It’s easy to be gluten-free these days, with grocery stores devoting whole aisles to tasty gluten-free foods, from bread and cookies to pasta and pretzels. Gone are the days when wait staff roll their eyes at customers when asked, “Do you have anything gluten-free?” In fact, most restaurants have gluten-free foods or special food allergy menus—many have dedicated cooking spaces too. You can even get a gluten-free beer that doesn’t taste like straight hops.
Outside of Celiac Disease, an autoimmune disease that effects around 1 in 100 people worldwide and can destroy the small intestine, plenty of research suggests that gluten sensitivities can also cause a host of issues ranging from gas and bloating to acne, headaches, muscle aches and joint pain, and fatigue.
So, what are the biggest lessons I’ve learned from living without gluten?
Listening to your body is never the wrong choice.
Doctors know their stuff, sure, but you know your body better than anyone. I’d suffered for years with stomach pain and bloating, acne, and frequent migraines. I never felt comfortable after eating. Within a few months of cutting out gluten (after eliminating all the other food groups to no avail), my constant stomach pain and bloating and acne were all but gone. My migraines became less frequent. I paid attention to what was going into my body and how it made me feel, and it’s made all the difference. It’s always a good idea, though, to talk to your doctor about diet changes because you might be losing important nutrients in the process.
Cheating can be painful.
Once I stopped eating foods with gluten, I began to notice that even a splash of soy sauce (yes, wheat is an ingredient in soy sauce) or a piece of gummy candy (yep, many of your favorite brands probably have wheat in them) could make me feel like I just sat at my kitchen table with a pound cake and a gallon of beer. There’s nothing like being out with friends and having to sneak home because your stomach has decided to rebel against the gluten.
Take note: many takeout pizza places have gluten-free crusts on their menus, which is great when you want to have pizza delivered to your door on a Friday night like a normal lazy consumer. But read the small print. There’s probably some contamination going on, as these places don’t generally have any dedicated facilities for gluten-free pie making.
That gluten-free donut isn’t ever going to help you lose weight.
Maintaining a diet low in grains is a sure-fire way to cut empty calories, but a gluten-free diet isn’t necessarily carb-lite. If you are going gluten-free because you want to shed pounds or get healthy, there are better ways, like eating a healthful, well-rounded diet that’s high in plants and protein and low in grains. If you’re constantly thinking, “Oh! It’s not gluten-free, I can’t eat it,” just remember that box of frozen, gluten-free donuts is still full of carbs and sugar and all the things that make for unhealthy eating and weight gain.
Staying healthy is not, of course, one-size-fits-all and there are still many unknowns around gluten sensitivity. Scientists are studying, for example, the autoimmune-gluten connection (especially thyroid-related diseases and gluten). Some studies have pinpointed another component of wheat, not gluten at all, that might be the culprit of sensitivities. Some sources are calling out pesticides. Skeptics will say gluten-free eating is a fad diet, others will swear by the health benefits. We’ll learn as we go. Until then, I’ll be celebrating a decade of relatively painless eating.