More and more gluten-free products are taking up valuable real estate on grocery and health food store shelves. This is great news for people who suffer from celiac disease and cannot eat foods that contain gluten. But many people who do not have the disease perceive a gluten-free diet as healthier and for that reason, gluten-free diets have become a growing lifestyle trend.
Why Go Gluten Free
This diet excludes all foods that contain gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, malts, and triticale. The G-free up side is that this diet is essential for people with celiac disease or a gluten allergy or sensitivity. By eliminating gluten from the diet, many popular processed snack foods, cookies and cakes that are high in calories and void of nutrients are off limits. Note that opting to drop junk food from your diet alone can make your feel better, but it’s not necessarily because you’ve eliminated gluten.
The Why Nots
Gluten-free alternatives, such as bread and pasta, are considerably more expensive (as much as twice the price) than the conventional versions. Just like with conventional foods though, you need to read product labels. G-free products that on the market can be high in saturated fats or cholesterol and low in nutrients too. Following a gluten-free regimen is not something that can be done casually. It requires constant attention to ingredients in everything you eat, even soy sauce, and requires medical nutritional counseling.
Gluten Free and Fitness
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye as well as whole grains related to wheat, such as bulgur, spelt, triticale (a hybrid of wheat and rye), kamut, and farro. Some celiac disease experts also suggest avoiding oats. By adopting a diet void of gluten, you eliminate most breads, crackers, breakfast cereals, and conventional pastas.
Gluten-free foods may also be less easy to access although gluten-free products and menus are becoming more readily available. Many G-free products are not fortified or enriched with nutrients, such as fiber, B vitamins, calcium, zinc, magnesium, and iron (risking anemia).
Meeting the dietary guidelines is difficult when you eliminate a whole category of foods (gluten-free complex carbohydrates). The vitamins and minerals that complex carbs contain are essential for enhancing athletic performance and exercise recovery. The micronutrients and the glucose released into your bloodstream when these carbohydrates break down are essential for proper muscle function, replenishing glycogen stores, and increasing aerobic capacity.
65% to 70% of an athlete’s pre-event glucose should come from complex carbohydrates, so a diet that requires starch and fiber (such as in breads and pastas) but no gluten, can be challenging. Also, whole grain foods have been shown to help lower risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some forms of cancer.
A gluten-free diet must be carefully planned and monitored to avoid nutritional deficiencies. It is especially important to pay attention to what you eat if you exercise. Going G-free when you don’t have celiac disease can be costly, affect your exercise capacity, and increase your risk for other diseases.