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Should you be going gluten free?

September 12, 2012 - Kathie Evanoff
Every few years, a new diet fad comes along and everyone jumps on the bandwagon.

Even I admit to being caught up in the low-fat/no-fat fads of the early 1990s. After all, it made sense to me that if had extra fat on your body and you ate fat, that’s what it ultimately became. Not only that, but it is well-known that fat contains 9 calories per gram while protein and carbohydrates only have 4 calories per gram. It was plausible that the more fat we ate, the more weight we could gain. Cutting fat from our diets made sense.

On paper that is.

After watching a doctor on a television morning show put his healthy diet program out there for everyone who wanted to follow, I jumped on the bandwagon faster than a 13-year old girl can send a text message to her “bestie.”

Every day I kept a diligent log of every bite that went into my mouth. I wrote down the total calories, and not only the fat content, but the carb and protein content as well. I carried my log book with me everywhere.

It became a nightmare if we wanted to go out to eat. Nothing any restaurant served fit into my program. I gave up all saturated fat and would only consume fat in the form of canola or olive oils. That may not sound like a bad thing, and it isn’t, but here’s where things got weird.

I limited my total fat gram intake to only 10 percent of my total calories. This meant if I ate 1200 calories a day, only 120 of those calories could come from fat. This included added fat in everything, not just what I added with salad dressings or sandwich spreads. If I ate a slice of bread, the fat grams counted. Nothing was safe from my log book.

It wasn’t a bad way to diet, as long as I had the time, and it took a lot of time. But like any fad diet, it didn’t last. My life became busy in other ways and it soon became improbable, if not impossible, to keep of that pace of logging and calculating. Once my logging crashed, it never recovered.

Soon I began to notice trends. It went from non-fat/low-fat to low carb/no carb. Dr. Atkins was back with a new book about his diet and everyone was convinced that fat wasn’t the problem. It was carbs, which according to “experts,” spiked your blood sugar, made your adrenal gland produce higher levels of cortisol and basically made us gain weight.

Fat, which had gotten such a bad rap that even now many products on the market still boast their non-fat/low fat virtues, was not the enemy any longer. In fact, fat was good! Fat in our diets build brain cells, help our skin repair itself and stays with us longer so that we don’t feel hungry too soon after a meal. We had to put the fat back in as long as we kept with the “healthy fats.” The only problem was, no one could agree on which fats were the healthiest. While no one argued olive oil was still the best and canola oil was better than vegetable oil, real butter now was better than margarine because of the trans-fats and maybe a hamburger once in a while wasn’t going to kill us after all.

Since then, the number of diet trends has hit the roof. A few years ago it was how much fiber could we get. How can we substitute whole grains for refined grains in our breads; eat brown rice instead of white; stay away from white potatoes but eat lots of sweet potato fries. Or better yet, eliminate white food altogether.

This year a new fad has hit the market. Don’t worry about fat, calories, carbs or fiber any more. Instead, go gluten free!

Gluten is a protein found in wheat and other grains. It is what gives bread its texture, elasticity and enables it to rise.

There are people who must eliminate gluten from their diets. One of my close friends has celiac disease, a condition whereby a reaction to gluten can damage the lining of the small intestine. A co-worker also has been diagnosed with celiac and must carefully read ingredients lists and watch what she eats. Still others, who don’t have celiac disease, may be sensitive to gluten and although it doesn’t damage their intestine, other symptoms can be relieved by eliminating gluten. If that’s the case, by all means, learn to live without it.

But if you don’t have celiac disease or aren’t sensitive to it, why put yourself through that torture? Going gluten free is not easy. My friend, in order to avoid wheat, began loading up on fats and sugars and before long realized her cholesterol was through the roof. Frantic, she asked, “Is there anything I can eat?”

Of course, now that going gluten-free is the biggest trend to hit the stores since no fat/low fat, nearly every grocery store now markets gluten free products from cereal to snacks. Celiac patients are ecstatic. Nutritionists, not so much.

Too many people are jumping on the gluten-free bandwagon in an attempt to lose weight. About the only way this works is that a lot of junk food, cake, cookies, etc. contain gluten and by eliminating them, you are cutting those extra calories. But according to nutritionists, a cookie is still a cookie, whether it contains gluten or not, so if you are simply substituting one for the other, you aren’t doing yourself any favors.

In fact, like my friend, you could possibly end up gaining weight because the substitutions you reach for aren’t necessarily fruits and fresh vegetables, but instead are reaching for items higher in sugar and fat.


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