Wheat No More


Nutritionists first suggested avoiding foods with gluten when it started to become known that they were harmful to people with Celiac disease. Indeed, medical researchers discovered that when glutens are ingested, this serious autoimmune disorder, affecting the small intestine, causes the body to mount an immune response that can trigger such side effects as unexplained iron-deficiency anemia, fatigue, bone or joint pain, arthritis, osteoporosis, depression or anxiety and migraines, to name a few.

From that dietary acorn a giant oak of abstinence has grown. For some, it’s due to the fact that non-Celiac disease sufferers have milder but still unpleasant reactions to glutens. Call them gluten-sensitive, if you will. However, a greater and greater number of people also don’t eat anything containing gluten and it has nothing to do with a medical condition. They claim that by avoiding this latest “don’t-eat-du jour,” pain, skin rashes, acne, anxiety and depression, are said to magically disappear. And in their place is increased weight loss and energy, even happiness.

Full disclosure: I am gluten-sensitive. My husband, on the other hand, is 100% pro pizza – not to mention muffins, cake and pretty much everything else — which causes a bit of an issue when it comes to choosing a restaurant. He simply cannot understand why anyone without a medical necessity would willingly eschew bread – or, even more unfathomable, the pizza crust.

He is not alone. Yes, truth be told, most people don’t even know what gluten really means.

“What is it?” I tested a woman in my yoga class who claimed she hadn’t eaten a bagel in three years.

“It’s the stuff in the bread that makes you fat,” she stated. (Like Duh!!) .

“No, No,” said her wiser friend. “It’s a grain. You know, the flour derivative of wheat.”

Just as wrong.

So what exactly is a gluten, and why is it getting such a bad rap? Simply stated, gluten is a general name for the proteins found in such staples as wheat, wheat germ, barley, triticale, rye, pasta, spelt, semolina and hydrolyzed vegetable protein, among others. It helps food maintain their shape, making them chewy, acting as the glue that holds them together, hence the name!  And it certainly is a disaster to eat for those who really do suffer from Celiac disease.

And yes, like me, there is a considerably larger percentage of the population that is “gluten sensitive.” But how do you know if that’s the case, instead of some other form of gastrointestinal ailment? Or what if, instead, you have merely fallen prey to all the hype, the result of which abounds on practically every shelf in the supermarket including, but not limited to, gluten-free chicken nuggets? There are even gluten-free Communion wafers.

I recently had Drew Manning, a renowned personal trainer and the author of the New York Times best-seller Fit2Fat2Fit, on my radio show.

“What do you think are some of the biggest misconceptions about going gluten-free?” I asked him.

He proceeded to talk about the three most common misconceptions, in his opinion, about the gluten-free diet…

Eating gluten free-means you’ll lose weight: This is why it’s now such a fad. Many people see celebrities endorse it, boasting they’ve lost weight simply by cutting out gluten.” But, according to Drew, if you don’t do it the right way, you can end up gaining weight.

Gluten-free means sugar-free or fat-free: “We see claims like this stamped on all types of food and snacks today, and it is human nature to assume that if an item was removed, then it must have been inherently bad for you. But this kind of ties into misconception Number One, and goes to show that a lot of people who purchase these products need to be educated on what gluten-free really is.”

Gluten-free is healthier: “If you have Celiac disease, then you will most likely be forced into avoiding gluten, but if you’re gluten-sensitive, then you have a choice. With 37 percent of people thinking if a product is labeled “Gluten-Free” that it’s automatically healthier for them than the non-gluten-free food item, I found that most of these products are just as bad, if not worse, given all the substitutes. Just remember that a gluten-free cookie is still a cookie, and processed gluten-free foods are still processed foods!”

Drew says the wrong way to eat gluten-free is to eat anything and everything that is labeled “gluten-free,” which includes things like gluten-free crackers, breads, pizzas, cereals, chips, and cookies, for a start.

And the right way?

“First, I recommend starting with foods that are naturally gluten-free, like meats (fish, chicken, turkey, and eggs), fresh vegetables, fresh fruits, nuts, and seeds. That should constitute most of you regimen.  Second, I suggest an occasional gluten-free substitute as a treat every once in a while or to mix things up, like gluten-free bread. Just try and stay away from the ones that have a large amount of ingredients, which usually means a lot of preservatives and processed junk you don’t want. It’s also good to be assertive when eating out and let the waiter know that you’re gluten-free. Most places these days are accommodating to people with these types of food allergies.”

So whether you happen to be married to someone who asks for extra gluten on the side (I know: Go figure!) are gluten-sensitive or really do have Celiac disease, to look and feel Better Than Before, just remember to go gluten-free the most effective way!