Jason Barbour - For people with celiac disease (an autoimmune disorder that makes it difficult to digest gluten), a gluten-free diet is more than a trend — it’s a necessity. Even those without the disease can benefit from avoiding gluten, yet the stereotypes of a gluten-free diet can prevent people from seeing those benefits.
Two of the most prominent stereotypes about going gluten-free are:
Using the exception as the norm. You might know someone who loads up on gluten-free junk food, such as crackers, cakes, candies, and ice cream, and then talks about how unhealthy it is. In fact, all kinds of high-sugar foods now carry a gluten-free or organic label. But that shouldn’t mean all other gluten-free foods are considered guilty by association. The truth is that most of what we already consider to be healthy foods are also gluten-free, including vegetables, berries, beans, nuts, seeds, fish, and meat.
Believing that gluten-free equals nutrient-free. Gluten is a group of proteins found in wheat, rye, and barley, but these are poor-quality proteins that are missing several key amino acids. Those who believe that gluten-free dieters are deprived of vitamins, minerals, and fiber aren’t looking deep enough into the list of foods that score much higher in key nutrients than wheat, barley, and rye.
If you eat nothing but gluten-free junk food, of course you’ll miss out on key nutrients. That’s true of any junk food, regardless of whether it has gluten. However, if you include healthy, wholesome food choices that are rich in essential vitamins and minerals, a gluten-free diet could do wonders for your health and fitness.
My Own Health Benefits of Going Gluten-Free
So how can a gluten-free diet benefit someone who doesn’t have celiac disease? In my own experience, being gluten-free since 2007 has helped me realize a number of health and fitness advantages, including fat loss, better recovery from exercise, better sleep, and less brain fog.
High levels of gluten have been shown to increase insulin levels and lower thyroid output, which is a recipe for fat gain. Removing gluten from my diet and avoiding junk food helped me lose body fat much more easily and keep it off longer.
Gluten can also slow down recovery from exercise for many people by generating an inflammatory response. While inflammation is a necessary part of the recovery process, in excess, it can increase your health risks and raise your cortisol levels.
Cortisol is a stress hormone your body releases to lower inflammation; elevated levels can lead to insomnia. A gluten-free diet has helped my body normalize its cortisol levels, raising the curve in the morning and lowering it in the evening. It’s helped me sleep better at night and think more clearly during the day.
Gluten-Free Foods You Should Eat More Of
If you’re contemplating going gluten-free, the main thing to remember is that the general rules of healthy eating still apply. Refrain from too much sugar, limit unhealthy and processed food options, and make sure your meals are balanced with the essential vitamins and minerals your body needs. Four gluten-free foods that you should always include are:
Grass-fed proteins. Meat and dairy sources that are fed grass instead of hormones and additives are significantly higher in valuable, easily digestible nutrients. The food is also less toxic, and because it contains more of the essential nutrients we need, it promotes better health and reduced risk of chronic illness.
Leafy green vegetables. Leafy greens have always been a staple of a nutritious diet, and they’ve also always been gluten-free. They keep you healthy by helping blood clot, slowing the signs of aging, reducing risks of cardiovascular disease, and even lowering your cholesterol.
Berries. There’s no shortage of studies showing the health benefits of berries, which contain high concentrations of antioxidants and have been shown to lower the risk of heart attack. Women who eat berries also experience slower mental decline as they age compared to women do don’t eat berries or eat less.
Dark chocolate. Many of you will pleased to know that dark chocolate isn’t just good for you — it’s also gluten-free! Despite the stigma that chocolate is a decadent treat, it’s actually good for your cardiovascular system and brain health. In moderation, chocolate can even help improve conditions like obesity and diabetes and keep your mental faculties strong as you age.
The stereotypes surrounding gluten-free diets encourage people to eschew the lifestyle and miss out on the health benefits they could be enjoying. If we eliminate these stereotypes, more people can enjoy healthier, happier lives. The best place to start is by being a shining example to those around us.
Jason Barbour is a highly sought-after strength and nutritional consultant for busy executives and has worked with professional athletes from the NFL, NHL, and UFC, including three world champions and an Olympic medalist. In 2009, Jason started Metabolic Meals, one of the country’s largest healthy meal delivery companies with thousands of customers nationwide.