Who can benefit from a gluten-free lifestyle?
In my experience, no one initially decides to go gluten-free without compelling reason. It usually is a process that begins with a subtle question or suggestion from a well-meaning friend, colleague, or family member. There are usually underlying health conditions that have been nagging for months or years and for which mainstream medicine has not been able to identify or resolve. The reasons for choosing a gluten-free lifestyle are quite specific to each person. However, there are some common threads that may help you determine if you are a candidate.
The following is a list of symptoms and health imbalances (not exhaustive) that can be linked to gluten intolerance, sensitivity, or allergy. These conditions often improve or resolve on a healthy, gluten-free diet:
- adrenal insufficiency
- allergies and/or sensitivities
- attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
- autoimmune conditions (listed individually elsewhere)
- Bell's palsy
- brain fog
- canker sores
- celiac disease
- chronic skin conditions
- endocrine imbalances/disease
- fertility issues
- gastrointestinal/digestive issues
- Grave's Disease
- Hashimoto's thyroiditis
- hormonal imbalance
- inflammatory bowel disease
- irritable bowel disease
- joint pain
- leaky gut
- multiple sclerosis
- neuropathy (nerve damage)
- neurotransmitter imbalance
- neurological issues
- PCOS-polycystic ovarian syndrome
- psychological conditions
- rheumatoid arthritis
Gluten-Free is a Spectrum
Not everyone who eats gluten-free eats healthy. It is important to recognize the importance of choosing healthy proteins, fats, vegetables, and fruits as the basis of your diet. Many people can successfully continue with a minimal to moderate amount of naturally gluten-free grains, such as rice and quinoa. Technically corn, soy, and oats also fall into that category. However, many people continue to be bothered by consumption of these foods. There are cross-contamination and cross-reactivity issues, as well as complications arising from GMO crops as many people are chemically sensitive and over-burdened with toxins.
Simply replacing the Standard American Diet with gluten-free counterparts, i.e. hamburger buns, pizza crust, pretzels, cereals, crackers, etc, will not lead to ultimate health. Many gluten-free grains are high on the glycemic index and therefore increase blood sugar spikes. If eaten frequently enough, insulation resistance and diabetes can result.
On the most conservative end of the GF spectrum is a lifestyle plan called Gluten Zero, which essentially removes all potential sources of gluten no matter the source, including wheat, corn, oats, rice, etc. This diet avoids grains and gluten cross-reactives including dairy, soy, and sweet potatoes. It promotes a diet full of lean protein that is pasture-raised and grass-fed (organic, non-GMO, corn- and grain-free), healthy fats, and plenty of organic vegetables and fruits, going very easy on starchy vegetable, such as roots.
Before Going Gluten-Free
1. If you are suspecting certain health conditions and want to get a diagnosis, definitely get lab tests done before you give up gluten. Otherwise, you risk the accuracy of the tests and/or get false negatives. Intestinal biopsies should also be done prior to eliminating gluten.
2. Learn about gluten-containing foods that should be avoided, as well as study how to read labels so that shopping can be easier once you transition.
3. Research several gluten-free recipes and build a library of go-to meals that you can rely on during your first one to two months of transition. Focus on what you can eat and appreciate the excellent nutrition your body is receiving. Take pride in facilitating your own healing, and not in feeling deprived of the food items that were keeping you sick.
4. Identify healthy gluten-free snacks and start building a ready supply.
5. Clean out your pantry, cabinets, freezer, and refrigerator -- getting rid of all opened gluten products and donating those that are unopened. Also prepare to finish off or throw out common shared items that have been double-dipped and in contact with gluten products, such as mayo, nut butters, jellies, and butter.
6. Speak with your child's teacher, principal, and cafeteria manager to determine what documentation may be needed in order to "allow" your son/daughter to choose gluten-free at school. At my daughter's school, without medical approval, a child is not permitted to decline gluten items in the lunch line.
7. Make sure the whole family goes gluten free together, especially in the case of a child's health issue that makes it a necessity. The GF family member needs the support of the family but also deserves a safe kitchen as well. It is taxing enough to be concerned about being glutened outside the home.
8. Educate family and extended family on the new transition and make sure caregivers are fully informed. Prepare "permitted" and "not permitted" lists to distribute to grandparents, teachers, daycare providers, etc. Shopping lists are also available to carry in your purse or store on your mobile device to help with grocery shopping. There are also several apps that can help with product identification and ingredients.
9. This may seem small, but keeping an extra toaster for guests will be a tremendous help. If family members will not give up gluten when they visit your home, then create a special area where gluten items will be stored and prepared. This will help you decontaminate and return the kitchen to a safe status once their visit has ended.
10. Practice eating gluten-free in several restaurants, so that you can get accustomed to the process. It does involve communication and the ability to politely but firmly advocate for yourself. Many servers and line cooks still are unaware of what really constitutes gluten-free. See it as an opportunity to inform/educate because you will likely find yourself frequently in this role. If you see your food being mishandled or improper kitchen procedures in place, question the employees and ask to speak with a manager. The restaurant industry has a long way to go in supporting allergen-friendly experiences. We won't get there if we don't communicate and educate.
Preparing For Take-Off
When it actually becomes time to launch your new lifestyle, all the leg work you have done will have increased your confidence and make the segue feel natural. Create a special meal to celebrate your new lifestyle with family or friends. Each year, mark your anniversary with glee!