Unless you’ve been living under a rock, odds are you’ve stumbled upon at least one conversation on the gluten-free diet. G-free, wheat-free, grain-free, what’s all the hype?
Here’s the dish: Gluten is a protein found in grains like barley, rye and wheat. A small percentage of the population is either sensitive to or completely intolerant of the protein and actually needs to avoid it to prevent undesirable health consequences like malabsorption, inflammation and diarrhea.
As for the voluntary gluten-free-ers, developing research shows wheat may not be as good for us as we once thought, and avoiding it — and gluten — altogether might be just what we need for optimal health. BUT nutritional research evolves every day, and the jury’s still out on the gluten topic, so don’t carve anything in stone just yet.
Aside from the possible health benefits of avoiding gluten, here are the top three major rewards for joining the movement:
When you cut out gluten, you automatically cut out carbs. If you’re trying to slim down, low-carb diets work. Period. Unless you’re super active or training for a marathon, you really don’t need excessive amounts of carbs anyway. Research consistently shows low-carb diets come out on top when it comes to successful weight loss. Eating fewer carbs means you’re eating more protein and fat, which both come with higher satiety factors and less water retention than carbs.
If you’re cutting out processed grains, you’re automatically cutting out junk. In this case, “junk” is referring to foods like commercially processed and packaged pastries like doughnuts and cookies. Everyone on Earth is better off without this stuff, so if it’s the gluten that’s keeping you away, ride the wave.
When you’re reading food labels, you’re automatically being smarter about your diet. If cutting out gluten makes you more conscious of ingredient labels and what you’re putting in your body, it’s always a positive change.
And now that you’re a nutrition-label-reading master, stealth marketing tactics won’t fool you. Just because something is labeled “gluten-free” does NOT mean it’s healthful. As a general rule in food making, when you remove an ingredient — in this case, gluten — you have to replace it with something or the entire recipe is a flop. So what’s the replacement in your favorite product that just came out with a gluten-free version? Check that label!
At the end of the day, you don’t have to cut out gluten if you’re not intolerant or sensitive to it, but if you feel like giving it a whirl, there are plenty of foods like fruits, vegetables and gluten-free grains, including amaranth, quinoa and wild rice that provide all the vitamins, minerals and carbs you need sans the shunned protein.
Jenny is a registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator, certified personal trainer and co-founder of the NYC-based nutrition company, Skinny Soiree. She is a lover of all things health and wellness, sharing her knowledge and passion with the world through her writing.