Is a Gluten-Free Lifestyle Unhealthy for You?

That basket of warm, fluffy bread on the table has become a hot topic these days. Many people are passing it on it not because of the carbs, but because of the gluten. As embracing a GF lifestyle is easier than ever, we think a little extra awareness is in order: the Chalkboard Mag’s favorite functional medicine pro, Dr. Mark Hyman, is answering the question of how to to build healthy gluten-free habits, and what to do if they’ve slipped to the dark side……

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We are all aware that “gluten-free” has become a major buzz term. Restaurants proudly offer options like gluten-free bread and even mainstream supermarkets have whole aisles dedicated to the trend. Nearly everyone has jumped on the gluten-free bandwagon. I don’t recommend this to everyone – at least not until you understand a few facts… and here’s why: As a doctor who treats sick patients, I find that gluten often is a major cause of digestive, auto-immune, weight, mood and neurologic problems. While one would think that I would be 100% pro gluten-free, I want to be clear that there are some downsides to this trend.

The biggest problem with demonizing a food substance is caused by the food industry. In a nutshell, this industry manipulates basic foods items and turns them into “Frankenfoods.” It does this by removing naturally derived ingredients and adding in other bad stuff to make up for loss of taste, consistency, etc. Witness the past popularities of, say, low-carb or fat-free diets and the so-called healthy fake foodstuffs that manufacturers invented to replace the foods containing the maligned ingredients.

As gluten-free gains popularity, food companies – that are well-aware of a potential marketing opportunity – turn out processed, sugary junk foods as “healthy” gluten-free alternatives. Look at most grocery aisles and you’ll find gluten-free chocolate chip cookies, breads and pretty much any conventional sugary, junky food. If a food label boasts a health claim, chances are that food (or food product, more likely) is not good for you.

So while those cookies say “gluten-free” in big bold letters, turn the box around and read the ingredients. You will find high-sugar content, flour (which converts to sugar) and weird food-like additives that add up to big profits for these companies, while adding pounds around your midsection and sabotaging your health. Sometimes patients switch from cupcakes and cookies to gluten-free cupcakes and cookies. And then they wonder “Why do I feel like crap and struggle to lose weight?” Please don’t shoot the messenger, but gluten-free cupcakes and cookies are still cupcakes and cookies. Besides usually being higher in sugar and other junk ingredients, the “gluten-free” claim creates a health halo so you’re often reaching for seconds and thirds. These gluten-free, sugar-loaded, flour-filled foods raise blood-sugar levels and contribute to inflammation, both of which play a role in nearly every disease on the planet.

Don’t be fooled: Gluten-free junk food is still junk food loaded with artificial sugars, food coloring, added gums to help things stick together and additives to increase shelf life while decreasing yours. You might as well just have a soda because it all breaks down into sugar and by the way, I recommend none of the above.

Gluten-free products are also often filled with a health-harming fat, such as processed vegetable oils or hydrogenated oils and trans-fats. These clear, tasteless, highly refined and processed oils include corn, soybean, canola, safflower and sunflower oils. Like sugar, these inflammatory omega-6 fats crank up inflammation while blocking anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats.

When I tell patients to eat a gluten-free diet, I don’t give them license to eat gluten-free cookies or gluten-free bread. Remember: Nature created its own gluten-free diet – an avocado is gluten-free, as are almonds! Go gluten-free, but do it correctly.

Head over to the Chalkboard Mag to read Dr. Hyman’s 9 take-aways he recommends to his patients who are confused about how to go gluten-free. 

Here are a few of our favorite naturally gluten-free recipes:

Chimichurri Kale Bowl

Sauteed Wild Rice & Kale Chestnut Salad with Cranberry Dressing

Roasted Garlic and Beet Soup with Cucumber Dill Yogurt (vegan, gf)

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