Gluten-Free Diets: What They Are and How You Can Benefit

Why are we hearing more about celiac disease and gluten sensitivity?
You might be wondering why more people are diagnosed with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. From my research, a number of reasons emerged. Americans are eating significantly more processed foods, most of which contain gluten, than they ever have in the past; coupled with faster paced, multi-tasking lifestyles. Both of these factors compromise the digestive system. In addition, doctors are more aware of these digestive disorders and are testing more frequently for them.

What’s the difference between celiac disease and gluten sensitivity?
Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity are managed similarly, in that people with these conditions must or should remove gluten from their diet. It’s important to note, however, that there is a difference between these two medical problems. Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition, where the body’s immune system attacks normal tissue, such as the intestinal villi, in response to eating gluten. Because of this, people with celiac disease are at risk for malabsorption of food in the GI tract, resulting in nutritional deficiencies. However, a person with gluten sensitivity usually does not have severe intestinal damage, thus he or she is not at risk for these nutritional deficiencies, but they may have mild to severe digestive discomfort such as bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhea, or cramping.

What is gluten?
Gluten is a glue-like protein found naturally occurring in wheat, spelt, kamut, barley, rye and sometimes oats (oats are often contaminated with gluten). Also, keep in mind that white flour is simply refined wheat flour. Gluten is one of the most complex proteins consumed by man. It has very large molecules relative to other food molecules and for this reason it’s difficult for the human digestive system to metabolize.

How do I get tested for celiac disease or gluten sensitivity?
You can ask your doctor for a blood test and/or intestinal biopsy to determine if you have celiac disease. Keep in mind that you could still be gluten sensitive and not have celiac disease. An effective way to identify non-celiac gluten sensitivity is to do an elimination diet. Take gluten completely out of your diet for 7 days (you must be strict with this) and introduce it heavily on the 8th day. If you are symptom free, then you aren’t sensitive to gluten.

How can I benefit from a gluten-free diet?
If you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, it is imperative for your health to eliminate gluten. If you’d like to be gluten-free simply to improve your health, you may experience the following benefits: better cholesterol levels, improved digestion, more energy, clearer thinking and weight loss. These benefits are based on eating gluten-free, whole, natural foods, not packaged “gluten-free foods.” If you don’t have a gluten sensitivity, much of the value of introducing a whole foods, gluten-free diet is coming from improving your diet in general.

How can I reduce or eliminate gluten from my diet?
Below is a list of whole foods that are naturally gluten-free. As I teach my clients, the most important indicator of whether a food is right for you is how your body feels after eating it. No perfect way of eating works for everyone. Listen closely for your body’s messages.

1. All vegetables
2. Gluten-free whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, millet & buckwheat
3. Plant-based protein sources such as beans, tofu, tempeh & nuts
4. Grass-fed animal protein
5. All fruits

There are many delicious ways to prepare the foods listed above. For example, adding flavorful herbs and spices enhance a meal’s overall appeal. If you need inspiration, visit www.wholefoodsmarket.com for natural, gluten-free recipes.

Gradually introducing natural, gluten-free foods is a great way to improve your health. I don’t recommend someone without a gluten sensitivity to make extreme changes in their diet; however, making consistent, wholesome food choices over time is a sustainable way to improve your health.

Your Food Cravings Unlock the Answers

Many people try to use willpower to improve their diet and lose weight. Unfortunately, most people end up failing because it is very difficult to maintain a self-induced willpower over an extended period of time.

Consider a different approach instead. Within your very cravings lie the keys to unlock true success for long-term health and weight loss. Trust and understand that the body is a brilliant machine that needs certain ingredients to run well. If you start to give your body what it needs, you will notice that your cravings will lessen considerably. For example, if you eat too much animal protein, you may start to notice sugar cravings. This is because your body wants to maintain a PH balance of 7.0 and it will continually try to adjust to reach this level. The Chinese philosophy of yin and yang comes into play with cravings. Animal protein is very yang, so you may crave yin foods such as sugar if your body is out of balance. Another example would be if you regularly crave fatty foods like ice cream or fried foods, this could be your body letting you know that you need to introduce more healthy fats into your diet such as nuts and avocados.

Many people get frustrated and feel out of control with their cravings which can lead to negative thinking because they feel they are weak and have no willpower. This is not the case. The body is actually very logical. You just need to know how to work together with it. It helps to simplify nutrition. The key is to get a healthy supply of vitamins and minerals from varied food sources because the body was made to extract nutrients from real food. So the more natural foods you put into your body (whole grains, greens, vegetables, fruit, beans, plant-based protein, naturally raised meats), the less cravings you will experience. Did you read this last sentence and say, “But I don’t LIKE any of these foods!” That’s ok. You can slowly introduce these foods and you will notice that your cravings lessen. Many people are overwhelmed with making changes to their diet. But remember, the reason you eat fast food, processed foods and desserts is because you have an intense craving. If you remove the nutritional reason behind the craving, you will find that you naturally opt for healthier foods.

In addition to learning how to give your body the nutrients it needs, there is another key component to understanding your cravings. Let me share an example. If you have a terrible day at work, do you think you will arrive home and want to eat salmon, brown rice and green beans? I doubt it. You might instead mindlessly eat whatever you have available in the cupboards or refrigerator. So your emotional well being is tied to your cravings. There are four key areas to focus on when you want to reduce your cravings. They are career, exercise, spirituality and relationships. Think about it, if these areas in your life are not going well, you may find that you’re not eating healthy. If you want to be in a relationship and you are single, you may eat an entire sleeve of Girl Scout cookies to get some sweetness in your life. If you hate your job, you may decide to stop off for happy hour instead of going home and eating a good meal. The philosophy of yin and yang also applies to lifestyle. For example, if your day was too yang (too busy and stressful) you are likely to crave yin foods such as alcohol.

Many people want overnight results when it comes to reaching their health goals, but unfortunately this approach rarely creates long-term, healthy habits. Take it slow. Set small, achievable goals and continue to move forward. Health is not a destination — it’s a journey and a lifestyle.

Health Coaching – A New Approach

Would you like to eat natural wholesome foods, but think it takes too much time or money? Worried that a change in the foods you love, will be replaced with bland, tasteless food choices? Many people suffer from these thoughts when contemplating a way to improve their health. Usually, they embark on a short-term solution called a ‘diet’ to lose some weight; but unfortunately, this seldom brings them the long-term results they crave.

Studies show that people increase their success rates when they enlist support to attain their health goals. A Health Coach (aka Holistic Nutrition Counselor) is trained to educate, inspire and support you to achieve your health objectives. A Health Coach listens to understand your background, life challenges and expectations concerning your vision for optimum well being. Then, they formulate a personalized plan that guides you step by step towards healthier food choices and better lifestyle habits. This is important because just as there are no two people alike, there is also no such thing as one “diet” fits all. How many fad “diets” have come and gone?

Another advantage of teaming up with a Health Coach is their ability to create a structure for your success. In addition, you don’t need to spend years studying the proper combinations of foods to maximize nutrition because Nutrition Counselors know and understand how to gently and comfortably step you into these power foods. So over time, these new habits will bring your health goals and lifestyle changes into reality.

One unique approach that the Institute for Integrative Nutrition focuses on is ‘primary food.’ Primary food encompasses: career, exercise, relationships and spirituality. Have you noticed that if one or more of these areas in your life isn’t running smoothly, you are more likely to use food as a coping mechanism? Lifestyle and emotions not only play a significant role in your health, but also your ability to maintain your new eating habits.

Another critical component of mindful eating is fine tuning your life so you really enjoy it instead of using food as an emotional crutch. We’ve all been there. There’s an argument or breakup with a significant other and suddenly an entire sleeve of Girl Scout cookies is gone. Or, your job is no longer satisfying so you’re a regular at the vending machine hoping the diet soda or M&M’s will get you through another day. A Health Coach guides you through these challenges in a way that lessens your reliance on food as a coping mechanism. They can introduce alternatives to food in times of stress.

A Health Coach or Holistic Nutrition Counselor gives you an intimate understanding of food and how to incorporate foods to create high energy and stable moods. You’ll understand ways to combine natural foods to significantly reduce or eliminate cravings. You’ll also discover new ways to manage your emotions which will increase your ability to comfortably maintain your weight.

Another key to a successful health plan is discovering your body’s personal food choices so that they’re enjoyable, flexible and sustainable. A Health Coach can assist you in this process by their approach to balancing not only your foods, but the reasons why you eat what you eat.

Finding the right Health Coach is much like finding the right therapist. Many health coaches will offer a 60-minute complimentary nutrition consultation so you can get a flavor of the work they do. Most have an area or two that they specialize in such as diabetes, celiac disease, emotional eating, etc. Formulate a list of questions that you can easily compare and invite them to share their perspective on your personal requirements.

A Health Coach can take your life to new heights by teaching you how to care for yourself in a loving way through food combined with a healthy lifestyle.