Your 5 Worst Gluten-Free Mistakes

Guest post by Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD

Your 5 Worst Gluten-Free MistakesAfter experiencing some wacky symptoms, I was recently tested for celiac disease, and while the report came back negative, I’ve noticed that I do feel better when I avoid gluten. Many of my clients are in the same boat, but others seek me out after going gluten free and feeling worse, or even gaining weight, which seems to be increasingly common. The truth is, navigating the gluten-free landscape can be pretty darn tricky. Here are five common missteps I see, and how to resolve them.

Not “getting” gluten
One client recently said to me, “I’m not really sure what gluten is, but I know it’s bad, right?” I think a lot of people are a little in the dark about the issue at large, and it is complicated, but in a nutshell, here’s what you need to know: gluten is a type of protein naturally found in wheat (including spelt, kamut, farro, and bulgur) and other grains, like barley and rye. In people who have celiac disease, consuming even small amounts of gluten triggers unwelcome symptoms, including belly pain and bloating. This happens because gluten causes the immune system to damage or destroy villi, the tiny, fingerlike structures that line the small intestine like a microscopic plush carpet. Healthy villi absorb nutrients through the intestinal wall into the bloodstream, so when they become damaged, chronic malnutrition occurs, which is typically accompanied by weight loss and exhaustion. Other symptoms may include bone or joint pain, depression, and skin problems. In people with this diagnosis, the only way to reverse the damage, and the accompanying symptoms, is to completely avoid gluten. People like me, who test negative for celiac disease, may be experiencing a condition called gluten intolerance, or gluten sensitivity, which means that while not celiac, consuming gluten causes bothersome side effects, which can include flu-like feelings, bloating, and other gastrointestinal problems, mental fogginess, and fatigue. Unfortunately, there is no real test for gluten sensitivity at this time, and the symptoms may be related to other issues, including stress (who doesn’t have that?!), which makes it a not-so-black-and-white issue.

Confusing gluten free with wheat free or refined grains
As I noted above, gluten isn’t only found in wheat. I’ve heard numerous people say they eat gluten free, but all they’ve really done is replace foods like white bread with hearty whole grain versions, which may include spelt (in the wheat family), and rye (which, while not wheat, also contains gluten). If you don’t have celiac disease or gluten intolerance, these swaps may make you feel great, and lead to weight loss, because trading refined grains for whole grains ups your intake of fiber, boosts satiety, so you feel fuller longer, and better regulates blood sugar and insulin levels. These are all good things, but, in this case, totally unrelated to gluten.

Thinking gluten free equals weight loss
You may have seen a friend, co-worker, or celebrity suddenly slim down after proclaiming to give up gluten. And while going gluten free may absolutely lead to dropping a dress size (or more), the weight loss is generally caused by giving up foods that contain gluten, which are loaded with dense amounts of refined carbs, like bagels, pasta, crackers, pretzels, and baked goods. Axing these foods altogether, or replaced them with more veggies and healthy gluten-free whole grains, like quinoa and wild rice, automatically cuts excess carbs (which may have been feeding fat cells), ups fiber and nutrients, and results in soaring energy. However, going gluten free can also lead to weight gain.

Loading up on gluten-free junk food
Because gluten free has exploded in popularity, there are dozens of gluten-free options in markets these days, including carb-laden (but gluten free) versions of… bagels, pasta, crackers, pretzels, and baked goods! One popular brand of gluten free cookies pack 60 calories each, more than a “regular” sandwich cookie. And some gluten-free foods are made with refined gluten-free grains, which have been stripped of their fiber and nutrients, like white rice. The bottom line is, simply going gluten free doesn’t guarantee the loss of pounds and inches – quality and quantity still matter most.

Ignoring the rest of your diet
In addition to quality and quantity, balance is critical for feeling well and achieving weight loss. I’ve seen people trade white pasta for healthy whole grains like quinoa or wild rice, but still eat portions that are far too large, and therefore not see weight loss results. Others believe it’s OK to eat unlimited amounts of healthy gluten-free foods, like fruit and nuts. But sadly, any time you eat more than your body can use or burn, even from healthy foods, you create surpluses, which get shuttled straight to your body’s storage units – fat cells.

If you have celiac disease (get tested if you suspect you do, but you’re not sure), you absolutely must avoid gluten, and it’s important to note that it lurks in many products, from salad dressings and seasoning mixes, to vitamins, and even lip balm, so eliminating it completely is a big commitment. And if you think you may be gluten intolerant, try to avoid gluten, and monitor your how you feel. But in either case, the single most important thing you can do is to strive for a healthy, balanced, whole foods diet, the true keys to both optimal health and weight loss.

What’s your take on this topic? Are you confused about gluten free diets? Have you lost or gained weight by going gluten free?


Related Online CEU Course:

Celiac Disease: Basics & BeyondCeliac Disease: Basics & Beyond is a 2-hour online CEU course that explains the basics of celiac disease from the prevalence and pathophysiology of celiac disease to the diagnosis and management of celiac disease. It also goes beyond the basics by including the dietary treatment of celiac disease from a registered dietitian’s perspective by outlining the steps of the nutrition care process from assessment to monitoring and evaluation. Two case studies are included to assist the health professional in understanding the patient’s perspective from pre-diagnosis to disease management. This course will be informative for anyone with celiac disease as well as registered dietitians and other health professionals who work with patients with celiac disease.

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Food and Sex and Love

Posted by Bill Bradley @

The Diet Obsession

The Diet Obsession

Have we become so confused, so jaded that our purpose in life is to lose 20 pounds?

We go to any extreme, starving ourselves or stuffing our bodies with fatty sausage to reach our goal weight. It becomes our obsession, haunts us when we’re out, becoming the main topic of conversation. We buy books, listen to tapes, search for special diet foods to reach our dream. We put on a disguise of the healthy person and we forget. We forget the things that will actually help us lose weight, feel healthy and alive. We ignore our real purpose as we hide behind food and liquor and television and movies and sex.
In the name of “health,” we forget ourselves. If we were truly in our bodies would we drink a sugary chemical filled shake in the name of weight loss? Would we take a diet pill that could give us a heart attack? Would we eat at an all you can eat Chinese buffet, force feeding our bellies with barbecued spareribs, fried chicken fingers and soft serve ice cream? Would we listen to the advice of self proclaimed gurus telling us what to eat instead of listening to the wisdom of our own unique bodies? We have cast aside our truer purpose: loving, giving to others, living in nature for the addiction of the perpetual diet.

What will they say? What will they say at our funerals? Will they speak of contributions, how we helped others, how we changed lives? Or will they draw a blank only remembering our obsessions with ourselves and our bodies?

It is never too late to begin.

Take some time away from computers, cell phones, cable television, friends and family and give yourself time to be in silence. Become aware of your body. Sit in silence long enough and you will begin to know what your body really needs, what foods and actions really nourish it. Give yourself permission to experience what real hunger feels like instead of the psychological hunger of unfelt emotions or unrelieved stress. Most importantly, let a new you emerge, one who not only knows and acts on what is best for themselves, but has a deeper purpose that has to do with healing and truly living the precious life we have been given. This is the way out and the way in. It is what I am practicing today. Peace.
Bill Bradley is a Registered Dietitian, lecturer and writer. He has led over 1,200 workshops including many on the health benefits of Mediterranean cuisine and lifestyle. His two books are: Foods of Crete: Traditional Recipes from the Healthiest People in The World and Things to do with Black Bean Stew