Thinking of going gluten-free?

One of the most common questions I’ve been receiving recently is about the gluten-free fervour that everyone has been hearing about but few really know anything about. Seems like we all have a friend, a neighbour, or an uncle who has been touting the joys and newfound energy that go along with switching to a gluten-free diet. I’m finding that many people who haven’t tried it are sceptical yet those who have can’t help but gush about how great they are feeling. Is there really something to this?

May just happens to be “Celiac Awareness Month” so I thought I’d devote my posts this month to exploring gluten-free mania and sharing information, some thoughts and a few recipes.

Gluten is a type of protein that is found in many grains including wheat, rye, barley and spelt. It’s what gives bread its characteristic elastic, chewy texture. People who suffer from celiac disease can’t digest gluten and must avoid it completely for the rest of their lives. Eating it will trigger an auto-immune response that damages the lining of their small intestine and results in the body’s inability to absorb nutrients essential to basic health. Symptoms vary but can include chronic diarrhea, cramps, fatigue and weight loss. The Canadian Celiac Association estimates that 1 in 133 people in Canada suffer from this disorder.

Most of us do not have celiac disease but many of us may harbour a sensitivity or intolerance to gluten (and often just to wheat). Gluten is hard to digest, especially that found in the new hybridized strains of wheat that have been developed over the last 50 years. It won’t damage your intestinal tract but it may have some effect that you haven’t even linked back to the pasta you ate last night. A food intolerance doesn’t set off a cascade of allergic symptoms. It often creeps in hours, even days later, as sluggishness, fatigue, headaches, bloating, cramps, diarrhea or constipation, foggy brain or simply just feeling “yucky”. Maybe you toss and turn all night but aren’t sure why; maybe you do sleep through the night but you’re not waking up feeling rested; your skin isn’t glowing and your eyes look tired. We tend to brush all this off as “normal” or as part of a stressful week but if it is a consistent part of your reality, odds are that you are eating something that your body is not happy about. The only way to know for sure if that something is gluten is to cut it out of your diet for a few weeks and see if it makes a difference.

One interesting tidbit: oftentimes people feel better when they cut out gluten because suddenly they’re making healthier and more varied food choices. Consumption of fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds tends to go way up. And when you eat more fresh, raw, nutrient dense food you are simply going to feel better!

The next question I hear is “Well then what can I eat?” Especially for breakfast! No toast, no cereal, no muffins, no bagels. Our grain-centred society has taught us that this is breakfast. My clients know that I say, for the most part, no to grains for breakfast. You all know how I feel about smoothies, especially green smoothies :)  I can’t think of a better way to start your day!

Eggs are another excellent option and yes, you can eat them several times a week. Including the yolks. A big beautiful colourful plate of fruit and a handful of almonds is another one of my favourites. Slice up an apple and smear some almond butter on it – yum! How about a bowl of plain organic yogurt with a drizzle of raw honey, a tablespoon of chia seeds, a handful of walnuts and 1/2 cup of blueberries. This will energize (and nourish) you for a much longer period of time than that bowl of Special K, that’s for sure.

In writing this post I realize how much more I’d love to share about this topic. Stay tuned, lots more info and recipes to come in the days ahead. Please let me know if there’s something in particular you’d like to read about.

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