Understanding A Gluten-Free Diet
By Dr. Andrew Pugliese
Recently, Consumer Reports had an article about who benefits from a gluten-free diet and the concerns for those who believe a gluten-free diet will help them. The article is well written but I do not believe it will dissuade many from continuing or starting a gluten-free regiment. Hopefully, this article will help answer why many people benefit from being gluten-free, even though they do not suffer from gluten intolerance.
In our house, we’re mostly gluten-free. That’s because my wife is one of the seven percent in the United States who has been diagnosed properly with celiac disease. When the diagnosis was made, instead of having my wife cook separately for me and her, I decided to join the ranks of those eating gluten-free. The transition was easier than I thought, considering my Italian heritage where pasta was the main staple for me growing up. Somehow – miraculously – I survived.
Did I begin to feel better? Yes. Did I lose some weight? Yes. Did my 57-year-old joints ache less? Absolutely. How can this be though, that if I do not have celiac disease, I can feel better on a gluten-free diet? I’m not alone. There are people who have friends and family that do have celiac disease or maybe they are gluten intolerant, meaning that they may not have the full expression of the disease but carry some trait. Those people have benefitted from being gluten-free. They lose weight; they feel more energetic and can do more.
That being said, there are those who don’t have celiac disease and still benefit from a gluten-free diet, like me. However, there are those where it has done nothing at all, or, in some instances, made matters worse. It all depends on your approach to being gluten-free. One way is to eliminate or minimize flour based products. In addition, instead of using flour products with refined flour use whole grain products instead. The other is to use substitute flours such as rice and potato flour for wheat flour. Guess which one works? If you guess the first approach you can basically stop reading now. For those of you who chose the second approach, I’ll explain.
All flours, regardless of its plant’s origin, have one thing in common – that is, they will all be converted to sugar. Flours such as refined wheat, rice and potato are quickly converted to sugar in the body. These rapid increases in the sugar load cause all sorts of havoc on the human body, from insulin resistance to affecting protein metabolism to causing oxidative stress to blood vessels. These negative responses to excess sugar most likely contribute to an increased inflammatory response in the body. Also, it needs to be remembered that:
By eliminating these flour-based products that are easily converted to sugar, you cause less havoc on your body. This is why people who use approach number one feel better, while those that adhere to approach number two continue to struggle.
Whole grains do not convert to sugar as rapidly, so there is less likely to be a sugar spike with whole grain products.
There is more, however, and that is that the food industry is far from stupid and tries to capitalize on fads and the population’s lack of understanding. There are many gluten-free products out there today and many of them taste really good. Why? Because they are filled with sugar and fat to make them tasty. The food industry realizes that there are those out there that will feel less guilty about eating something bad for them if it’s “gluten-free”. Unfortunately, eating a pan of gluten-free brownies is as bad, if not worse for you, than eating a pan of Betty Crocker’s brownies, which is based on some personal research done in the Pugliese household. In fact, my wife nearly stabbed me in the eye with a fork because I tried to sample one of the gluten-free brownies she made from a mix that comes from Williams-Sonoma. Those things are goooood. But I digress…
One argument I hear often is that fifty to one hundred years ago, wheat-based products were a very big part of the American diet. This can’t be denied and yet we didn’t have the obesity or diabetes problems we see today. This is because the energy expenditures of our society in the last part of the 19th and the first part of the 20th century here in the United States was a lot different than it is today. Jobs were more physically demanding, there were very few labor-saving devices and people walked.
Today with demands of work, commuting and family obligations, people find it difficult to carve out a half-hour a day to get in a moderate exercise program such as walking. So yes, the diet of yesteryear did have more wheat based products in it, which was well tolerated because our fore-bearers used up that sugar more readily due to the increased energy expenditures of their lifestyle.
It should also be pointed out that the wheat of today is a lot different from the wheat of yesteryear. In the second half of the 20th century, the world was facing a food crisis because more people were populating the earth.
Wheat was modified to grow easier in less favorable environments.
This modified wheat contains more chromosomes which increase today’s wheat to convert to sugar quicker than wheat with fewer chromosomes. For more on this, I suggest reading Dr. William R. Davis’ book, “Wheat Belly”, to see how these modifications have contributed to the obesity problem we face today.
The technologies and demands of our society over the last fifty years have been a double-edged sword. Today we have more opportunities and there is much more available to us – labor-saving technologies that used to demand actual manual labor. Because of this, our energy expenditures are much less than they were several decades ago. When was the last time we used a push mower to mow our lawn? The price is that our bodies have not evolved as quickly as our technologies. It is for this reason that we need to adopt new diets to fit the demands of the 21st century. This includes cutting foods out of our diet that are rapidly converted to sugar, and fatty foods that do not truly satisfy our actual needs.
Comments & Questions are very welcomed! Hope you enjoyed and learned something to be a healthier, happier you in 2018!