The Gluten Free Trap

Trying to stay whole!
Trying to stay whole!
I am fortunate in that I have not yet had any sort of medical issue that has resulted in having to be tested for gluten sensitivity.  However, I have been a very clean and healthy eater for a long time now and this has caused me to naturally put a severe limit on the amount of wheat I eat.  I have found that when I abstain from eating wheat for a time and then reintroduce it, that I am much more prone to bloating and periods of low energy and low mood than when I stay away from it altogether.  My normal diet is probably what you would call pescatarian-  I do eat fish and I do eat eggs, but I don’t eat meat and I rarely eat wheat and dairy.  Anyway, I had the pleasure of having my brother from the west coast stay at my house for almost a month during this recent holiday season.  I enjoy having him around for many reasons, but one is that we have fun eating and cooking together because he is also a very health conscious eater.  We both eat with a concerted effort to support environmental incentives as well as for optimal nutrition, and we both enjoy a wide range of multicultural flavors and cooking styles.   My poor husband always tries to eat healthy but struggles to enjoy many of the curried and vegetarian dishes I like, so when my brother Ry is around I feel I have a partner in crime.  So Ry arrived, and I discovered he recently found out that he has allergies to wheat and dairy and needs to keep clear of them altogether.  This didn’t bother me as I already was pretty close to eating this way myself, save for the occasional pizza.  We did a great job of cooking and buying a lot of food that satisfied everyone’s requirements and still maintained a festive holiday atmosphere.  What I did realize, though, was this:  the number of processed gluten-free products that are readily available is now so high that you could potentially say that you stuck to a pristine gluten-free diet, but not be eating healthily at all.  It is such an easy trap to fall into the habit of filling up on delicious gluten-free cereals, snacks and rice cakes that you can still eat loads of carb-oriented calories and not be prompted to fill up on hearty, nutritious fruit and vegetable dishes.  I know that even my brother Ry, who cooks and loves to buy organic, whole food can easily get sucked into this buying pattern because it feels so convenient and easy and you are still technically adhering to your medical advice.   Here is my thought on the whole issue:  if you have a gluten intolerance, it is because your immune system has had some sort of breakdown where you can no longer function healthily while that substance is around.  Therefore, you need to work on boosting immune health from the ground up.  If you just replace all of your gluten foods with gluten-free products, you will not feel great and you may be prone to weight gain.  When I eat gluten-free processed foods, I experience the same sensations of bloat and low energy that I do when I eat wheat.  You need to replace your gluten foods with fruit and vegetable dishes, and only use the packaged gluten-free products in a pinch, not as daily staples.  In other words, it seems like people find out what the culprit is that is making them sick and feel that they are all set once they remove it.  I don’t believe this to be the real truth-  having allergies to otherwise normal food items is not a normal functioning state, so we need to remember that when a food allergy becomes a problem, we need to not only remove the allergen, but also greatly increase the richness of our nutritional intake in order to better support overall immune health.  I have found it easiest to do this by eating a lot of smoothies, salads, crockpot stews and baked vegetable dishes.  Fruits are easy enough to just eat on their own for your snacks, but the smoothies, salads, soups and baked dishes ensure that vegetables can be the highlight of each meal.  The same principles hold true for all food intolerances, and for the diets of children as well.  We can’t escape the basic ideas that unprocessed, organic whole foods are our greatest source of health, just like we can’t escape the fact that physical exercise is a necessity.  I think one of the reasons that health is such a huge focus and industry for us is because it so easily crumbles in today’s toxic environment.   I once worked with a nutrition teacher named Joan Palmer who taught “you can pay the grocer now or the doctor later”.  This will always be true, and I say there is no time like the present, so you know which choice I prefer.  Actually, I would say there is no time BUT the present… but that is a topic for another article.  :)  I wish a peaceful and happy new year to you all, and welcome comments and discussions below to foster greater depth of thought and insight on gluten free products, food allergies, diet trends and healthy eating.  For personal help in meeting your health goals, peruse http://www.nikkisnature.com.

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