After last week’s post on why we’d all be healthier without gluten, some of you may be at least considering cutting it out. But before doing so, it’s worth taking a moment to understand how to go about this seemingly daunting undertaking in the most productive way possible.
Unfortunately, most people think going gluten-free means something like this:

Every bit as dramatic and over the top as this video is, it is actually not such an exaggeration of how people think it will feel to go gluten-free. The most common reaction I get from people is sympathy. A sad, I-feel-sorry-for-you look, followed by a confused “so what do you use for bread?!”. Whilst this is a valid question (after all, many gluten-free people still do eat various versions of bread) it always boggles my mind that the fact that maybe one does not have to eat bread, never cross peoples’ minds. It’s as though bread, pasta, cereal, etc are such fundamental parts of the diet that it is literally unthinkable to imagine life without them – or at least an imitation thereof. Which is why most people who first try the gluten-free thing will immediately rush off to the “allergy section” of their nearest Whole Foods and begin tossing every gluten-free replacement food into their baskets (as in the above video), because now they’re all set to be “healthy” – yay!

Umm, not so much.

Yes, in my humble opinion (and that of some very well-regarded scientists), it is best for everyone to avoid gluten, regardless of whether you have been allergy-diagnosed or not, but replacing these harmful grains with other (albeit perhaps more benign) alternatives really is not the answer. And here’s why:

Most “gluten-free” substitutes are made with highly processed refined carbohydrates with added industrial seed oils, sugar and thickening agents that also wreak havoc on the body. Not only are these carbohydrates low in nutrients and high in questionable additives, but they are quickly turned to sugar in the body and begin the cycle of insulin resistance that we see so prevalently in people today.

I recently had a friend who excitedly gave up gluten (thinking she’d quickly lose a bunch of weight) only to call me up in distress to tell me she had actually GAINED weight since giving it up. I asked her what she’d been eating and she quickly recounted all the “super-healthy” gluten-free items she’d been having – crackers, cookies, buns, even donuts. This was my reaction:

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As Dr. William Davis (author of Wheat Belly) says,

“The few foods that increase blood sugar higher than even wheat include figs, dates, and other dried fruits and rice starch, cornstarch, tapioca starch, and potato starch–the most common ingredients used in gluten-free foods. A gluten-free whole grain bread, for instance, is usually made with a combination of brown rice, potato, and tapioca starches. These dried pulverized starches are packed with highly-digestible high-glycemic index carbohydrates and thereby send blood sugar through the roof. This contributes to diabetes, cataracts, arthritis, heart disease and growing belly fat. This is why many celiac patients who forego wheat and resort to gluten-free foods become fat and diabetic.”

Gluten-free substitutes are not the answer. I’m not suggesting that you never again have a gluten-free muffin, or a grain-free cookie, but these should be as unprocessed as possible (ie using something like almond flour or coconut flour) and also reserved as occasional treats rather than everyday staples.

What about people who cut out gluten and don’t feel better?

We covered the ins and outs of gluten last week, but in most cases, for people with any kind of gut issue (think Ulcerative Colitis, IBS, Crohns, etc) cutting out gluten alone is just not enough. I know this is hard for many people to hear, but it is true. Similar compounds found in other grains will very often trigger the same issues as gluten does in the gut. This is why, so often, people will give up gluten for a month, feel no better, and then throw up their hands (often in triumph) stating “Ah HA! It didn’t make me feel better at all!” and then dive straight back into their cereal/bread/pasta-filled world, feeling all smug that they “gave it a shot”.
The only way to truly give it a shot is to try a full elimination diet (something like the Whole 30) for at least a month, and then add certain foods back into the diet, one at a time, to see which foods trigger a reaction (or not).

Also, for a lot of people – especially people with pretty extensive gut damage – 1 month is not nearly enough. I know in my case (and I never had any gut issues to speak of), I only really felt better after about 6 months on a strict gluten-free (and most other grains-free) diet. I have learnt that I can occasionally have a little white rice and feel ok, but apart from that once in a while, I avoid all grains.

For me there is no contest between choosing to feel awesome, and the temporary ‘pleasure’ of, say, eating a bagel, that piece whole-wheat toast, plate of pasta or that sour-dough roll. It just isn’t worth it. There is a saying that goes “nothing tastes as good as being skinny feels”. I don’t like that because there is often nothing healthy about being skinny. My version of that would read “nothing tastes as good as being healthy, fit, strong and lean feels”

So, instead of trying to find other processed substitutes for gluten, how about, oh I don’t know, maybe just eating real food?