One of the things I am asked most about is gluten (and by default wheat). So today I thought I would do a little Gluten 101. Please remember that I am a Health Coach and not a Doctor, damn it! So if you think you have celiac’s, gluten intolerance or your kid is misbehaving, and you believe it’s because of wheat and gluten, then please, feel free to follow up with me, but also consult with your doctor.
Let’s start with the basics. What is gluten? Gluten is a protein found in foods made from wheat and related grains such as barley and rye. It makes dough spongy and chewy and helps it rise. It is omnipresent in almost all processed foods (including ketchup and ice cream) and is often present in beer and soy sauce. Where isn’t gluten? Fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and certain whole grains like quinoa.
Who is most affected by gluten? People with celiac disease are the most threatened by gluten. “People with celiac disease who eat foods containing gluten experience an immune reaction in their small intestines, causing damage to the inner surface of the small intestine and an inability to absorb certain nutrients. Celiac disease can cause abdominal pain and diarrhea. Eventually, the decreased absorption of nutrients that occurs with celiac disease can cause vitamin deficiencies that deprive your brain, peripheral nervous system, bones, liver and other organs of vital nourishment.” (source Mayo Clinic) For folks with celiac’s, this is no fun at all. However, people may also just be gluten sensitive which means that the blood test for Celiac will come back negative but they may still suffer from celiac like symptoms. About 5-8% of the population tests positive for Celiac’s. The numbers of those suffering from gluten intolerance appears to be rising as well.
What’s the deal with gluten and thyroid issues? It’s a case of mistaken identity and it’s an unfortunate thing for people with thyroid issues. The actual protein portion of gluten (called gliadin) resembles that of the thyroid gland. When the gliadin reaches the gut and enters the bloodstream, your immune system sees it as a threat and looks to destroy it. The antibodies attacking the gliadin also attack your thyroid because it can’t tell the two things apart.
Is my kid having behavioral problems because of gluten sensitivity? With the massive rise in ADD, ADHD and other behavioral issues in kids, some scientists have begun to study to see if a link exists between gluten and these issues. “It has long been known that people with celiac disease are also more likely to suffer from ADHD, another condition that is heavily influenced by dietary habits.” (source Dr Mercola). Numerous parents have written blog posts about taking their child off of gluten and seeing major improvements with respect to the ADD, ADHD and autism.
Will I lose weight if I cut out gluten? It depends. Wheat is an inflammatory food, and often by reducing or eliminating wheat and other inflammatory foods such as dairy or sugar the body will reduce it’s bloat and subsequently drop some pounds. However, it is necessary to point out that with the rise of celiac’s disease, so is there a rise of gluten free foods on the supermarket shelves. At the Whole Foods in Venice, California, there is an entire aisle dedicated to gluten free pretzels, cookies, candy, breads, and chips. However, it is really important to understand that gluten free processed foods are still processed and therefore not great for you and not beneficial to losing weight. Without gluten to bind food together, food manufacturers use more fat and sugar to make the product more palatable. A serving of regular pretzels has about 110 calories and just one gram of fat. Swap them for gluten-free pretzels and you could get 140 calories and six grams of fat.
What can I do to avoid/reduce gluten? What can I eat?
Here are some basic rules to follow:
- Fruits and veggies that don’t come in a package
- Meats the butcher has processed in the store that haven’t had seasonings etc on them
- Grains like quinoa, millet, brown rice, buckwheat, oats (always check the packaging on those), and amaranth
- Processed foods that are labeled as gluten free (but remember about the extra sugar and fat added in to compensate)
- When dining out, remember that virtually every sauce, topping, etc. will have gluten so talk to your server and ask questions about what is in the dish.
At the end of the day, if you have tested positive for Celiac’s disease, you know you can’t have gluten. For people with Hashimoto’s or other thyroid related issues, it might make sense to reduce/eliminate gluten while concurrently working with a doctor who can monitor your thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). This will give you a benchmark to see if getting rid of gluten actually helps your thyroid. Same goes for parents who are trying to help their kids ADD, ADHD, other behavioral issues or autism. Test it out (again discussing it with your doctor) and see if the results work. For the rest of us just trying to lose weight or have less achy bones, I can only speak from experience. When I reduce gluten, thereby reducing inflammation, I feel better, less stiff. With respect to weight, I have seen no real change but many of my clients have.
So there you have a basic beginner’s guide to gluten. And since no educational blog post is complete without a recipe, I give you my favorite gluten free one. Quinoa Zucchini lasagna (source PeasandThankyou) (this is gluten free, vegetarian and can also be made vegan by using vegan substitutes for cheese)
- 2 large zucchini, cut into 12 thin, 1/4 in. thick slices (to make this more kid friendly, I use a spirooli to make the “noodles” thinner and more palatable for my kids)
- 1 c. quinoa, rinsed
- 2 c. vegetable broth
- 1/2 c. tomato sauce
- 1/4 c. minced onion
- 1 t. dried oregano
- 1/4 c. fresh basil, chopped
- 1/4 c. fresh parsley, chopped
- 2 T. organic or non-dairy cream cheese, (optional)
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 jar organic marinara sauce
- 1/2 c. organic or non-dairy cheese, i.e. Daiya (optional)
- Preheat oven to 400.
- To prepare zucchini, cut a strip off of one side to make a flat base. Then, thinly slice zucchini into “noodles.” You’ll want 12 noodles in total.
- Place noodles in a colander and sprinkle with salt, layering between paper towels.
- Let this sit and absorb moisture while preparing the quinoa.
- Combine quinoa, vegetable broth, tomato sauce, onion and oregano in a large saucepan and bring to a boil.
- Cover and lower heat, simmering for 20 minutes.
- When quinoa has absorbed all the liquid, fold in cream cheese and herbs.
- Add salt and pepper to taste, and try not to eat the whole pot.
- Pour enough of marinara in the bottom of an 8×8 baking dish to cover the bottom.
- Using a clean dry towel, blot remaining moisture and salt from zucchini and layer 4 noodles across the sauce.
- Put a layer of quinoa across the zucchini, and cover with another 1/3 c. of marinara sauce.
- Repeat with another layer of quinoa, sauce and zucchini.
- Top the final layer of zucchini with remaining sauce and 1/2 c. of cheese, if using.
- Bake lasagna for 30 minutes, until heated through and zucchini is tender.
About the Author: Courtney Abrams is a Health Coach and Founder of Roslyn Wellness. Trained at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, she helps clients work within the realities of their day to day lives to find ways to make small and manageable changes to their health that can maintained over time. Her clients include people trying to lose weight, beat sugar, increase their energy, cook simple healthful food and reduce stress to name a few. She also shares a passion for food policy and educating people about the foods they are eating and the governmental role behind much of it. You can learn more about Courtney and Roslyn Wellness at http://RoslynWellness.com.