The other morning, my froworker, (friend-coworker), April, was talking about how she thought she may have been experiencing a food sensitivity of some sort. Among the items she was considering cutting out temporarily (to see if it would make a difference in how she felt) was gluten. This, my friends, is not surprising. You don't have to be full blown celiac to be gluten sensitive.
The gluten-free "trend" has gained a lot of attention in recent years, and many people find it absolutely ludicrous. But honestly, given how things like whole wheat bread have been widely adopted as a source of nutritious fuel, I cannot blame those who are initially skeptical. Between overhearing a couple of girls scoffing at their friend who has decided to go GF behind her back ("oh my gosh...she's not actually allergic to it, she's only doing it to be skinny") and listening to a couple of soccer moms in Harris Teeter discuss how whole wheat makes it into their children's daily diet because it forms the basis of our worshipped food pyramid, it is clear that gluten has been integrated into society as a substance of normalcy.
What's "Normal" Is Not Normal
I bet every single person that reads this post is in some way sensitive to gluten without realizing it. Prior to cutting gluten from my diet, I did not think twice about how it affected me. I watched friends go GF because they claimed they were intolerant, and - not going to lie - rolled my eyes because I thought the whole thing was a crock. Not to mention, I didn't even consider buying into it myself because I didn't see any need. I did not feel any sense of intolerance when I ate gluten. I was totally normal!
Yeah...no. Looking back on it now, my "normal" was not normal. In my pre-GF days, I was tired all the time. I took naps almost every day, I could sleep for 12+ hours per night and it would take entirely too long for me to fully wake up and get my day started. I also got sick all the time. Sure I would get bellyaches, but that's normal, right? Everyone gets bellyaches. Additionally, I had a cold on the reg. Even throughout the warm months I'd end up congested with a runny nose. But everyone gets a cold...that's as normal as burping. There was a lot more going on that I also thought was "normal", but I will spare you the details out of respect for your imagination.
Now, I sleep well through the night, I wake up easily, I haven't gotten a cold once since my paleo adventure and I'm bellyache free (aside from when I cheat...then my belly aches are gnarly). I'm not sure in what universe I thought that inadequate sleep, constant fatigue, colds and stomachaches were normal.
The Science Behind It All
When I went paleo, I must admit that I didn't do it because of nutritional science behind it all. I didn't really care about the biological effects that things like dairy, legumes and grains had on me, I was just sick of tracking calories and points and being hungry all the time from dieting. The concept of being able to eat until I was no longer hungry just really appealed to me, and if I had to cut dairy, legumes and grains to do so, then so be it. So I jumped right in, no questions asked.
But as I got started (especially with the 28toLife program), it was hard not to notice all of the additional benefits of clean eating aside from weight loss. As such, I started to take interest in the science behind it all. I had never felt so good, from the inside out, and I wanted to know why. So I read up.
In a nutshell, there are two primary concerns with gluten (as well as grains and legumes in general):
- Gluten is a highly glycemic carbohydrate source, which spikes blood sugar and creates a heavy insulin response. If your blood sugar spikes too much on a regular basis, you store more body fat from the gluten-based carbs and you slow your metabolic rate significantly, oftentimes leading to weight gain.
- Gluten is a gut irritant and damages gut lining...leading to a leaky gut. Gross. A leaky gut means poor digestion, inflammation and a potential adverse immune reaction (as the wrong proteins may leak out of your gut and into your body).
I'm going to divert the rest of the science chit-chat to the real experts. At this point, if you are more interested in the science, check out Robb Wolf's The Paleo Solution or this post by Mark Sisson.
Then and Now
Part of my paleo experiment enatiled reintroducing things into my diet that I had cut out...just to try and see for myself how my previous "normal" was not normal. As gluten is a part of the paleo grain no-no, it made its way back into a meal or two so I could see how it made me feel once cutting it entirely. Gluten, bar none, was the one thing that upset my stomach the most.
As I've said before (and as I will continue to say), induling in non-paleo treats keeps me sane from time to time. So, on occasion, I like to have a scoop of ice cream, or a slice of pizza or a bag of popcorn at the movies. But 9 times out of 10, I'm going to opt for that ice cream or popcorn over the pizza (unless it's on GF crust), since the reaction I have to gluten is far worse than how I react to dairy or corn. So, unless it's someone's birthday and there is a double chocolate cake involved, feeling sick all day just isn't worth it.
Gluten Free Challenge
If you are not paleo, no sweat! If you are not gluten-free, no sweat! I pass no judgment on other people's eating habits, I am simply here as a resource for people who may be interested in a clean eating lifestyle or who simply seek yummy recipes - paleo or not. It's all about finding what works for you, so I just like to offer up tips and tricks that have helped me figure out what works for me.
If any of the below gluten-assoicated symptoms resonate with you, I simply challenge you to cut gluten from your diet for two weeks.
- Frequent stomachaches
- Joint pain
Just two weeks! I'm not even suggesting you embrace the full paleo diet, I'm merely suggesting that you take a GF trial run. But in order to really see the difference, it has to be a whole two weeks...no cheats. I know. I am so mean. But in the grand scheme of things...you've only gone 14 days without your lunchtime sandwich and can have it right back should you experience no difference. Honestly, it's whatever works for you. If you cut gluten entirely and find that you have no problems upon reintroduction, then that is great. But I have a feeling you will be surprised by how much better you feel when you didn't even realize you could feel any better!
Gluten Free Substitutions
BUT WHAT ABOUT SPAGHETTI NIGHT?!?!?!?!? What about it? You can still have spaghetti night...just without the spaghetti. Fortunately (and contrary to popular belief), there are plenty of GF options out there to satisfy otherwise gluten-infused dishes you may crave. To get you started:
- Spaghetti: spaghetti squash or zucchini noodles
- Bread: make your own GF bread...or just buy some from the store. Or try this easy paleo english muffin recipe you can make in the microwave!
- Flour (for baked goods or breaded meats): nut meal (almond meal is most common), tapioca flour, coconut flour
- Tortillas: corn tortillas instead of flour tortillas
Now that GF has become so popularized, many restaurants offer GF menus and grocery stores now carry tons of GF options, so keep your eyes peeled!
Have your own GF insights to share? I'd love to hear them!