Is Gluten the Modern Day Boogeyman?

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The 2010’s ushered the words “gluten-free” into the vernacular of every fitness-aware person in the US.    Gluten free, gluten light, anti-gluten, however you prefer it. At our house we experimented with giving up gluten.  One month (and many dollars) later, I have some thoughts on the gluten free movement.

A little background first. As a family, we are all about health trends.   My husband has been both primal (at least that is what his vitamins and energy drink powders call it) and insane evidenced by the Insanity Workout DVDs that arrived last year.   Most health trends arrive on our porch neatly packaged via UPS, three months after they hit the mainstream.

It’s not only my husband that suffers from the hype, I should disclose that for a period of time in high school, I consumed copious amounts of pasta tossed with garlic and olive oil because high carb/low fat diets were de rigueur in 1988.  The nineties ushered in the Zone Diet in which I engaged in such fascinating dinner conversation as, “Do you think this yam is more than 40% of my caloric intake for dinner?  Should I cut it in half and have two more bites of chicken or will that mess up my ratio?” In short, my husband may buy products called “Insanity” but I’m a practitioner of it.

And now we are faced with a new enemy– gluten.  First of all, gluten IS the enemy to about  1% of the US population who has celiac disease.  If you’ve ever known anyone with the disease, you know that it’s serious and a lifelong condition.  A close friend who was recently diagnosed with celiac disease was told by her doctor that eating gluten was the equivalent of drinking bleach.  It’s serious.  It is also estimated that about 18 million Americans have some form of gluten sensitivity.   Major companies, like General Mills, are joining in, reformulating many company staples, like Chex cereal, to make them gluten free and opening their doors to new consumers and dollars.

I told a nutritionist I was gluten free and she asked, “Why?”  I have no signs of any food allergies.  But far be it from me to listen to an expert.  We dropped most gluten from our diet, specifically pizza and cookies.  Cutting gluten out of our diets resulted in more conscience eating, more home-cooked meals and of course money spent on gluten free products.  It also resulted in some pretty significant weight loss.  My husband and I felt more alert and less lethargic.

After a month of gluten free, I cannot definitively say that it was the main component of our success.  Yes, we were eating gluten free but we were also eating fewer calories.  If you eliminate 300 or 400 calories from your diet (given that your exercise level remains the same) per day, you will lose weight over time.  Was it the gluten free lifestyle making us more svelte or substituting a typical dessert of 4 cookies for an apple?

From a nutritional standpoint, I have no need to drop gluten.  If I want to feel and look better, I just need to make better food choices.  This is common sense, not a trend.  So instead of spending $1 more for gluten free mac and cheese for my family, I now buy some veggies and make a stir fry.  Yes, I’m using soy sauce (it has gluten in it) but those veggies are better for my kids than any box of rice pasta with powdered cheese.  My fascination with giving up Gluten taught me something-pay attention and to be mindful, no matter whether you are eating Gluten or not.