I started on Saturday a series of post highlighting the biggest lessons I learned about food and health from reading, eating and living in 2012. Today I’d like to continue that series with a new topic:
Gluten Free. I started experimenting with a gluten free diet last year somewhat by chance. I’d recently gone vegan (which I’ve since revised to being vegan when I’m not dining with others), and in order to make up for the meats and cheeses that had previously played a large role in my diet, I turned hard core to gluten.
Not because I wanted gluten itself, but because the first vegan foods I could think of that could satisfy my runner’s appetite without the use of animal products were loaded with the stuff: whole grain breakfast cereal and whole grain pasta.
Around this time, I’d noticed a profound fatigue early in the afternoon that I couldn’t shake. Simultaneously, I came across an article about Novak Djokovic, who at the time was dominating tennis and crediting his gluten free diet. I’d heard that gluten could make some people sluggish, and Djokovic claimed his diet gave him more mental energy.
And here I was, eating almost nothing but gluten. I figured I’d give the diet a shot.
And, sure enough, it worked. No more crushing fatigue in the early afternoon.
And so I’ve largely stuck with the diet. But I have a couple caveats.
One is, since I started posting about going gluten free, people tend to think I’m a big proponent of the diet. I’m not, necessarily, and I’m not even 100% gluten free myself. Going gluten free seems to make a big difference for people who have celiac disease (which reflects an inability to process gluten properly). And cutting back on gluten makes sense for the rare person, like me a year ago, who eats almost exclusively whole grain cereals and pastas.
But for the rest of us, I’m not sure that there’s any benefit to going 100% gluten free. Small amounts of gluten don’t seem to bother me. Eat some pasta, or some rye crackers, or even some bourbon, and I don’t see any recognizable side effects. I feel more or less as I do any other day.
So I don’t know that, if you’re not currently suffering major, obvious problems due to gluten consumption, you’ll benefit in any way from completely eliminating it from your diet.
That said, there are a couple inadvertent benefits to going gluten free. One is, if you’re gluten free, you’re not eating bread. And if you regularly eat white bread, which along with sugar may be the worst thing you can put in your body, then going gluten free will inadvertently remove this white bread from your diet and make you a much healthier person. You’ll probably also feel much better.
Secondly, grains are almost invariably cooked. Yes, you can soak and sprout grains, and there are probably some grains you can otherwise simply eat raw, but this is not the way most grains enter our diets. And, in general, the more raw foods you eat, the better your diet. So cutting gluten also means cutting some foods that are almost invariably cooked. And that’s another side benefit.
But otherwise, I’d allow gluten in my diet except to the extent I can feel evident side effects from it: nausea and upset stomach if you’re celiac, profound fatigue if you’re an over-consumer of gluten.