A study from Medical News Today was recently released that suggests consumers should not adhere to a gluten-free diet unless they have celiac disease. The research was done over a 26-year period and it measured the gluten consumption of participants every four years. Researchers concluded that avoiding gluten was not a healthy choice for people without celiac disease because it requires abstaining from whole grains and “whole grains are thought to reduce cardiovascular risk.”
Just because this study does not show a link between gluten and the number one killer, heart disease, this does not mean that gluten is your friend! As a health coach for Dr. Sayed Shah, a functional medicine doctor in Davenport, Iowa who specializes in gut health, I completely support people eating a gluten-free diet, even if they do not have celiac disease. Below are some questions that may come up for people who are pondering the g-free diet and its benefits.
What is gluten?
Gluten is made of two proteins, gliadin and glutenin. Gliadin is the protein that causes health problems. Both of these proteins are found in wheat, rye, barley, and derivatives of these grains. As suggested above, a gluten-free diet is traditionally used to treat individuals who suffer from celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder of the small intestine that is triggered by an individual’s intolerance, or hypersensitivity, to gluten.
Why should someone have a gluten-free diet even if they don’t have celiac or hypersensitivity to gluten? Let’s hear from the experts!
According to Dr. Shah, “A majority of gut problems and a host of other illnesses are not due to a gluten allergy, but due to sensitivity to gluten . In these people, Gluten is constantly stimulating the immune system leading to out-of-control inflammation, and this manifests as disease.”
According to Dr. Peter Osborne, a doctor of Pastoral Science and a board-certified clinical nutritionist, “gluten contributes to autoimmune nerve damage (Osborne, 2014).” The severity of nerve damage depends on your mental and physical state. For a child with ADHD or autism, such symptoms as emotional outbursts or a lack of focus can occur because of gluten intake. Someone without any disorders or diseases may still experience migraines, brain fog, increased food cravings, and tiredness.
Sound familiar? Gluten can bind to your intestinal wall, causing leaky gut. Leaky gut can have a huge, negative impact on your overall health. Eighty percent of your immune system is in your gut, so you can’t have a healthy immune system without a healthy gut. An untreated leaky gut can cause autoimmune disease, allergies, autism, eczema, psoriasis, type 1 diabetes, and more.
According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, “a major risk for Coronary Heart Disease is an unhealthy diet (NHLBI 2016).”
Grains in moderation can be part of a healthy diet. There are plenty of other grains and seeds we can eat in order to get some of the key nutrients that don’t contain gluten. Rice, whole oats, rolled oats, amaranth, bulgur, cornmeal, couscous, kamut, millet, quinoa, and spelt are some options that do not contain gluten.
Does this mean I should try to eat more foods that say “Gluten-Free” on them?
One thing I have learned from avoiding gluten is that store bought “gluten-free” labeled foods are mostly garbage. As consumers, we need to be aware of the ingredients that are in our food. Gluten-free, processed foods tend to have a higher glycemic index than foods that contain wheat. Glycemic index is a way to measure carbohydrates and how they raise your blood sugar. Gluten-free foods that have a high glycemic index are foods that contain corn starch, rice flour, tapioca starch, and potato flour. Those ingredients will increase blood sugar, cravings, and weight gain. When you consume foods with a high glycemic index, you will also feel more tired, irritable, and have less energy throughout your day.
How do you have a gluten-free diet and avoid coronary heart disease?
Whether you are someone who has celiac disease, a gluten sensitivity, or just knows that you feel better when you avoid gluten, you should continue to avoid it. To the best of your ability, try to eat a plant-based diet. This means eating at least three to four servings of fruits and four to five servings of vegetables every day, including whole grains (excluding wheat, barley, and rye) and legumes, and drinking plenty of water. It also means avoiding processed foods, refined sugars, and too much animal product.
If you want to learn more about foods that give you energy throughout your day instead of depleting it, join us on September 29 for the Professional Development Integrative Lifestyle Forum.
Health Coach, Mandala Integrative Medicine
Obsourne, P. (2014, July 21). Gluten & Your Nervous System – Depression, Brain Abnormalities, and Neuropathy. Retrieved from: https://www.glutenfreesociety.org/gluten-your-nervous-system-depression-brain-abnormalities-and-neuropathy/
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (2016, June 22). Coronary Heart Disease Risk Factors. Retrieved from: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/hd/atrisk