What is this new gluten-free craze? Is it just a health fad? Does it work?
Until about a year ago I was a little fed up with the gluten-free craze because it seemed to be getting a bit out of hand. I mean, I knew there were people who just couldn’t have it–one of my best friends had to avoid anything with gluten or dairy like the plague or she’d get pretty sick. However, there were other girls who seem to just be following along with the latest fad. It reminded me of the no-carrots-because-they-make-you-fat fad… a little unnecessary, I thought.
Then I went to the doctor’s due to what I assumed was a thyroid problem. I had my laundry list of stomach aches, headaches, fatigue, nausea and more. I don’t know exactly what I was expecting the doctor to prescribe, but she surprised me by telling me to eliminate gluten. I wasn’t thrilled–pizza is the main food group, and I love dessert like nobody’s business. On top of that, I had not been diagnosed with Celiac Disease. I was told that I had a “gluten sensitivity.” Which is frankly a little awkward–isn’t that just a name for someone who wants to justify following the gluten-free trend? I was, however, pretty tired of the exhaustion and stomach pains so I was ready to give anything a try. Was going gluten-free going to make me feel better?
A little research shows… that about 1.8 million Americans have Celiac Disease. When it comes to people diagnosed with Celiac Disease the answer is pretty clear. But cases like mine aren’t clear at all. I don’t have Celiac, should I really be eliminating gluten? I decided to at least give it a try, so I hopped headlong into the gluten-free mania, a little embarrassed (I don’t like following the latest health trends because it makes me feel gullible) but more hopeful than anything else. Is this just a fad?
A little more research shows… that gluten-free products have skyrocketed. Compare .9 billion dollars of sales in 2006 to the 10.5 billion dollars of sales in 2015. Even things that are naturally gluten-free try to jump on the money making trend by adding extra labeling. Yogurt, rice, water–its always been gluten-free but now its just advertised more. To some extent, it is admittedly a fad–it’s like the fads of the past where people feared fat, sugar, or carbs to the extreme. It is a wonderful money-making opportunity, but removing gluten from my own diet made me really think about how this trend may be a little more complicated than previous ones. This may be a fad but is it a lie? Are gluten-free diets going to help people?
So how did I feel once I eliminated gluten? I felt immensely better (after I finally got enough self-control to stop eating all my favorite foods… it took a while to get there). I am all for healthy eating and usually roll my eyes at fads but here are some things I learned about the latest trend through my own health foods journey.
There are two sides to the fad.
There are an abundance of gluten-free cookies, cakes, pastas, and beer that are fantastic for those with Celiac Disease. These products allow people who can’t have their favorite foods anymore to at least enjoy replicas of them. Its pretty creative and fantastic. However, if you don’t have Celiac Disease and eat these foods the results could actually be quite harmful. Normal foods have nutrients and fiber that gluten-free products switch out for more sugars. Doing this long-term can be detrimental to a person’s health if they don’t have Celiac Disease.
What about all those athletes and movie stars who swear a gluten-free diet is their savior? Well, lets talk about the other side of the “fad.”
Cutting out processed foods like cake, pizza, and beer is going to help anyone, gluten-sensitive or not. If, that is, you substitute them with fresh fruits, veggies, lean meats… you know the drill. Even the gluten-free treats I bake are composed of things like almond flour, ripe bananas, and oatmeal and leave me feeling great for obvious reasons. They are made with ridiculously healthy ingredients. If someone chooses to make the diet switch to this, its going to make a difference. I know a lot of athletes whose diets could be labeled “gluten-free” but really they are just being healthy.
So can it work?
It can if you are doing it right. Cutting most of the processed foods out of my life has eliminated health problems I didn’t even think about. Not only did the stomach pains vanish but the faint headaches I didn’t really notice before. Now I don’t get sick as easily either. I stopped getting sore throats every week which I just thought happened when you ate. If you have a gluten sensitivity, I think going gluten-free may really be worth the inconvenience. Gluten-free bread doesn’t make my throat scratchy like most other breads would. I never really knew that was an option.
What about the Placebo Effect?
Such a valid question. If I didn’t know it had gluten in it, would I still think it gave me a sore throat? Would I still think that it gave me a stomach ache?
Once I had been doing so well I decided my body must have healed and ate gluten, dead sure that I was over the whole no gluten thing. Plus, I just really wanted a pancake. I got sick. Now over a year later I can have a slice of pizza or cake and it’s fine. But any time I try to push it… it just doesn’t work. I wish it were a placebo effect but I’m not so sure. I have gotten sick from things that I thought didn’t have gluten in them when they really did. I cut out gluten and all the negative symptoms fade away.
Underneath the fad I had often laughed at, there is actually an incredible health solution that I’m grateful to have found. The gluten-free issue is a bit complicated by looking at all those who continue to eat bread, beer, and pizza. However, people who cut all the harmful processed foods from their diet may be really onto something. This gluten-free craze could be pointless f you don’t have Celiac Disease, but it can also be pretty life-changing in a good way.
So there’s the gluten-free fad for you–still a bit trendy but with a real solution underneath. It can make a person healthier but ultimately its up to them and how they chose to approach it.