Eating Gluten-Free Isn’t Just for Coeliacs

Sports stars, Hollywood A-Listers and ordinary mortals show that eating gluten-free isn’t just for coeliacs.

There is a revolution sweeping the supermarket aisles, restaurants and cafes around the world. It is counter cultural to our wheat-dominated diets and counter to the practices of the large global food corporations that control so much of the food supply chain in the west.

This is the age of gluten-free. Its advocates vary from Olympians who have discovered that avoiding gluten improves their performance and their stamina, to Hollywood A-Listers who swear it supports their busy lifestyles to mothers of children who have found that it radically improves conditions like Autism or ADHD. In academia long standing research programmes have increasingly found that avoiding gluten delivers a set of physiological and psychological benefits to patients – even if they don’t suffer from coeliac disease.

Traditionally, only people diagnosed medically with coeliac disease were aware of gluten and its effects. However, in the sporting world, evidence-based research has led to a gluten avoiding diet being increasingly adopted by leading sports coaches, players and athletes. They have found that avoiding gluten cures a variety of stomach related problems, improves concentration and focus and promotes wellbeing and balance.

The summer of 2012 was truly a summer of sport and the London Olympics saw a number of gluten-avoiding athletes compete. Jenn Suhr, the US athlete is the worlds top ranked pole vaulter and jumped 4.75 meters to claim Gold in London and has been on a gluten-avoiding diet since 2011. Dana Vollmer, the US swimmer won Gold in the 100m butterfly and 200m freestyle relay. She had been suffering almost constant stomach aches for many years but in 2011 adopted a gluten-free diet. She liked the way the diet made her feel, “I felt like I got leaner but yet stronger”, key characteristics that saw her grace the podium in London.

Success for gluten-avoiding athletes was not restricted to the Olympics, as world number 1 tennis pro Novak Djokovic had adopted a gluten-free diet for the last three years. His game was transformed, propelling him up the rankings to the world number 1 in 2010/11 capturing numerous grand slams on the way. Britain’s Andy Murray also adopted a gluten-free diet recently and has clearly benefitted from it, adding the US Open title to the Olympic Gold and Silver he picked up in the summer. In golf, Michelle Wie, one of the leading lights of the Women’s PGA tour recently adopted a gluten-free diet and spoke of the benefits it had given her in terms of curing stomach issues, giving her more energy, concentration and focus.

However, the benefits are not restricted to athletes – there are many benefits that the average person can gain from going gluten-free. With gluten out of your diet you will find that you will naturally be eating a healthier, more varied diet and one where wholefoods, meat, fish and protein are making up a greater proportion of your calories. The natural consequence of this is that, everything else being equal, you will lose weight. Without all the simple carbohydrates hitting the blood stream, your blood sugar levels should be more balanced and your mood, energy level and appetite will be more even and you will be more in touch with your natural rhythms of sleep, activity and eating. Many others report that they feel better and more optimistic and this improvement to the insides is mirrored by improvements to skin, hair and overall ‘looks’.

The first step is to make an honest assessment of the way you feel. Do you often get ‘brain fog’, stomach cramps, hot flushes, diarrhoea or IBS? If so, then you might want to consider whether you might have a problem with gluten. If you have, then it’s not the end of the story, as with a little knowledge, the right food choices and some perseverance you can overcome your intolerance to gluten. The symptoms that a gluten rich diet caused should, over a period of weeks and a few months subside and then eventually disappear, causing you to look and feel better.

Gluten is basically a binding agent – it is added to foods to make them stick and bind areas together. It is a protein that is found in flour and other foodstuffs . It is used widely in the food industry and is also used as a filler for other foodstuffs. Gluten is over-used by the food industry in the West. Consider the average day; it is very possible to have a wheat-based cereal or toastbread for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch and then pasta for dinner – not to mention snacks like cakes, pastries and biscuits. This would be a wall to wall intake of gluten. It is no wonder that the incidence of gluten intolerance is increasing so rapidly.

The basic premise is that if you avoid gluten for a set period, you will then at a later stage be able to gradually reintroduce gluten into your diet without the original symptoms returning. The amount of time you will need to avoid gluten for will depend on the severity of your symptoms and this can be found by undergoing a blood test or by a process of trial and error. A period of gluten avoidance of 3 months is common and 6 isn’t unusual. In this period, your aim will be to eat as little gluten as possible.This will mean a degree of pre-planning of meals, spending time tracking down gluten-free alternatives and familiarising yourself with the major supermarkets free from ranges. It is a particular struggle to eat out, although when you know what to eat then Chinese, Indian, Italian and other cuisines should not hold too much fear for you.

Once you have finished your period of excluding gluten, you can start to slowly reintroduce gluten into your diet. Start by one serving of gluten a day, checking that your symptoms are not returning. If all is well, you can increase your gluten to two portions a day, again checking for symptoms. This process of trial and error should result in you achieving a kind of balance in your gluten intake where you can eat more freely and widely whilst keeping a weather eye on the amount of gluten you are having.

Going gluten-free is a choice that increasingly more people are making for health, diet, lifestyle and wellbeing reasons. Many are choosing to reduce gluten drastically for a period, while others are avoiding it altogether. If this is something that resonates with you, then going gluten-free or gluten-reducing is easier than you think and you will find that you are far from alone on the journey.

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