodness... BUT you can still enjoy a seriously good muffin, cake, bread or pizza this way.
Now, let’s sum that up shall we! Going gluten free is not a choice for some people and for others it is, and that is okay. Just make sure you know why you are choosing the GF option and be aware of what is going into your body. Gluten free baking does not automatically make that food healthy and nutritious, but it is a fabulous option to be able to have the treats and special foods you enjoy, minus the gluten and the bloated, gassy, poohey side effects that can come with it!
If you found this blog post useful make sure you share it with a GF friend or someone who you know is battling some sensitivities. Sign up to my email list for more health inspiration