Thanks to Gwyneth Paltrow, Novak Djokovic, JJ Virgin, Dr. Oz and too many others to name, the gluten-free diet has gained incredible recognition in recent years. In addition to all of the benefits that come with the gluten-free diet gaining popularity, I’ve also noticed two things:
1. More gluten-free junk foods on the market
2. More people saying it’s a fad
With so much confusion and doubt in the air, I decided to create this Beginners Guide to Going Gluten-Free to help any of you looking to eat healthier in the New Year. Before I get into the safe and unsafe foods, two general tips:
1. Go gluten-free but don’t eat gluten-free: Gluten-free replacement foods are not health foods. In fact, many gluten-free foods are more caloric than their gluten-containing doppelgängers. I’ve seen many people actually gain weight when going gluten-free by merely swapping out their Cherrios for gluten-free cereal in the morning. For optimal nutrition, eat real, whole foods and eliminate processed foods as much as possible.
2. Gluten-free isn’t enough: Do you know about lectins?
While discussed less often, lectins are incredibly harmful for a number of reasons. Lectins are sugar-binding proteins that are in all plant and animal products, but are highly prominent in wheat, rye, rice, spelt, beans, soy, dairy and in nightshades (such as tomatoes and eggplant). Wheat contains a particularly harmful lectin called Wheat Germ Agglutinin (WGA).
What Lectins Do To The Body And Why You Should Avoid Them:
Lectins are part of a plant’s natural defense mechanism, helping them fight off mold and parasites. When plants sense an invader, lectins attack them by binding to the foreign sugar molecules and stopping their infestation in its tracks. When lectins get into your body, they still use this defense system to attack sugar molecules. Why does that matter? Our digestive systems are lined with sugar-containing cells that help us digest and break down foods. Lectins bind to these sugar-containing cells, wreaking havoc on our digestive and immune systems. What’s the result? Intestinal damage (which leads to reduced nutrient absorption), altered gut-flora (which makes us more vulnerable to certain types of infection, such as E. Coli) and leaky gut syndrome (essentially gut permeability, the negative effects of which could take up an entire blog). Lectins can bind to any tissue – thyroid, pancreas, collagen in joints, etc. and disrupt the function of that tissue. When lectins bind to these tissues, the body reacts by releasing white blood cells to attack the lectin-bound tissue and destroy it. As many of you know, this reaction is commonly referred to as an autoimmune response. For this reason, the consumption of lectins is highly correlated to autoimmune diseases and chronic inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, migraines, hypothyroidism, IBS, Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, and many others.
I can hear some of you now. I can’t even think about lectins yet. Give me the gluten-free facts. I’m new to this and don’t know what to eat!
Oats: Look for gluten-free. Commercial Oats contain gluten
Barley (and Barley Malt, which is often in candy, chocolate bars and snack bars)
Some fancy terms for wheat:
DOES NOT CONTAIN GLUTEN:
Corn (Polenta, Cornmeal)
Oats (when gluten-free)
Many flours are gluten-free. Some common ones:
Hide and go gluten -- You’ll often find gluten lurking in the following foods:
Breading and Coating Mixes (Panko Breadcrumbs)
Stews (ask if they added wheat to the broth)
Imitation Meats and Veggie Burgers
Chocolate and Candy (even certain mints)
Processed Deli Meats
Soups (always ask)
Sauces such as gravy (always ask)
Let’s not forget alcohol!
Distillation supposedly removes all of the gluten molecules in alcoholic beverages. Some people still choose to play it safe and avoid alcohol made from gluten-containing grains, especially when they are new to the diet. So, playing it safe:
DOES NOT CONTAIN GLUTEN:
I hope you found this guide helpful! When in doubt, skip it. Gluten stays in your system for up to 90 days, so if you've done the work to remove it, do a little research to make sure it doesn't sneak back in.