If you’re confused by the gluten-free diet craze, you’re not alone.
Like many people, you’ve probably heard about the phenomenon but really don’t understand what gluten is or what, if anything, you should be doing about it. Yet millions of people in this country are turning their lives upside-down trying to avoid it.
1. It’s a protein that can cause problems. Gluten is the major protein found in some grains. It is present in all forms of wheat as well as in barley, rye and triticale (a wheat-rye cross). Gluten is different from protein in other grains (such as rice) and in meat (such as steak) in that it is difficult for humans to digest completely. It can make some people very sick. But not everyone.
2. You probably don’t need to completely avoid it: For some people — about 1% of the population — gluten can be a matter of life or death. These people have a condition known as celiac disease. Unless you are part of that 1% (and only special tests will let you know if you are), it’s unlikely that you will need to live a completely gluten-free lifestyle.
3. You may need to cut back: We are just beginning to appreciate gluten’s impact on our health. As a society, we are in a state of “gluten overload,” and millions of people of all ages and all walks of life are suffering as a result of a condition that was recognized only a few years ago, called gluten sensitivity.
4. It is not something to fear: I like to tell my clients that they need to be gluten-aware, not gluten-phobic. This happens when they learn where they fit on the gluten sensitivity spectrum and discover their own level of gluten tolerance. Some clients of mine frequently feel like they’ve been hit by a bus when they wake up in the morning. Once they start paying attention to gluten in their diet, they wake up feeling great and pop out of bed in the morning.
In summary… Not everyone who is sensitive to gluten necessarily has to be gluten-free. This is important, since leading a gluten-free life — as is necessary for those with celiac disease — is difficult and can be expensive. Try naturally free foods, including vegetables, lean meats, fish and poultry. Certain whole grains like brown rice and quinoa, reduced-fat or fat-free dairy, nuts and seeds, beans and other legumes, and healthy fats, like extra-virgin olive oil and canola oil.