By Carolyn Brown, MS, RD
Recently we talked about the gluten-free movement going mainstream for weight loss. I hope we can all agree that nutrition advice via Miley Cyrus warrants some skepticism, so I gave my take on the “diet”. But there’s a lot more to gluten free than the weight loss, so I asked three very different gluten-free advocates about their experiences. Lauren Slayton is a NYC-based nutritionist and founder of Foodtrainers, Brenda Watson is a digestive health and nutrition expert and NY Times best-selling author, and Meredith Turtletaub is a blogging buddy who writes Dare You To.
What made you try gluten free initially?
Lauren: my experience was somewhat atypical. I was having allergic symptoms (eye swelling) in my 30’s! I did an elimination diet: I took out soy, dairy, and wheat. Wheat was most related but I feel best without wheat or soy and having minimal dairy
Brenda: In 2008 I developed hand pain and swelling. I would wake up in the morning with stiff, swollen fingers and had a hard time moving them. The doctor said I had arthritis and that I would just have to live with it. Absolutely unacceptable! I started keeping a food diary and evaluating what was going on in my gut. I noticed that when I ate anything with gluten my hands would feel worse. I was tested for gluten sensitivity; turns out I am highly gluten sensitive. I do not have celiac disease but I am still very reactive to gluten, which is important for people to know: You do not have to be Celiac to have a problem with gluten.
Meredith: I had read about how wheat is harmful to our bodies, how our stomachs cannot digest it, and how so many medical issues, ranging from small annoyances like indigestion to serious, chronic diseases have been resolved by the elimination of wheat from diets. I finally decided to try one week gluten-free.
What changes have you noticed from going gluten free?
Lauren: Personally when I get “glutened” (accidentally have gluten) I have immediate GI symptoms and my mood is really off. My stomach almost feels sore. When I put clients on gluten-free plans, I see major improvements in digestive issues, energy, headaches and mental “cloudiness”, skin conditions, weight… the list could go on.
Brenda: My arthritis cleared up and has never returned. I also lost weight and am no longer bloated. My daughter’s skin completely cleared up from acne and she also lost weight. Everyone may be different in what type of reactions they get from gluten. It can range from gas and bloating to skin issues, respiratory issues, headaches, joint pain and stiffness, cardiovascular disease, and even infertility. How it manifests can be different person to person, but if you are having chronic health issues regardless of what it is, look towards gut health and gluten first.
Meredith: I immediately noticed the difference in my digestion and energy. My persistent GI problems vanished. Instead of feeling bloated or cramped, I felt like a flat-bellied, well-oiled digestive machine. Instead of waking in the morning feeling heavy or sluggish, I woke up feeling energized, freer, easily able to move around. I didn’t notice anything ‘bad’ until a few weeks in, when I felt a little bit lethargic, too tired, worn out, but that lasted only about a week; now I’m back to normal. Still pleased with how much better I feel overall. (You can read more about Meredith’s experience here)
So would you recommend everyone try going gluten free?
Lauren: I would. I know it’d be more PC to say “only do it if you have Celiac or other major issues” but I don’t think that’s right. I never would have known how much better I feel if hadn’t tried. Even my husband tried it and felt the benefits. Our wheat has changed and I don’t believe it’s healthy (the gluten content of wheat is higher than it used to be). There is no reason we need wheat, there’s no biological grain requirement. I know change is scary, so don’t think about forever, think about it for a couple of weeks. I don’t miss wheat at all.
Brenda: Yes. A lot of people have problems with gluten and are not connecting it to problems around the body. When they go gluten free they may be surprised at what “clears” up.
Meredith: Definitely, even for a short time, I’d say try it! You may find stomach discomfort or other chronic symptoms vanish. Others might say ‘eh, no difference,’ and go back to their old ways, which is fine too. The worst that happens is that nothing happens.
So what do you think of our interviewees’ opinions? Are you going to give gluten-free a shot? Any gluteny questions? Share your thoughts in the comments below or in our Food and Cooking community.