Gluten is a protein found in most grains including wheat, rye and barley. Derived from the Latin word for glue (that’s right…glue!), gluten is what gives bread dough its elastic texture. In the past few years, we’ve seen a growing gluten-free food movement in response to the rapid rise in gluten sensitivities and intolerances, suggesting that foods containing gluten may not be as healthy as we once thought.
Indeed for some people, gluten can cause digestive disorders and other unpleasant symptoms ranging from severe (celiac disease) to what might be considered more mild (irritable bowel syndrome), but is nonetheless bothersome to those afflicted with it. The obvious prescription in these cases is to strictly avoid gluten, and these folks often find themselves trying to navigate their way around the now popular gluten-free sections of their grocery stores.
Gluten aside, one of the main reasons our real food recommendations centre around vegetables, healthy fat and protein (rather than starchy grains and other processed food items) is for a more favourable blood sugar response. Simple (and to a lesser degree, complex) carbohydrates spike the blood sugar and cause the release of insulin, the fat-storage hormone.
Insulin’s job is to store nutrients for later use. Back in our hunter-gatherer days, we would have been able to seamlessly draw on our body fat reserves when food was scarce, which it often was. But in most developed countries today, starvation does not pose nearly the same threat it once did. With easy access to a plentiful food supply (carbs), we may unknowingly send our bodies the message to store fat, yet rarely find ourselves under the ideal conditions (low insulin production) to burn fat. In other words, we are always storing up for the winter, but the winter never comes.
Gluten-free products, often made with rice flour, potato starch, or tapioca starch, can spike blood sugar even higher than wheat does. So from a weight management perspective, eating from the gluten-free section certainly isn’t the answer, and may actually be part of the reason we’re seeing so many overweight celiac sufferers nowadays. They may be avoiding the problematic protein by consuming gluten-free products, but in the process they are sending themselves powerful signals to store body fat.
As Dr. William Davis discusses in his bestselling book Wheat Belly, modern wheat has been genetically modified to such a degree that it doesn’t even look like the same plant our great grandparents would have remembered. And the safety of the now two-foot high ‘dwarf variety’ of wheat we all consume today has never even been tested on humans!
The bottom line is to eat gluten-free (that’s your vegetables, healthy fat and protein), but to be very skeptical of products boasting gluten-free labels. And please don’t fall into the trap of assuming that all gluten-free foods are healthy. Marketers have leveraged our lack of understanding around this topic and, as always, it behooves us to do our own research into the foods we choose to put into our bodies.
It has been argued that we’re all intolerant to gluten at some level, whether we realize it or not. Speaking purely from personal experience here, it is possible for a young person who is lean, fit and healthy to feel noticeable improvements in joint pain following gluten elimination. As I’m fond of saying,
“You don’t know how well you can truly feel until you finally start feeling well.” -Carolyn Coffin
We simply don’t have to endure those aches and pains we’re told are a normal part of the aging process. How exciting is that?
Now I want to hear from you. How does your body respond to gluten and/or gluten-free products? I’d love to get your thoughts in the comments below.
Real food rocks, and so do you!