“What are glutens?” I asked my mom – who happens to double as my nutritionist. The year was 2010 and I had just watched Isaiah Mustafa, otherwise known as The Old Spice Guy, make a late night appearance on Jay Leno’s Tonight Show. Jay inquired about Isaiah’s regimen for staying in shape. Isaiah mentioned working out with the famed Tony Horton and he reference the five dieting rules Tony had instructed him to follow. They were as follows:
- Nothing processed (No sweat … I’m already doing that)
- No alcohol (I’m not a big drinker, so that’s no big deal)
- No animal products of any kind (That one’s dicey … I’m a meat-eater)
- No coffee or caffeine (I’d rather die)
- No glutens (??)
Glutens? What are glutens? I fancied myself to be a healthy eater and I had heard the term before but I really didn’t have a clue what glutens were. “It’s a protein found in wheat, rye and barley,” my mom/nutritionist replied. Wait, I thought whole wheat was good for you. Plus, I’m always looking for more protein to build my small, preteen-like frame. So, my pantry was stocked full of whole wheat products: whole wheat bread, whole wheat pancake flour, whole wheat pizza crust, whole wheat tortillas, whole wheat cookies – name a consumable product and I had a whole wheat version of it. Heck, I was receiving weekly thank you notes from the National Association of Wheat Growers. The fact that Tony Horton and the Old Spice Guy made avoiding it a hard and fast rule was puzzling to me. “Are you fatigued, bloated, having frequent head aches, or sinus problems?” my mom/nutritionist asked. As a matter of fact, I was experiencing all of the above. “You should go gluten-free for a few weeks and see if it improves.” Mom obviously knows best, because three weeks later I was a new man.
You may not be counted in the small portion of the population that has a gluten allergy – if you were you’d know it – but, like me, you may just have a gluten sensitivity. If so, then laying off the glutens could lessen your fatigue, bloating, headaches, and sinus problems. If such an experiment interests you, then here are seven tips to get you started:
1. Shop Gluten Free – Most grocery stores stock certified GF products. (As of August, 2014, all products bearing a gluten-free label had to meet the now uniform FDA standards. Learn more here.) Some grocers stock all GF products in one location, while others stock GF products throughout the store. Ask your grocer where you can find certified GF products. Also, search for specialty grocery stores that cater to healthy eaters and people with dietary restrictions.
2. Read the Label – Typically if a product is certified GF, the package will advertise such. However, a product can be free of glutens without being certified GF, so dig a little deeper. Read the ingredients and look for mentions of wheat, barley or rye. You can also check out the allergy information listed just below the ingredients. Here’s where it gets tricky: If the label says that the product is processed in a facility that also processes wheat then it’s probably just subject to cross contamination, which isn’t a huge deal unless you have a gluten allergy. If the label says it contains wheat, then it probably has glutens.
3. Don’t Settle – Once upon a time, gluten-free substitutes were a far cry from the products they were supposedly replacing. However, GF offerings are constantly improving. Not only do I still eat my favorites like pancakes and pizza, I’ve found GF substitutes that I actually enjoy more. Your favorite food has a worthy GF counterpart. Don’t settle until you find it.
4. Beware of Sauces, Marinades, and Dressings – Many of these items contain ingredients or fillers that have wheat. Know the ingredients in your favorite sauces and find worthy substitutes for the ones that have wheat.
5. Eat Whole Foods – When in doubt, stay away from processed foods. Eat fruits, vegetables, nuts, and natural meats that are sure to be free of glutens. Plus, they are generally better for you anyway.
6. Be Vocal – Speak up. I know what it’s like to be the weirdo in the bunch. You don’t want to be perceived as rude or high maintenance. The good news for you is that gluten awareness is at an all-time high. When eating out, ask for a GF menu and be sure to let your server know you are gluten-free. You’ll find most restaurants to be rather accommodating. If you’re a guest in someone’s home, just be discrete in your avoidance of glutens. If there’s the potential for hurting someone’s feelings, well, then maybe you should consider taking one on the chin. I’ve had to do it. Your gut might ache afterwards, but your loved-one’s feelings will not.
7. Be Smart – GF doesn’t mean healthy. In fact, some GF products are higher in calories, fat, and carbohydrates than their gluten-full counterparts. It’s great if you want to go gluten-free, but don’t stop there. Know the ingredients and nutrition facts of the food your eating. And remember, not all gluten-free products are created equally.
Now, I’m not saying gluten is evil. In fact, I admire the men and women across the globe that work hard to grow, harvest, manufacture, distribute, and sell gluten-full products. Most people I discuss this with claim to eat large amounts glutens without experiencing a single side effect. To those iron stomachs, I say keep the gluten industry strong (I want more thank you notes from NAWG). The rest of us will just support a newer industry aimed at freeing us from the discomforts of gluten sensitivity.