It seems like everyone and their dog is now avoiding gluten, but does this popular food trend have validity?
Going gluten-free has become increasingly easy and common among the population with restaurants, grocery stores, and even beauty products accommodating these needs.
You may be wondering if the gluten-free diet has validity or if it's just another fad diet. To answer, let's first start by addressing what is gluten?
Gluten represents a group of proteins that can be difficult to digest. It is found in foods such as wheat, spelt, barley, and rye.
Going gluten-free isn't just for celiac disease, many people are intolerant or sensitive to gluten. In fact, non-celiac gluten sensitivity is on the rise (1) due to various reasons such as worsened gut function, wheat hybridization, higher gluten concentrations in newer wheat varieties, increased use of pesticides and chemicals such as glyphosate, excessive use of medications and antibiotics, chronic stress, and increased c-sections and lack of breastfeeding.
The state of our digestive system seems to have a big say as to whether or not we can tolerate gluten or not (2).
Research shows gluten triggers an inflammatory reaction in the intestines regardless of whether or not an individual is allergic, intolerant, or sensitive to gluten. Why does this happen? Gluten triggers the release of a protein called zonulin, which is responsible for loosening up the tight junctions in the intestinal tract and causes intestinal permeability, also known as leaky gut. Leaky gut creates a state of inflammation not only in the digestive system but systemically throughout the body, and has been linked with autoimmune diseases.
Celiac is an autoimmune disease caused by genetic and environmental factors. With celiac disease, it is imperative to avoid gluten at all times, as it initiates an autoimmune attack against the protein molecule as well as your own tissue which results in severe damage to the intestinal cells.
On the other hand, if you are sensitive or intolerant you won't experience the same reaction as in celiac, however, acute or delayed inflammatory reactions can occur such as diarrhea, constipation, bloating, anxiety, headaches, skin conditions, joint pain, brain fog, and more.
Choosing a gluten-free diet may also benefit individuals with an autoimmune disease, bowel disease, fibromyalgia, endometriosis, and schizophrenia (3).
The best way to find out if a gluten-free diet is right for you is to try it and see how you feel.
But there is a right and a wrong way to going gluten-free, we break it all down for you below!
Tips for gluten-free grocery shopping
Stay away from gluten-free junk food
Many people who go gluten-free aren't doing themselves any favors for their health. Due to the rise of gluten-free diets manufacturers have caught onto the demand for gluten-free foods. It's now common to find packaged cereals, candy bars, baked good, breads, and crackers in grocery stores that are all certified gluten-free.
The thing about gluten-free packaged foods is that they are essentially the same as their gluten counterparts just without the gluten. Which means you are swapping normal junk food for gluten-free junk food.
This can be helpful in certain circumstances if you have no other alternatives or want to treat yourself. We all gotta live a little!
But this shouldn't become an everyday habit. Gluten-free doesn't necessarily mean healthy, many people who decide to go gluten-free for health reasons find their symptoms stay the same or worsen because they are still eating a diet full of processed flours, inflammatory oils, and refined sugars.
Choose naturally occurring gluten-free whole foods
Building off of our first point, instead of choosing gluten-free packaged foods that are low in nutrients, shift your focus to real whole foods that naturally do not contain gluten. This will also help your budget, as gluten-free alternatives are often more expensive than regular products.
Foods that are naturally gluten-free include squash, sweet potato, rice, buckwheat, amaranth, millet, squash, oats, corn, quinoa, sorghum, teff, legumes, and beans.
Avoid hidden gluten
Many products may be hiding gluten unexpectantly so it's important to always read the label. Gluten can be hiding in foods such as:
- Breaded meat
- Processed cheese
- Fried foods
- Processed meats
- Ice cream
- Crackers & chips
- Pasta and noodles
- Baking mixes
- Baked goods
- Chicken broth
- Protein bars
- Soy sauce
- Imitation crab
- Artificial flavors
- Salad dressings & sauces
- Malt liquor
The verdict? Always read the label!
Gluten-Free Tahini Chocolate Chunk Cookies
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup tahini
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 3 tbsp maple syrup
- 3 tbsp coconut oil, melted and cooled to room temp
- 1/3 cup raw cacao powder
- 2 tbsp almond flour
- pinch flakey sea salt
- 1/4 tsp baking soda
- 1/3 cup dark chocolate bar, coarsely chopped (or substitute 1/3 cup chocolate chips)
- Pinch of sea salt
- 3-4 tbsp additional chocolate chunks
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- In a large bowl, whisk together egg, tahini, vanilla, maple syrup, and coconut oil until well-combined.
- Tablespoon by tablespoon, fold in cacao powder (could get messy!), almond flour, sea salt and baking soda. Once chocolate has been chopped, fold into the dough.
Using a cookie scoop (or two oiled spoons), transfer dough to parchment paper-covered baking sheet.
- Bake for 8-9 minutes. Let cool for at least 5 minutes.
Recipe created by Rachael DeVaux.
Laurence Annez is a Certified Nutritional Practitioner and Health Coach, specializing in PCOS and women's hormones. She also holds a degree in Creative Writing and has extensive experience writing on health and wellness topics. Laurence's mission is to inspire and motivate individuals to take control of their own health and reach their ultimate health goals.