Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, and many food additives.
Research has shown that gluten is associated with an array of health issues:
- Many people have some sort of gluten intolerance and receive significant health benefits while following a gluten-free diet.
- For those with celiac disease, avoiding gluten is critical.
- People suffering from Hashimoto’s, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis have reported improved health and decreased symptoms when excluding gluten from their diet.
- There’s compelling evidence that avoiding gluten can help prevent and treat Alzheimer’s disease.
- Removal of gluten from the diets of schizophrenics has resulted in improved symptoms.
- Research has shown that gluten consumption leads to higher prevalence of both neurological and psychiatric problems.
It’s more than likely that none of these health issues apply to you, but it does lead me to wonder.... Why is gluten associated with so many health problems?
Grains and sugars are inherently pro-inflammatory and will worsen any condition that has chronic inflammation at its root. Furthermore, experts are beginning to accept the idea that fatigue and weight gain may be attributed to gluten.
If you are one of my 55 clients, you know that I have talked extensively about the need to fuel the body with carbohydrates. After all, carbs are the body’s primary source of fuel. We know that carbohydrates ultimately break down to blood glucose and fuel the brain and the muscles. In fact, the idea behind carb-loading is to saturate your body with carbs so your muscles will have plenty of glycogen to support ongoing exercise. This principle is imperative for athletes that have an intense workout regimen.
However, there’s also compelling reasons to rethink carb-loading, for the fact that high-fat, lower-carb diets provide more long-lasting fuel and may have an overall better impact on metabolism.
Athletic superstars like NBA players LeBron James and Ray Allen have claimed that they switched to a low-carb diet with beneficial results. Other athletes include Ironman triathlete Nell Stephenson and Ben Greenfield, pro cyclist Dave Zabriskie, and ultra-marathoner Timothy Olson. Former Ironman triathlete Mark Sisson is another tremendously fit athlete who has reportedly improved his athletic performance, body composition, and energy levels after ditching carb-loading for a high-fat, low-carb, Paleo style diet. He subsequently went on to write the popular book, The Primal Blueprint.
Well here comes the most interesting part of the story…..A Brazilian research team published a report in the January 2013 Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry and the results were astonishing…..
Lacking scientific data confirming the mechanics of how gluten may or may not affect obesity, the study was set up to examine the differences in specific genetic and biochemical markers between rats fed gluten and rats that were kept gluten free.
The "wheat belly" syndrome and how it leads to other health issues was the purpose of their research. The research team chose biological markers that could indicate the onset of obesity and metabolic syndrome, precursors to diabetes and cardiac issues.
Both groups of rats were fed high fat diets. But one group was gluten free and the other group's diet was 4.5 percent gluten. Even without tracing their predetermined markers, it was obvious the gluten free mice exhibited weight loss without any trace of lipid (fat) excretion.
An Analysis Of The Study
Sayer Ji of GreenmedInfo.com proposed this analysis: "... the weight gain associated with wheat consumption has little to do with caloric content per se; rather, the gluten proteins ... disrupt endocrine and exocrine processes within the body, as well as directly modulating nuclear gene expression ... to alter mamalian metabolism in the direction of weight gain."
This study report, according to Sayer Ji proves that the major factor of obesity is gluten, not calories. Considering that both groups of mice were fed high fat diets and the gluten free mice lost weight without excreting lipids also implies that fat free diets for losing weight are bogus.
Sayer Ji recommends that those who are overweight, pre-diabetic, experiencing metabolic syndrome, or suffering from irritable bowel syndrome try avoiding gluten grains, especially wheat, to determine from experience if gluten is the underlying cause.
I found this list of “gluten-ous” foods (yes, I made that word up) and I recognized something interesting about gluten… Many “unhealthy” and processed foods contain gluten, while most foods occurring in their natural state, do not.
The following foods often contain gluten:
- Cupcakes, cakes, cookies
- malt/malt flavoring
- canned soups
- commercial bouillon and broths
- cold cuts (preservatives and additives are gluten)
- French fries (often dusted with flour )
- processed cheese (e.g., Velveeta)
- soy sauce and teriyaki sauces
- processed salad dressings
- imitation crab meat
- egg substitute
- sausage (again, additives and preservatives are gluten)
- non-dairy creamer
- fried vegetables/tempura
- commercial gravy
- bottled marinades
- canned baked beans
- commercially prepared chocolate milk
- breaded foods
- fruit fillings and puddings
- hot dogs
- ice cream
- root beer
- energy bars
- trail mix
- instant hot drinks
- flavored coffees and teas
- veggie burgers
The following foods are gluten free in their natural state:
- Red meat
- Chicken, turkey
- Quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, brown and wild rice
- Natural stevia
- Dark chocolate
- Red wine
So, what is my recommendation? Well, that really hasn’t changed. Eat whole foods in their natural state and avoid processed, packaged and refined products. If you wish to cut out wheat products completely, beware of gluten free products, as most contain high sugar or sugar substitutes and GMO corn or soy.
Jennifer Lima is the owner of Energeia Fitness in Los Gatos, California and the Director of Group Fitness at the South Valley Family YMCA. She is an NASM certified personal trainer and nutrition fitness specialist. When she isn’t coercing her clients into doing ridiculously effective exercises, she enjoys kayaking, rock climbing and watching Downton Abbey in plank position.