Should You Go Gluten-free?
By Derek Beres
Should you go gluten free? One of the more astonishing eating trends to hit our culture in the last few years is certainly the gluten-free diet. How could what is perhaps the most beloved food on the planet — wheat, which contains the protein gluten — possibly be bad for us? Isn’t going gluten-free, as many critics suggest, just for those suffering from celiac disease, a condition in which gluten can damage the lining of the small intestine in those who cannot properly process it?
I used to believe that to be the case. Bread is my favorite food, and the idea of giving it up sounded insane. But after conducting an interview with Dr. Frank Lipman a year ago, my mindset changed. Besides, I have close friends with celiac disease, and they manage. In fact, they claim that their energy levels increased once they got off gluten.
Lipman, an integrative physician in New York City and the author of Revive: Stop Feeling Spent and Start Living Again, believes the protein compromises our immune system because the grains are not easily digestable — by anyone, not just people with celiac disease. He recommends that everyone try going gluten-free for at least one month to see if it makes a difference in the way we feel. So I did.
I began in December. I took two-and-a-half weeks off from some of my favorite foods: rosemary sourdough bread, gnocchi, India Pale Ale. Gauging my energy level was challenging only because I had just moved to Southern California, and I assumed any increase in pep was due to sunshine. Then I visited New York City for the holidays, and the idea of not eating a proper slice of pizza sounded even more insane than giving up gluten. But I did my best to keep gluten to a minimum. Then I returned to Santa Monica on Jan. 9 and began again.
Considering that most of the wheat I ate was in the form of bread, it was easy to stop swinging by the bakery. Pasta was a little more challenging. But given the evolved state of quinoa pasta, I found it to be the perfect substitute. (Ancient Harvest is my favorite brand.) Within a week, I noticed a huge difference, not only in my level of acid reflux (from a hiatal hernia that I suffer from), but predominantly in terms of energy. I no longer fell into that midday slump around 3 or 4 p.m. I had always attributed my afternoon burnout to too much caffeine, but now I realize that there was more at play. Even more importantly, my blood sugar no longer crashed. I used to suddenly crave food from seemingly nowhere; now there was a slow, steady build to hunger that never made me feel famished.
But there was something I didn’t do that also made a big impact. Unlike many gluten-free dieters, I did not replace bread, muffins and soy sauce with gluten-free foods, which are craftily marketed as the saving grace for modern glutenites. I was set straight when I interviewed Dr. William Davis, author of Wheat Belly. He told me that the gluten-free industry is making a big mistake by replacing wheat gluten with cornstarch, tapioca starch, rice starch and potato starch in order to make palatable products. “These starches increase blood sugar higher than even wheat flour,” explains Davis. This is bad because high blood sugar is “associated with cartilage destruction leading to arthritis, cataracts, visceral fat accumulation and diabetes. We don’t want to trade one problem (wheat) for another problem (gluten-free foods).”
After 32 days, I finally broke my gluten-free diet with a beer. I didn’t crave the malty brew while on my diet, nor did I miss bread. I was simply preparing dinner with my wife and decided that since the monthlong trial period had passed, an IPA could do no harm.
And it didn’t. Overall, my energy levels still felt great. But in the end, I personally couldn’t imagine living a gluten-free life. Even in reduced quantities, bread is still the food of life to me. I try to limit any gluten intake to one day a week, usually on the weekend. The positive results I’ve had are more than enough to keep me eating this way.
Have you ever tried going gluten-free? Comment below or connect with me @Completely_You
For more great health and lifestyle content, visit the parent site of my blog, Completely You
is Completely You’s Getting Unstuck blogger. A journalist, yoga instructor and DJ/music producer, he has written for such publications as Departures and The Huffington Post. He teaches yoga at Equinox Fitness and Yogis Anonymous, and is one-half of the music production team EarthRise SoundSystem. For more info, visit DerekBeres.com.