My name is Lisa Tsakos, Registered Holistic Nutritional Consultant, corporate speaker and author. This blog provides professional advice from a nutrition and weight loss expert (me!) about corporate and family health. Here you'll find recipes and articles that address work-related challenges like eating on-the-go and maximizing your productivity with the right foods. You'll also find out about how you can help your children develop strong immune systems and healthy bodies. As a nutrition instructor, I often found myself thinking, "When I have kids, this is how I will feed them." With two toddlers, I have the opportunity to practice what I have been preaching and to try out my theories. So far, they seem to be working! Follow me on my journey and also on Twitter @NuVitalityHW.

6 Aug 2014

Is the Gluten-Free Diet Right for Me?

"Isn't whole wheat supposed to be healthy?" 

This is a question I'm asked at almost every seminar. For years, many of my recommendations have centered around a fiber-rich diet (nicknamed "the brown diet" by one of my clients). Countless studies have suggested that whole grains are an important component to a healthy diet and may prevent chronic health conditions. So why are many of us now avoiding whole grains altogether? 

That's a loaded question, and researchers are scrambling to find the answer.

'Gluten free' is everywhere - at grocery stores, restaurants and in the chatter around the water cooler. The gluten-free market is the most profitable in history, and food manufacturers are working to bring more, better tasting GF products into your home. Should it be avoided by everyone? That's a good question. Some say that only those with celiac disease need strictly avoid gluten, but with the rise of non-celiac gluten sensitivity, my recommendation nowadays is that everyone reduce or eliminate gluten from their diet as a preventative measure. The symptoms of gluten intolerance are not necessarily related to digestion; in fact, most of the improvements people have reported to me relate to inflammation and mood. 

Check out the list below to help you determine whether or not a gluten-free diet is something you should consider.

READ MORE: Beyond Wheat: Gluten-Free Living

If you choose to eliminate gluten and fiber-rich grains from your diet, be sure to include other fiber sources, especially vegetables, fruit, beans, nuts and seeds. Some other options include ground flaxseed, chia (commercially sold as Salba™) and psyllium husks or hulls.

Check all that apply:  

o   I feel tired after eating bread, pasta or other starchy foods.

o   I experience bloating, gas, cramping and/or diarrhea after eating certain foods such as bread and pasta.

o   I have been diagnosed with IBS.

o   I have acid reflux.

o   I have osteoporosis.

o   Starchy foods should promote healthy bowel movements, but they make me constipated.

o   I have unexplained aches and pains.

o   I suffer from brain fog or bouts of fatigue.

o   I have angry outbursts or cannot control my temper sometimes.

o   I have eczema or psoriasis, dandruff, or other types of skin rashes.

o   I suffer from regular headaches or migraines.

Awareness about gluten intolerance and celiac disease is sweeping the world.

Gluten-related problems are becoming a major public health issue. Although the cause is unknown, celiac disease, an auto-immune disorder in which the sufferers cannot properly digest gluten, is four times more common now than 60 years ago and affects about one in 100 people.

In celiac disease, nutrients pass through the damaged small intestine unabsorbed, leading to devastating health and digestive problems. Undiagnosed or untreated celiac disease can quadruple the risk of death.

Symptoms vary from person to person and can often mimic other bowel disorders. They may include severe gas, diarrhea, abdominal cramping, distension, bloating, steatorrhea (fatty stools), weakness, anemia, depression, osteoporosis, bone or joint pain, infertility, or blistering, itchy skin.

However, it isn’t only those with celiac disease that should avoid gluten. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), a relatively new diagnosis, may afflict as many as 6% of the population worldwide. NCGS has been coined to describe those who cannot tolerate gluten and experience symptoms similar to those of celiac disease, but who do not have the antibodies and intestinal damage as seen in celiac disease.

The symptoms include digestive problems like bloating, gas and diarrhea following the ingestion of gluten and may include headaches, brain fog, joint pain, mood swings, angry outbursts and more.

What is Gluten?

Gluten is part of the tough, elastic protein found in wheat, rye, barley, oats, and many other grains. It gives bread and baked goods a spongy and elastic texture.

Gluten can be found in breads, cakes, pastries, cookies, biscuits, crackers, battered foods, cereals, snack foods, pastas and pizza. Because gluten is also used as a thickener and filler, it is found in soups, gravies, sauces, processed meats, pickles, sweets, instant pudding and even in some brands of chocolate! Read food labels carefully. Gluten can be found where you least expect it!

The hallmark symptom of gluten intolerance is bloating after eating a starch or grain. For many of us, starch is a regular part of the day, beginning with toast or cereal for breakfast. Should you notice that your belly is flat upon awakening but becomes bloated immediately after eating a starchy food, suspect gluten. An indicator of more advanced gluten intolerance is a developing sensitivity to everyday chemicals such as perfumes and paint fumes.

A strict gluten-free diet has proven helpful to patients who are fortunate enough to recognize the symptoms.

With gluten-related problems, the 80/20 rule does not apply. An article published in 2001 suggests that for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity eating gluten just once a month increased the relative risk of death by 600%.

If you suspect gluten sensitivity, a simple blood test administered by your doctor will confirm your suspicion. 

This is an excerpt from The Kitchen Clean-Up (3-week Program) developed for Health Systems Group in 2014. For more information or to implement this type of program at your organization, contact me! (416) 821-2759.