Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Getting Rid of the Gluten Gossip – Why Going Gluten Free May or May Not Help Your Training!

What do YOU know about going gluten-free? Is it a healthier way to
eat? Why does it seem whenever I turn my head there are new products
popping up on shelves and different restaurant chains advertising
adamantly that they offer options that are gluten-free?

I’d think most runners out there who know about gluten feel that going
gluten-free would be pretty pointless (unless they have to avoid
gluten for health reasons) simply because much of the foods they eat
to fuel their training comes from wheat products. However, many
runners are also concerned about eating as healthfully as they can.
Often those who go gluten-free claim they’re feeling better because
they’re eating healthier as a result of forgoing gluten. Well, one
doesn’t have to give up wheat to eat healthy. I will do my best to
shed the right light on what seems to be a very confusing topic in the
health arena lately.

So why does anyone even care about gluten in their diet? Celiac’s
disease. Those with Celiac’s have a severe intolerance to wheat. Their stomach
cannot process wheat proteins and suffer a variety of ailments in
varying degrees if they consume wheat products. Usually he
or she suffers from an irritable bowel. The only way for one who has
the disease to stay symptom-free is to avoid gluten. According to the
National Foundation for Celiac Awareness’s web site, “Celiac’s is one
of the most common hereditary autoimmune disorders in the U.S., with
about 1 percent of Americans – that's one out of every 141 people –
suffering from the disorder.”

Having Celiac’s…well…sucks. One who suffers from Celiac’s disease has
to be very careful of any way they could possibly ingest wheat. One
might think that if any food isn’t bread it’s therefore completely
gluten free, and that’s it, it’s that simple. However, it can be much
more complicated than that. According to the Huffington Post article,
“Gluten Free Myths” (May 16, 2013), “Gluten can pop up in surprising
places. While bread, cake, pasta, pizza crust and other wheat-based
foods are obviously full of wheat and therefore gluten, unless
otherwise specified, some surprising foods can also offer a dose of
gluten. As Everyday Health reported, foods like pickles (it's the
brining liquid!), blue cheese and even hot dogs can be inappropriate
for those who eat gluten free. What's more, some medications and
cosmetics use gluten as a binding agent, so it's best to check those
labels as well.” And get this – I was at the dentist recently, and
found out several patients who have Celiac’s disease had asked if the
cleaning solution used on everyone’s teeth at regular appointments has
gluten in it! (Per my hygienist, it does not.) One with Celiac’s has
to live a very careful, aware, and informed life.

As I mentioned earlier, many runners get their energy from foods that
have wheat in them. But, what about a runner with Celiac’s? Can he or
she get the carbs he or she really needs and still avoid gluten?
Absolutely. According to the article, “Good Bye Gluten?” by Liz
Applegate, PhD, in the May 2012 issue of Runner’s World, there’s a
great assortment of carb-heavy foods that are completely wheat-free.
They include the following (along with some advantages of each):
•       AMARANTH – more protein than many grains
•       CORN – easy to digest and provides iron
•       MILLET – contains magnesium which helps energy metabolism
•       OATS – for the most part are gluten-free, however some Celiac’s
can't tolerate the protein it contains
•       POTATOES – full of potassium which boosts circulation
•       QUINOA – has manganese that aids in muscle recovery
•       RICE – contains both iron and B vitamins

Even professional runners who have Celiac’s succeed though their diet
must be gluten-free. Take Amy Begley, two-time U.S. 10K champion, a
Celiac’s sufferer. According to the article, “Fast and Gluten Free” by
Brian Metzler, from the November 2010 issue of Runner’s World, ever
since she was diagnosed with the disease in 2006, she’s had no
problems fueling her workouts on the road. She just has to be
creative…and picky. Both P.F. Chang’s and Outback Steakhouse have
separate gluten-free menus, and many other restaurant chains are
following suit. Sometimes, she just grabs some chili and a baked
potato at Wendy’s. Her favorite bread is Udi’s. Generation UCAN is her
main sports drink. She also works with a nutritionist that helped her
reduce her sugar intake and eat more whole and raw foods. Since eating
this way beginning in 2008, she then went on to win her second U.S.
10K title and PR’d in the 5K with a time of 14:56.72.

It’s outcomes like this along with testimonials from those with
Celiac’s claiming they feel better, healthier, and are even losing
weight after they discover they have Celiac’s and are eating
appropriately for their condition. Does this necessarily mean that
others, who aren’t suffering from Celiac’s, should try going gluten
free, in an effort to eat healthier?

Well, equating going wheat-free with eating healthier overall is
actually one of the biggest myths surrounding the gluten gossip. There
actually is no need to avoid gluten if you don’t need to, and you
still can be eating healthfully. The Huffington Post states that “for
the general population, gluten is not harmful. Forgoing gluten when
you don't have a problem digesting and processing it will not
necessarily help you lose weight or make you healthier. While many
gluten-free foods are our most healthful options (think: fruit,
vegetables, lean proteins), gluten-free diets are not by default
health promoting.” Eating less wheat may mean eating less carbohydrate
products which may mean eating fewer processed foods. However, there
is simply nothing wrong with eating a big fluffy nutty slice of whole
grain bread or some whole wheat pasta. (I do promote whole grains
because they are less processed, contain more nutrients such as fiber
and protein, and fill you up more than their white counterparts).

All in all, gluten itself, i.e. any product with wheat in it, is not
bad for you. Eating any food any food in excess, out of moderation, is
where detriment lies. If one eats more calories than what their body
burns, those extra calories are stored as fat.

So, if you don’t have a gluten sensitivity, there’s no need to go
gluten-free. Be grateful you can still eat bread! I’m even happier now
whenever I sink my teeth into a warm piece of seedy multi-grain bread,
slathered with melting peanut butter and sliced ripe banana!

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