Sorry fad dieters, going "gluten-free"doesn't mean healthier for everyone.
Amanda Li has been gluten-free for six years since having several anaphylaxis reactions to wheat. Since then, the Brampton, Ontario, registered dietitian has learned a thing or two about what it means to purge a diet completely of the protein.
"There is definitely a lot of fad diets out there proclaiming gluten is what is to be blamed for inflammation, weight-gain and mental fog,"says Li. But it isn't quite so simple and there's a lot to consider before joining the trend.
Here Li offers some essential tips for anyone considering breaking up with gluten.
1. Think beyond bread. In a hilarious skit, Jimmy Kimmel highlighted the fact that people who go "gluten-free"for reasons other than severe wheat allergies or having celiac disease can't always explain what gluten actually is. Fast forward a couple of years and Li says not much has changed. "I don't think they actually know the science behind the molecules of gluten because it's actually made of two separate proteins,"she explains. "People associate gluten with the breads and the pastas."
2. It's everywhere. That sneaky little wheat protein is in a whole lot more than bread, pasta and crackers. "Once you start reading the labels, you're like: ‘Oh, it actually has gluten in it,'"says Li. That can include things like salad dressings, soups, condiments (so long soy sauce), pickles (thanks to malt vinegar), California rolls, vegetarian burgers and rotisserie chickens. Trying to sort out what does and doesn't have gluten can be mind-boggling for the uninitiated and it makes dining out very tricky.
3. "Gluten-free" doesn't mean healthy. When walking through the grocery store, it's not hard to tell food manufactures have caught on to this diet trend by slapping gluten-free labels on their products. While the item won't have the wheat-protein, it doesn't mean it's good for you. "In order to make gluten-free products really palatable, they usually use more refined grains and starches,"explains Li. "They might be using rice flour, tapioca starch, potato starch—all of those are just void of fibre… Iron is another one that tends to be really low in gluten-free products."
4. Weight-gain might happen. "Packaged gluten-free products digest very quickly,"warns Li. "So some people might actually start gaining weight if they just switch over because you're not as full and when you're not as full, you just end up eating more."
5. Budget busters. These products also aren't cheap. "Their grocery bill will often double in price because a gluten-free bread is almost two to three times more expensive than a non-gluten free bread,"says Li.
6. Lack of scientific evidence. Unless you have celiac disease, suffer from wheat allergies or have IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), there isn't much scientific proof that gluten causes bloating or lethargy. Most recently, Harvard researchers found a gluten-free diet does nothing to prevent heart disease.
7. Test it out first. Despite the lack of evidence, people aren't easily deterred. Whenever Li's clients think gluten is causing issues, she suggests a very strict, gluten-free diet for two to three weeks. "If you really want to pinpoint whether or not a food is creating some kind of discomfort in your body or anything like that, you need to avoid it for that long in order to clear it out of the system,"she says.
8. Not all bad. Li says the fad holds some benefits as it can increase people's awareness of what they're eating even in just a two-week trial. "You may be just choosing whole foods that are not so processed,"she says. "In that kind of shift, you're actually transferring to a healthier way of eating by just excluding the gluten."