Perhaps you know many people who’ve adopted gluten free diets. Maybe you’ve even had a nutritionist advise you against eating gluten or dabbled with ditching it yourself. If you’re considering going gluten free, you’re not alone. In a recent survey, roughly 30% of Americans said they were trying to cut back or avoid gluten in their diet. Meanwhile, only 1% of the population has actually been diagnosed with Celiac Disease – the condition that can cause intestinal damage from eating gluten. Those without a Celiac diagnosis who cut gluten are considered PWAGs (people without celiac disease avoiding gluten) — a group that’s steadily risen over the past five years. In fact, though rates of Celiac Disease have remained flat since 2009, the number of PWAGs has tripled to nearly 3.1 million. Why are so many keen on cutting out this protein which is found in wheat, rye barley and many other foods?
According to the non-profit organization Beyond Celiac, a gluten sensitivity is associated with symptoms such as headache, foggy mind, joint pain, and numbness in the legs, arms or fingers. By ditching gluten, those issues presumably disappear.
Still, according to a recent article in Forbes, “the benefits of following a gluten-free diet remain uncertain for people without gluten-related health issues while nutritional concerns have also been raised about resulting deficiencies in iron, calcium and fiber consumption.”
How do you know if going gluten free is right for you?
- What is your motivation?
Are you experiencing health challenges associated with gluten sensitivity? Do you want to lose weight? Are you trying to eat healthier? A gluten-free diet is not supportive of weight loss nor is it necessarily healthier than diets that contain gluten.
- Do you experience signs of gluten-sensitivity?
Are you symptoms indicative of having trouble digesting gluten, or could it be something else? Read more about gluten sensitivity and Celiac disease.
- Have you tried heirloom grains?
Processed white flours are particularly hard on the gut and shown to lead to inflammation. There is evidence that some ancient grains lack the toxicity of modern wheat grains. You might find that switching out white-flour products for heirloom or sprouted carbohydrates reduces inflammation and other symptoms.
- Have you spoken to your doctor?
Your doctor or a registered dietician can help you determine if a gluten-sensitivity is a likely factor in the health issues you’re experiencing, or if another food, or lifestyle habit may be at the root. A professional can also advise which nutrients may need to be supplemented with a change in diet, and help you monitor your symptoms over time. Plus, you’ll likely be more successful if you’re not going it alone.
- How dedicated are you?
It takes roughly 23 days for the body to recalibrate after eating harmful foods. That means that to accurately assess how your body behaves without gluten, you must strictly cut gluten for at least this period of time. Because gluten is in many foods, that means getting comfortable reading food labels and being extra cautious when dining out. Dipping in and out of eating gluten will not give you a clear picture of how your body behaves without it – even if it’s just a small amount.