Giving up gluten

Reviewing the impacts of a gluten-free diet

Rachael Gunn, managing editor

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The United States loves bread. In fact, according to National Geographic, 22 percent of the average American’s daily caloric intake consists of grain, making it the second largest source of calories in our diets.

However, due to new research on gluten and an increasing number of Americans diagnosed with celiac disease, this consumption trend has been changing. Celiac disease is a genetic autoimmune disorder which causes ingested gluten to damage the small intestine, decreasing the body’s ability to absorb essential nutrients. Because of this condition, people abstain from consuming wheat, barley, rye and associated products.

According to a study by the Mayo Clinic, the number of people who did not eat gluten (but had the physical ability to do so without negative consequences) made up 72 percent of all gluten-free diets in 2014. Those with celiac only made up 16 percent, and people who may have celiac, but are undiagnosed made up 12 percent of gluten-free diets.

Almost three-quarters of gluten-free diets are implemented by those who don’t need it. What makes this lifestyle so popular? Why would anyone willingly give up bread or Cheez-Its or cake? That’s why I decided to embark on a two-week journey, temporarily avoiding my grainy friends to discover if gluten really did have a large effect on overall health.

Not eating “easy” foods like breads and prepackaged, unhealthy snacks has made me more aware of what I put in my body and has kept me from eating unhealthy foods that I would normally ingest.

At first, I noticed a change in my food cravings. Generally, I crave quick snacks like mini Keebler cookies or bread with hazelnut spread. During my diet, however, I found myself more attracted to all-natural foods like cherry tomatoes, apples and celery. When I wanted something traditionally viewed as unhealthy, such as potato chips, I would find recipes for alternatives to satisfy my wants. I made gluten-free pancakes using just bananas, eggs and cinnamon, and found a way to make chocolate chip muffins with only one banana, two eggs, a cup of all-natural peanut butter, two tablespoons of honey, a teaspoon of vanilla, half a teaspoon of baking powder and a small handful of chocolate chips. Despite their lack of a traditional structural ingredient, flour, these recipes were delicious and much needed to satisfy my baked good deprivation.

After a few days of this change, I noticed that I no longer felt a strong desire for grain products. I didn’t notice a spike in energy levels at first, but I did feel less sluggish about three days in.

Then, after about one week, I realized something significant. There are so many junk foods without gluten, including Cheetos, Lucky Charms and a wide variety of candy. I discovered that a gluten-free diet alone would not help the transition into a truly healthy world.

The absence of gluten must be coupled with good food choices in order to be effective. For example, I could stop eating gluten products but still only ever eat sweets, chips and whipped cream. That’s not healthy.

Additionally, certain gluten products such as whole wheat bread contain high levels of fiber essential in a good diet. According to Harvard Medical School Health Blog, the average American’s diet is already lacking in fiber and seriously reducing grain intake may further the problem. Unless some form of supplements are added, or a heightened mindfulness concerning fiber intake is present, a gluten-free diet may not provide enough fiber for good health.

Throughout the diet, I did notice a slight change in my health. I felt more energetic because of the increase in fruit and vegetable intake, and didn’t become fatigued as easily; however, if quick weight loss is a goal for your gluten-free diet, then I would not recommend this lifestyle.

In my opinion, if you don’t need to adhere to it due to medical reasons, a gluten-free diet is more trouble than it’s worth. It’s possible to get similar results by cutting out or reducing other items in your diet such as sugar or trans fats. Or, you could just avoid junk food and work out regularly like most doctors suggest.

Overall, when starting any kind of diet, it’s important to know your body and its limitations and needs. One diet may work for other people but have no effect on you due to different nutrient requirements.

 

The Purple Tide does not act in place of healthcare professionals; see your doctor before attempting any drastic dietary changes.

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