Although Celiac disease affects a minority of people, many of us have gluten intolerances which may manifest simply as brain fog, low energy levels, weight gain or an autoimmune disease such as thyroiditis, arthritis or dermatitis such as eczema and psoriasis. Today, nearly 30 percent of Americans are avoiding gluten, according to a NPD research group survey cited in the Wall Street Journal. It’s obvious gluten-free is a growing craze, but the same Wall Street Journal article is now questioning: Is it healthy?
The Money Behind Gluten-Free
As a result of the seemingly overnight popularity of the diet, gluten-free global retail sales have almost doubled since 2007–reaching $2.1 billion last year, according to the article. Where money’s involved, who to trust becomes blurry. Many food corporation’s gluten-free products cost more and are actually less healthy than their gluten-containing predecessors. Just like the low-fat craze in the 1970s, the food industry is capitalizing on gluten-free products and marketing today. We all fell into the low-fat trap–myself included. We thought we could eat low-fat versions and be healthier for it, because that’s what we were told. But low-fat versions of food usually contain more sugar and processed oils than the original, non-altered foods. We now know these sugars and processed oils are in fact quite damaging to our health.
Separating the Good from the Bad
Don’t fall into the same trap by a different name. Not only is it important to actually know what gluten is (most people think they do), but it is equally important to teach yourself how to weed out the good gluten-free food from the bad. “…within the gluten-free category, there is a wide variety of products with varying nutritional compositions,” the article states. But there’s a general consensus among health experts that not all gluten-free foods are loaded with unhealthy ingredients and sugar. “We leave the ultimate choice to the consumer,” a General Mills spokeswoman adds.
Yes, that’s right. Most companies are OK with leaving their consumers to fend for themselves when making health-related choices. I don’t blame them, just like any business they want to meet customer demands and turn a profit. There’s no doubt they leverage the nutritional debates to their advantage. These processed foods and gluten-free varieties are addicting, and the food industry knows this better than any group. They aren’t in the business of selling health food, so why would we expect them to do so?
The Confusion Continues
But the confusion extends further than just the large food corporations. Traditional nutrition, mainstream medicine and health agencies such as the ADA, AHA and others still try to fit the square peg (healthy diet) into the round hole (low-fat, high-carb, high-grain, low-sodium options). Because they believe fat and animal products are unhealthy, grains are healthy, and calories in/calories out is the real definition of healthy diet, everything is manipulated to fit their template. Take the food pyramid or the new MyPlate for example. It’s still low-fat, high-carb nonsense.
Even the WSJ article itself does a good job of illustrating the problem. Take for instance, the accompanying quiz called “Packaged Food Puzzle: What’s the Smarter Choice?” It is meant to emphasize the fact that it’s extremely difficult to tell healthy food from junk food. It reveals that Doritos have less sodium than Goldfish crackers, frozen Banquet meals have less calories than frozen Evol meals and Oreos have less sugar than Fat-free Fig Newtons. But does that mean you should go out and buy Doritos, Oreos and frozen foods? No! Processed foods are processed foods. NONE of the options in this quiz are smart choices! Processed food is a problem for health. It doesn’t matter if it’s low-fat, low-carb, gluten-free, low-sodium, low-calorie…it’s still processed food!
The True Reason to Go Gluten-Free
Going gluten-free isn’t about replacing your current processed foods with gluten-free alternatives. It’s about eating like our ancestors did–real, whole food such as meat, poultry, eggs, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grass-fed butter, coconut oil and fruit (in moderation). Our paleo and ancestors were healthier than we are, yet they didn’t measure portions, fat grams, sodium or cholesterol. They didn’t count calories either. The human body will balance blood sugar, cholesterol, electrolytes and keep body fat percentage in a healthy range if we simply supply it with the essential nutrients it needs, while avoiding the processed oils, sugars and chemicals that disrupt our intrinsic homeostasis. Best of all, paleo and semi-paleo diets by their nature are free of processed foods and gluten.
No matter what the science shows and what the clinical results might be, agencies and mainstream medicine push the same diet advice. Many sources say grains are healthy, so if gluten is a problem than it must only be a problem for the a tiny piece of the population. The simple solution? Make gluten-free cereals, pastas and flour so everyone can enjoy it! But as I mentioned above, many people have gluten intolerances they don’t even know about. If you’re desperately trying to lose weight or simply enhance energy levels and your mood, then go grain-free for 4 to 6 weeks and assess how you feel. Give it a try for least 4 weeks and you’ll likely have a positive response.