Friday, January 3, 2014

Myths About Gluten

I've been hemming and hawing over writing a "how to be gluten free" post for months now, but every time I started to write it, I realized I had too much to say and not enough focus.

Some history: I've been gluten free since I was 11. I was diagnosed with Celiac just before Thanksgiving that year, and spent Thanksgiving crying in a bathroom because I couldn't have gravy, cornbread, stuffing, pie...or a variety of other scrumptious fare. So when I say I'm "gluten free", I don't mean "when I feel like it/because it's a fad/just recently." I mean: I do not eat anything with gluten in it, ever, and haven't in well over a decade.
Before the diagnosis, I was extremely underweight and always sick. Check out those knobby knees!
(I'm going to try my best not to be preachy, but damn, this is such a soap-box issue for me.)

Let's start with a definition. Most Celiac research groups (and the FDA) agree that anything with less than 20 ppm (parts per million) of gluten is considered gluten free. (If you're eating something with 5 ppm and you eat a lot of it, and then the total is more than 20 ppm, then can it still be considered GF?) Also, the "20 ppm" rule isn't an actual federal regulation. So more specifically, I consider "gluten free" to mean that it's made with non-gluten-having ingredients.

There are two kinds of people who may find relief in going gluten free. The first are those with a diagnosed sensitivity or intolerance, such as a gluten allergy or Celiac. The second are those with other autoimmune disorders or intestinal disorders, such as Crohn's Disease. Either way, your doctor should be the one telling you to go gluten free, not some trendy fitness magazine.

Especially during New Years, when people set out to try new diets and lose weight, I see too many articles on the "value" of going gluten free. Here are a few myths debunked:

Myth 1. Cutting out gluten is good for everyone and anyone! FALSE. Unless a doctor has told you that you would benefit from cutting out gluten (or ANY food), it's probably not going to benefit you. Studies have shown that those without a medical cause who cut gluten from their diet showed no actual improvements in their health.

Myth 2. Going gluten free is a great way to lose weight! FALSE. There are just as many high-sugar, high-calorie, high-saturated-fats foods that are gluten free. These days it's so easy to find GF food, and so much of it is unhealthy. The only way going gluten free will help you lose weight is if you don't replace your usual foods with gluten free options, which really just amounts to following a low-carb diet anyway, and avoid snacks like candy, ice cream, French fries, etc.
Source
(Fun fact, I gained a ton of weight quickly when I was diagnosed because I was so malnourished before. So if you really have Celiac, you may even gain weight, not lose it.)

Myth 3. I have Celiac, but it's okay to eat some gluten once in awhile! FALSE. I really hate this mentality. If you've cut out gluten and your body has started to heal itself, it becomes more susceptible to the dangers of gluten if you ingest it. Go 100% GF if your doctor has told you to.
Unfortunately, with Celiac, you can't pick-and-choose; all gluten needs to be avoided. (From mimiandeunice.com)
 (I get how hard the transition can be. I was lucky; I was diagnosed late but my sister had been GF since she was 18 months old, so GF food was already a staple in my house and my transition was easier. But sometimes you just need to suck it up and do what's right for your body, especially when the long-term effects could include osteoporosis and cancer.)

Myth 4. No one "needs" to be gluten free; it's just a fad! FALSE. Yes, it's become a fad thanks to Hollywood/celebrities and diet trends, but 1 in 133 people have Celiac, and gluten allergies really exist. There is no pill or cure other than to completely cut gluten from your diet. (I think the abundance of people going gluten free without a diagnosis has helped to create this fourth myth.)

Believe me, the side-effects of gluten for those of us who really need to be gluten free are proof enough. (But in case you're still doubtful, I have the blood tests and the endoscopy images to prove it!) If gluten intolerance were a made-up affliction, my mom wouldn't have spent my childhood cooking two meals (one regular, one GF), baking GF bread, or spending tons of money ordering specialty foods from Canada.
Delicious, easy to find in stores, and you have to love the whole grain option...but not cheap.
Being gluten free is expensive. Special options at restaurants often cost an extra $3-5. A loaf of gluten free bread usually runs about $4, compared to just over a buck for regular bread. Who would choose to spend that extra cash if it weren't medically necessary? (In fact, if you have proof of diagnosis, you can sometimes get a tax deduction because of the cost of GF food.)

My point here is that if I had a choice, I wouldn't be GF. I would eat the cheaper options; I would partake in the potlucks at work; I would enjoy the snacks my students bake for me during the holidays.

All this is to say that when you're looking into a way to make your daily meals healthier, cutting out gluten (or any single food group) isn't the way to do it. Add more vegetables to your diet. Eat more lean protein. Learn what a serving size really is and abide by it. Avoid overdosing on saturated fats and high-sodium foods.

And if you've noticed a correlation between your mood, bodily functions, and energy levels and gluten-rich meals, see a GI. An actual diagnosis is the right place to start.

Visit Celiac.com for lots of excellent information on Celiac, GF recipes, foods that contain gluten, recent research, and more.

What myths or misconceptions have heard about gluten free diets?
Do you have Celiac or another diagnosed reason to avoid gluten? Share your story!
Do you have any questions?

ABK 

25 comments:

  1. I love the honesty of this post! Hollywood HAS turned it into a trend to be GF. I've actually been asked "Have you tried to be GF before?" like it was the latest trend :S And I have heard that it's a great weight loss strategy.

    I've panicked at the thought of my doc ever telling me I'd have to go GF....because I love things like pizza and nachos. Can you still have those types of food? Yes right, Just a GF version?

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    1. It's so crazy to me how popular and mainstream it is now; in the 90s, finding gluten free food at a "regular" store or restaurant was unheard of!

      I make a mean GF pizza. Matt likes it more than normal pizza! Most corn tortilla chips are gluten free, so nachos (and tacos...mmmm!) are a staple for me!

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  2. This was an interesting and educational post. I hear about GF diets and such but I have never done much research. This was a great inside peek to the world of GF and how it is truly affects people.

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  3. I love this post. I do not know all there is about going GF, but I do know that unless you have a medical reason to do so, there is no benefit to being GF! I kept nodding my head when you wrote about diet trends and fitness magazines leaning toward being GF- but for what reason!?

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    1. Seriously, it's the weirdest thing to me how being GF has become like new the South Beach Diet or something. Gluten itself isn't bad for people, but self-help diet gurus are making tons off writing books and magazine articles convincing people to give it up.

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    2. Yeah, that is frustrating to me but probably a MILLION times frustrating for someone like you who legitimately CAN NOT eat it.

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  4. I love this! I'm not gluten free - and I really love your point about the foods not being healthy just because they are gluten free. Great post!

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  5. People want a magic solution to losing weight or being healthier so badly that they often don't stop to use their common sense. Thanks for taking some time to educate us. :)

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    1. I'll admit, this was a selfish post. I'm hoping to spread education so I can stop listening to the BS haha.

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  6. This is such a great, timely post. I was just recently given a bunch of books about going gluten free. I do have to say I have yet to come across a gluten free loaf of bread that I really like. (Personally, I would like to know how Ezekiel bread is even allowed to be called bread!!).

    Bread/pasta products are my favorite so this transition for me is so hard. I think it's making me exceedingly grumpy in real life especially in social situations like at restaurants. I really need to get over it and just move on, but I'm sulking. I am grateful that I no longer break out in rashes twenty times a day though!

    I think the reason I have yet to share it on the blog is because GF is so fad-ish. I'd rather just not mention it so that people don't think I'm following the Miley Cyrus diet. Ugh.

    Thank you for the post and your support! :)

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    1. Ah the books! I found books on going GF so overwhelming, but I think they have a lot of great information.

      Is Ezekiel bread even GF? I like Udi's...it's soft and doesn't need to be toasted. But yeah, I haven't had "real" bread in so long that I'm not good at making comparisons!

      Pastas to try: Mueller has a GF pasta now that's cheap and tasty and you can find it at Publix. I prefer Tinkyada myself, and it's also at Publix, but really expensive. Trader Joe's has their own brand of GF pasta that's cheap and yummy, too!

      Get yourself to a Whole Foods and seek out their frozen GF section. There are TONS of yummy snacks to try there, and I think you'll find things that will make the transition easier.

      I think once you're open about your diagnosis, you'll be forced to be held accountable. It may make the transition smoother. I PROMISE not to call you a Miley-wannabe haha!

      I have a whole list of brands to look into that I always send to friends who are newly diagnosed. I'll try to dig it up and forward it to you!

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    2. Thank you!! Yes, the books are overwhelming, but it seems like a good way to get an in-depth understanding of my new life << so dramatic.

      Not all of the Ezekiel's are GF but they make a couple of loafs from brown rice. The one I tried was a crumbly, awful texture that tasted nothing like bread.

      One of the girls at my doctor's office recommended Udi as well, I need to try it! I usually shop at Publix but I need to transition to Whole Foods!

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  7. I don't like it when people cut out gluten from their diets believing that it will help them lose weight. Gluten is actually toxic to some people (like my step mother and yourself) and can cause a lot of stomach issues for others (like myself). I had horrible stomach issues about 4 years ago (I was in a very unhealthy place in my life and was basically only eating bread) and I even went as far as having a colonoscopy. My doctor told me to cut gluten and I did. And just like that, my stomach started to heal itself. I am so thankful that I am not Celiac, but I can absolutely tell if a dish has a hint of gluten in it (ie- soy sauce) and I feel terrible for the rest of the night and the next day. As a rule, I try to avoid most grains, just because I try to get my carbs from sources like fruits and veggies. It is absolutely not a weight loss technique because most gluten-free products actually have MORE carbs and MORE calories than their gluten friends.

    It's totally okay to be selfish, because with the fad comes people not truly believing that people are ACTUALLY allergic and that gluten actually can harm them in a very serious way. My step mother gets really inflamed joints and cannot even function for the entire day if she accidentally eats even a trace of gluten. The allergy is a real thing and not something to be taken lightly, just like nut allergies.

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    1. It sounds like you definitely have a sensitivity. I'm so you've found relief by cutting gluten out of your diet. I had no idea you were GF! You hit the nail on the head; I think what gets me about people not taking it seriously is that as it becomes more of a fad and less recognized as real illness, there's danger that people will care less about cross-contamination and being careful. I don't want to offend people who have baked me GF foods, for example, but if I don't trust that they get the seriousness of the issue, then I won't eat it. It's frustrating to feel like I'm not being taken seriously when I ask if something has breadcrumbs in it or has flour as binding or whatnot.

      I'm soo happy you' and your step-mom are feeling better on your GF diets!!

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  8. You ought to have this published somewhere, Ali. Very insightful, direct and concise.

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    1. Thanks, Kendra, that's really sweet :o)

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  9. This is a really great post. It does seem that it's gotten so fashionable, and when I have a friend who says she cut out bread, but is still drinking beer but feels "so much better" I have to laugh. I think everyone does have to find little bits and pieces of their diet that does work for them though, so I think if most people just cut out processed stuff in general they'd feel better, and yes some of those are gluten type products. Thanks for your perspective on everything!

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    1. People like your friend are why I wrote this post. For so many of us, it's not a choice to just eat "less" gluten, and it's almost offensive to watch them claim our diet and then misuse it. I think people definitely end up cutting down on processed foods when they go GF, like you said, and that's probably a big reason they feel better.

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  10. Such a great post! One of my biggest pet peeves is when people think gluten allergies aren't real and they're just a fad. I would love to still eat gluten, but unfortunately that's not an option. It's a difficult diet to maintain and a lot of people don't realize that.

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    1. Agreed! I was thinking about it the other day, and this is probably the ONLY intolerance I can think of where you're likely to find the ingredient in ANYTHING. Gluten is sneaky and hidden in so many things!

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  11. My only wish is that people who don't really have allergies or sensitivities will stop pretending they do. It makes us, real allergic people, sound less serious. (I'm allergic to a collection of nuts and fruit.)

    Good luck to you with your diet!

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    1. Yep, totally agree with you on that one. When people pretend to have an allergy/intolerance and then "cheat" on their prescribed diet, it allows others to think everyone is making it up.

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