In recent years there has been a huge trend towards eating gluten-free foods.
When I was studying naturopathy in the mid 1990s there were virtually no options available for those who were advised to avoid wheat (and gluten). People had to make everything from scratch, you couldn't buy gluten-free biscuits, crackers and breads very easily in New Zealand. But now there are aisles of it in every supermarket!
Gluten refers to a group of proteins found in wheat, rye, barley and oats. People diagnosed with Coeliacs disease cannot eat any of the foods containing gluten. (There is conflicting evidence in regard to oats however, as it is usually processed in the same facilities as wheat and other gluten containing grains and it is highly likely to be contaminated with gluten.) Being on a strict gluten-free diet requires avoidance of all four of those grains, however many people refer to wheat as gluten, so in general I am speaking about going 'wheat-free."
Why gluten-free then?
Many people do feel so much better when they cut wheat out of their diet. These people have some degree of intolerance to wheat (in my opinion). I recommend avoiding wheat to clients with autoimmune disease, IBS and other gut disorders, and it is worth trialing if you feel that you may have that category of symptoms.
Others don't feel much different when they cut wheat out of their diet. Why? One reason may be because it may be a different food group such as sugar, or dairy that is causing their health issues, or something else totally unrelated. Or it may because they are relying on gluten-free packaged foods as a replacement food, and they haven't including enough whole foods in their diet. So they are missing out on nutrients that are often deficient in processed and refined foods. These nutrients include the minerals iron and zinc, and the B vitamins (folate, B12, thiamine, niacin). Consider how much processed foods teenagers eat!
I encourage all my clients to eat whole foods, which are nutritious and are packed with vitamins, minerals and fibre. Whole foods include fresh, organic and locally grown fruit and vegetables, as well as free range grass fed meat, fish and eggs.
Why avoid gluten free products? I thought they were a good choice?
Firstly, there is much evidence around that wheat is overloaded with glyphosate spray (Round Up), prior to harvesting, and that this spray causes damage to our gut, amongst other things. Also, many of these products are actually more refined that their counterparts.
Take a look at the label on the packaging. Often gluten free foods (and this can include biscuits, crackers, breads, slices etc) contain additives, preservatives and refined oils. To make gluten free food taste flavoursome they are often laden in sugar. (Some packaged biscuits are sooo sweet!)
Also, in the process of producing gluten-free flours, manufacturers use other grains and starches such as flours made from rice, potatoes, corn, and tapioca. Although these flours are naturally free of gluten, they’re still highly refined grains that can cause a spike in blood sugar higher than that of their whole-grain counterparts. This can contribute to insulin resistance.
As mentioned above, being overly processed, they are often devoid of nutrients. (It isn't easy to make the texture of a gluten containing product without gluten!)
What do I tell my clients?
Going gluten-free when necessary is only one aspect of improving your diet for better health. Reducing processed foods contain excess sugar, salt and cheap ingredients is very important as is eating whole foods.
Making your own gluten-free foods is a much better way to go, then you are in control of the quality of the ingredients. That way, you can use organic and whole ingredients.
I encourage my clients to start looking at labels on all the packaged foods that they purchase. Familiarise yourself with the ingredient list, including the additives and preservatives, as well as the nutritional components in the packet. Know what you are putting in your body.
Build your meals around a palm sized portion of protein, some good quality fats (think unsalted nuts, like brazils, almonds and hazels, as well as avocado, and cold pressed oils) and heaps of vegetables. If you are trialing or feel better going wheat- (or gluten) free make your own crackers, use whole grain rice, quinoa and other alternatives which are rich in nutrients.
If you would like some help and support with switching over to a wholefood diet, where you learn which foods to eat, and why, consider booking in with me for the 21 Day Wholefood cleanse, you can either do it on your own with me or in a group. Read about it here