Wait.....so now whole wheat and complex carbohydrates like wheat bread and brown rice are bad for me? Come on!! I just stopped eating white bread and pasta, what gives!?!? Next thing I know they are going to tell me not to eat meat (oh wait they have!!).
The "gluten free" movement has really taken off in the past 5 years with more research, discovery, and light being shed on the topic. Some research concludes that gluten free may be the answer to dozens of conditions and diseases but what about the healthy and disease free? From crossfit gyms to paleo threads across the country, masses are jumping on the bandwagon so let's take a look and see what it's all about.
I'm a huge believer in being an educated consumer but if you really don't care about the mechanisms then feel free to skip this section:
Gluten is defined as a protein composite found in foods processed from wheat and related grain species, including barley and rye. It gives elasticity to dough, helping it to rise and to keep its shape, and often giving the final product a chewy texture (Gluten details). So what does this mean for us? Well we know how gluten affects people with Celiac disease (approx 1% of population) causing digestive and intestinal problems but that's due to an abnormal immune reaction to part of the protein molecules found in gluten. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder in which the body begins to attack healthy proteins and cells in the body because they are structurally similar to the foreign gluten proteins that enter the body through the gut lining. Those with other autoimmune disorders such as narcolepsy (linked to brain autoimmune attack) are also experiencing some success from removing gluten or other allergens from their diet. In addition, the gluten molecules themselves contribute to what is known as leaky gut syndrome via their attack on your intestinal wall as is explained in the image below.
When the villi in your small intestine are damaged, via autoimmune attack, the body's ability to absorb nutrients is inhibited and may result in malnutrition. This sort of autoimmune effect contributes to inflammation throughout the body; chronic inflammation is strongly linked to nearly every imaginable chronic disease.
Many researchers believe that a large portion of the population (upwards of 60%) exhibit a certain amount of "gluten sensitivity" and may not even be aware of it. This sensitivity means that they too are having unknown and un-manifested small autoimmune reactions due to the gluten in your diet. Research on different levels of sensitivity seem consistent and although many may not be aware of the effects, it may still contribute to inflammation and disease. Many people also claim they feel amazing after eliminating gluten but anecdotal evidence may not be enough to go entirely cold turkey. Some believe the majority of people feel better because they are relying more on fruits and vegetables for carbohydrates; drastically improving the nutrient density of their diet.
This post was inspired by a well written article in Men's Health (click link) that discusses going gluten free for weight loss and longevity. Much like with research, people need to learn to read beyond the abstract and think critically before making assumptions so please read the ENTIRE article. Eliminating or decreasing gluten in your diet can have positive effects on fat loss and health but it's not the only way to eat. The current body of research seems to shed a negative light on gluten but newer studies claim it may be important for some digestive bacteria.
As we saw with the "fat free" and "sugar free" fads in the past, gluten free DOES NOT mean healthy so learn to read beyond the front of a label. In my opinion the greatest benefits have little to do with the gluten for many people but more so the foods you are forced to eat when limiting processed grains. This means eating whole foods like vegetable and fruits as close to nature as possible. This is always a great thing!
This type of dramatic transition may be more of a long term goal for many as it may be initially tough and rather restrictive. Take a look at the article and take the "gluten free" movement for what it is: another great way to include more natural, unprocessed, whole foods into your diet. Outside of that I ask you to make your own opinions because understanding your food and your body are essential in leading a healthy life. There is no perfect diet just the same as there is no perfect workout program. It's all about learning as much as you can, trying things out, and creating your own vision of what you believe and the world around you.
Joe Drake is the Co-Captain of the ship at Gravity + Oxygen Fitness as well as self proclaimed Chief of Motivation. When he's not aspiring to Super Dad Status and working with clients at the G+O house you can find him outside with his pup and finding ways to sneak push ups in whenever possible.
Connect with and follow him at @joe_drakefit on IG