The Gluten-Free Craze: Why It’s Making Me Unhealthy
Gluten-free is the new black. It’s everywhere. I’ve been wheat-free (therefore mostly gluten-free) for 17 years and when my mother and I first began searching for wheat-free foods, we might as well have been searching for Bigfoot. (Let me make a sidenote by saying that there is much confusion about gluten vs. wheat sensitivities and allergies. The words wheat and gluten are not interchangeable. Eating a gluten-free diet means that you will be avoiding wheat. However, not all products labelled “wheat-free” are gluten-free.) We spent hours in the grocery store reading labels and searching for foods that didn’t contain wheat. It was shocking to learn that everything from soy sauce to salad dressings and even some meats, contained wheat.
I had been suffering for years with a broad spectrum of random symptoms, including migraines that started in 5th grade, and after seeing an “alternative” medicine practitioner and being tested for and diagnosed with food allergies, I began the journey of eliminating wheat, coconut and soy from my diet. I was a teenager at the time and it was not an easy thing to do. The terms “food allergies” and “gluten-free” were not yet part of the mainstream lexicon.
There was one “alternative lifestyle” store in town that carried a wheat-free bread option. The first time I ventured into this shop, I searched for twenty minutes amongst the crystals, incense, hemp products and patchouli oil until I discovered a tiny freezer in the back corner that contained the alternative food selections. I was thrilled that I was going to be able to still eat bread. Thrilled until I actually got it home, tried it and realized that I would rather lick a thousand envelopes than consume one more crumb of that bread.
I was left with lean meats, fruits, vegetables, nuts and a few non-wheat grains. Basically, I began eating what was actually considered a healthy, well-balanced diet that forced me to eliminate processed foods and junk foods. It changed my life. My mood swings (the non-teenage girl oriented ones) were gone. I wasn’t constantly swinging between extreme hyperactivity and soul-killing lethargy. The migraines were gone, as well as the itchy skin, the watery eyes, the sneezing, the lack of focus and stomach problems. I also lost around twenty-five pounds. I was a different human being.
Fast-forward to the present and to the current gluten-free craze. Even with the enormous selection of allergy-free foods that are available in stores, I still occasionally fall off the wheat wagon. I always pay for it immediately and for a couple of days afterwards. Essentially, though, I am still as wheat-free as I was when I first eliminated wheat from my diet. Yet, I’m not experiencing all of the same health benefits as I was then. (I take Metformin for insulin resistance and struggle with weight and low energy.) Why is that? I have assessed my lifestyle and can see that one major reason is that all of the junk I eliminated from my diet after discovering my food allergies is now available in wheat and gluten-free form and for the past few years, I’ve been trying it all! Cakes, pizzas, cookies, crackers, breads and are all available, but, unfortunately, many with more processing and a higher glycemic index than their wheat and glutinous counterparts. People eliminate wheat and gluten from their diets for many reasons, but the biggest one I hear about from people is for weight loss. Going gluten-free does not mean automatic weight loss. A cupcake is a cupcake is a cupcake, whether it is wheat and gluten-free or not. I have been on the gluten-free bandwagon as much, if not more, than the rest of the population for the past few years. It’s been exciting to have all of the food options that were not available to me, magically appear on grocery stores shelves everywhere in wheat and gluten-free form.
Lately, however, I have been slowly disembarking from the GF crazy train and getting back to the basics of my original wheat-free diet. I recently posted some wheat-free recipes (I labelled them GF so that my Celiac friends know they are safe!) that demonstrate a good balance of making use of allergy-free products while remaining as healthful and as whole as possible. I’m grateful that there are tastier allergy-free options for special occasions like birthdays, diner parties and holidays, but I think, as in any other mindful way of eating, saving those ‘treats’ for special occasions is a better way of dealing with all of these options. Just because there are wheat-free pancakes available to me, doesn’t mean I have to eat them every morning. Having too many options isn’t always a good thing.
Wheat and Gluten Info: