The latest nutrition buzzword appears to be “gluten-free.” Gluten-free foods and dishes have popped up all over grocery stores and restaurants, as more people are eliminating gluten from their diets. But will you win your way to greater health and longevity by jumping on the gluten-free bandwagon?
What is gluten?
Gluten is a protein found primarily in wheat and related grains, such as rye, barley, and triticale—and numerous food products like bread and pasta. Gluten can be difficult for the body to process and digest, and many people develop a sensitivity to it.
How do I know if I am sensitive to gluten?
Gluten must be avoided by people with celiac disease, an inherited autoimmune disorder. About 1% of the population suffers from celiac disease, which is when the lining of the small intestine is damaged, and as a result, digesting gluten becomes difficult. Symptoms of celiac disease often include one or more of the following digestive problems: bloating, gas, diarrhea, and constipation. Celiac disease can also bring on anemia, infertility, migraine headaches, swelling of the hands and feet, canker sores, joint/bone pain, and easy bruising. In some cases, symptoms go unnoticed until a person develops an iron deficiency, anemia, or stress fractures due to poor absorption of iron, calcium, and vitamin D. Some individuals experience gluten-sensitivity with similar symptoms as those with celiac, except without autoimmune reactions that can result in osteoporosis and cancer. However, since many gastrointestinal diseases can cause similar symptoms and health issues, it is best to speak with your physician and get tested for celiac disease to ensure an accurate diagnosis.
Is “gluten-free” the healthier choice?
Going gluten-free is certainly important for those who are gluten-sensitive or those who have celiac disease. If you suspect that you are gluten-sensitive and may have a genetic predisposition to celiac disease, you can speak with your physician to have your blood tested for specific antibodies. But is going gluten-free a healthier choice overall? In my own practice, I find that by removing gluten from my patients’ diets, most patients feel better mentally and physically. I personally believe gluten reduction also leads to lower stress and more balanced emotional levels, both of which make a lasting difference in how people feel.
If you decide to go gluten-free to see if it works for you, take note if any symptoms disappear and if you start to feel better. Also, keep in mind that there is a risk for developing deficiencies in iron, vitamin B12, vitamin D, magnesium, fiber, and other nutrients. Unlike other food, gluten-free foods are not fortified with vitamins and minerals. In addition, gluten-free foods are often higher in carbohydrates, fat, sodium, and lower in fiber. As with any dietary change, you want to make sure you are still getting a balanced profile of nutrients and vitamins.
Bonus Tip: To be sure that you are receiving your daily’s worth of nutrients try my Liquid Whole Food Vitamins, made with organic ingredients.
Many foods are naturally gluten-free and can provide a trove of nutrients; these foods include fruits, vegetables, poultry, fish, seafood, low-fat dairy, nuts, seeds, lentils, rice, beans, potatoes, sweet potatoes, quinoa, millet, tapioca, and corn. Individuals with celiac must beware of gluten that may be hidden in other foods such as: soy sauce, gravies, breads, cereals, pastas, baked goods, frozen meals, salad dressings, deli meats, and seasoning mixes. Remember to always read the ingredients to ensure that the product is gluten-free. For baking, there is a wide variety of new gluten-free flours to choose from. Since gluten-free foods are more popular than in previous years, you will probably find products in grocery stores without difficulty.
Travel and Eating Out Tips
Maintaining a gluten-free diet when away from home may be a bit more challenging, so it is best to be prepared. Carrying snacks such as fruit, dried fruit, nuts, and seeds can help tame hunger and maintain stable blood sugar in case you can’t find gluten-free foods or meals. When ordering food in a restaurant, don’t be shy, and make sure to ask how foods are prepared. For example, although salads may seem like a safe choice, they may contain croutons. Meats can be flavored with sauces that contain gluten and rice may be cooked in a broth with unknown gluten-containing seasonings. Cross-contamination is just as serious as consuming gluten foods.
Tasty Gluten-Free Snacks
Gluten may be in many food items, but the next time you have a snack attack, try one of these!
• Low fat cheese + fresh fruit
• Baked potato + low-fat yogurt
• Rice crackers + nut butter
• Fresh carrots + hummus
• Baked corn chips + avocado
May you Live Long, Live Strong, and Live Happy!
—Dr. Mao Shing Ni, best known as Dr. Mao is a bestselling author, doctor of Oriental Medicine and board certified anti-aging expert. He has appeared regularly on Dr. Oz, the Doctors and EXTRA. Dr. Mao practices acupuncture, nutrition and Chinese medicine with his associates at the Tao of Wellness in Santa Monica and Newport Beach. Dr. Mao and his brother, Dr. Daoshing Ni founded Tao of Wellness over 25 years ago in addition to also founding Yo San University in Marina del Rey. To subscribe to his tip-filled newsletter please visit www.taoofwellness.com. To make an appointment for evaluation and treatment please call 310-917-2200 or you can email Dr. Mao at firstname.lastname@example.org.