Several years ago, I watched a friend of mine attempt to go gluten free. She'd read it was good for her and that she might shed a few pounds. She'd call to ask if rice, potatoes and quinoa were gluten-free. (They are.)
Her new diet consisted of gluten-free cereal, gluten-free bread, and gluten-free pasta. This was not too different from her previous diet—she'd simply replaced the gluten-containing foods with gluten-free foods. She struggled. She didn't feel any better. She didn't lose any weight. And, she spent more money. (Those gluten-free products are expensive!)
My friend was under the spell of the gluten-free fad. Lucky for her, she stopped it pretty quickly. Gluten-free products are often more blood-sugar disrupting than the products they're intended to replace. Gluten is a protein and protein slows the glycemic response. Without the protein, her blood sugar was shooting up faster than drinking a can of soda.
Does that mean she should continue eating gluten? No. Gluten is a large molecule, which is very abrasive to the lining of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. No human can digest it. Every time you consume foods with gluten such as flour, oats, barley or rye, you're at risk of damaging the lining of the GI tract. The more gluten you eat, the greater the risk. Once the lining has been damaged, you set yourself up for intestinal permeability and this can lead to food sensitivities, eczema, brain fog, depression, and autoimmune conditions like Hashimoto's.
To receive the benefit from eating a gluten-free diet, you want to remove gluten AND add in plant-based foods. While avoiding gluten is important, it's only part of the picture. What you put in your mouth is equally as important. Remind yourself of this: what you eat speaks to your cells, including your genes. If you eat dead processed food, that's how you'll feel. If you eat vibrant food, that's how you'll feel. You make the choice.
To help you feel vibrant and alive, I'm sharing a gluten-free menu that I might devise for one of my clients. As most of the population is on a diet (or cheating on one), this is constructed to help drop a few pounds. If you don't want to lose weight, add one cup of legumes like chickpeas, lentils, black beans, white beans to lunch and dinner. If you're vegan, replace the protein with your preferred protein source.
The Gluten-Free Plan
Breakfast: Green smoothie made with avocado, coconut water, almond milk, greens, lime and cinnamon. For the recipe, click here.
Lunch: Marinated kale salad with hemp seeds, grated carrots, grated beets and your choice of protein (wild salmon, organic chicken, organic eggs, grass-fed beef etc)
Snack: Flax crackers with avocado
Dinner: Sea bass over sautéed leeks topped with lemon zest and olive oil
Snack: Warmed almond milk with a hint of cinnamon
Breakfast: Chia seed pudding topped with blueberries and coconut flakes
Lunch: Bibb lettuce salad with radish, avocado, snow peas, grilled asparagus drizzled in olive oil and two organic eggs
Snack: Pear with tahini
Dinner: Organic chicken and vegetable soup with quinoa and topped with harrissa
Snack: Raspberry and almond milk smoothie
If you've attempted to go gluten-free and didn't enjoy the experience, try the above meals to see if it makes a difference.
Dana James is a Columbia University–educated nutritional therapist and founder of Food Coach NYC. She holds her master's in clinical nutrition and is trained in nutrition biochemistry, functional medicine, and cognitive behavioral therapy. She believes that food should be viewed as nourishing, joyful, and fundamental to self-care. Her goal is to help women break their antagonist (and often obsessive) relationship with food and their bodies. She believes that true beauty stems from grace, dignity, and embracing our idiosyncrasies that make us unique and imperfect.
James created the "How to Ditch Sugar" video series for mindbodygreen. Check out the program here: How to Ditch Sugar.
James coaches one on one, runs workshops in NYC and LA, and holds tele-seminars on various topics that help women lead a more beautiful and balanced life. To connect more with James, check out her Instagram account and sign up for her biweekly Sunday-evening emails.