Gluten Free Fitness

Health

Gluten Free “Diet” vs. Gluten free Lifestyle

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Living gluten free has received quite a bit of mainstream press lately. The Dr. Oz feature of course comes to mind, and there was a 12 page special report in USA today in November, and numerous other articles in publications including the NY Times.

With the rising awareness of a gluten free “diet” comes increased numbers of people trying the “diet.” Here’s the reason I am adding quotations every time I use the word diet here. There’s a method to the madness, I promise.

“Diet” as per Dictionary.com has several different meanings and uses. It can be used as a noun, a verb, or an adjective:

  1. Food and drink considered in terms of its qualities, composition, and its effects on health
  2. A particular selection of food, esp. as designed or prescribed to improve a person’s physical condition or to prevent or treat a disease
  3. Such a selection or a limitation on the amount a person eats for reducing weight
  4. To select or limit the food one eats to improve one’s physical condition or to lose weight

This is only a small selection of the 10 potential meanings.

Gluten free and weight loss?

You can see how this one little word has multiple conotations associated with it. Most people associate the word “diet” with the 3rd definition, from my experience. A lifestyle approach to diet would be definition #1. With the media exposure of the gluten free diet, there are some who are associating the gluten free diet with a weight loss diet.

Not so fast, buttercup. This is not necessarily the case. Any method of eating can be a weight/fat loss diet. It depends on activity level, what you eat, but most importantly how much you eat. Can you gain weight on a gluten free diet? Hells yeah. You can lose it too. You can gain/lose weight eating anything. The laws of thermodynamics do not change.

Popular diets

Let’s take a very quick and admittedly non-complete look at some popular “diets.”

  • Atkins: Taken in it’s purest form, the idea of eating meats and vegetables, and fats only. Excludes a complete food group.
  • South Beach: A balanced diet including all food groups eventually, but in their whole forms.

At their inception, people by and large did quite well using these methods of eating, provided their daily caloric intake was less than their daily expenditure. Then, there was the advent of the Atkins bars, and pancakes, and the South Beach cereal, and more bars, etc and so on. These foods made it easier for people to consume more calories. It’s much easier and quicker to eat several to many hundred calories worth of a nutrition bar than of chicken and broccoli. The satiety (fullness) factor is less, so more is eaten. And guess what? No more fat/weight loss.

The gluten free “diet” in it’s purest form is a very healthful diet, and can certainly aid in controlling calorie intake.

Peter Bronski just did a blog post (here is his Gluten Free Athlete profile) on a brochure he found at his local market.

Check this out:

  • Eat more non-processed foods.
  • Eat an abundance of fresh vegetables and fruit.
  • Eat a serving of beans or legumes and nuts daily.
  • Eat fish twice a week, especially wild salmon.
  • Pay attention to your calcium and vitamin D intake to maintain healthy bones.
  • Choose lean poultry and meats as well as low-fat dairy products.
  • Balance the food that you eat with daily physical activity.

Sounds like an awfully nutritious way to live to me.

Getting into trouble

Where we can get into trouble is just like in any other “diet.” The gluten free cookies, candies, cereals-these are items where it is very easy to overeat calorie wise.

So when people ask me if they can lose weight on a gluten free diet, the answer is yes. It’s not rocket surgery. You can lose weight eating Burger King if you keep your calories where they need to be. (I DO NOT recommend that-it’s just an illustration.)

Does this mean that everyone should go on a gluten free diet?

Heck no. For those with celiac disease and gluten intolerance, living gluten free is not an option, it’s a necessity. And you can choose to eat gluten free in whatever manner you wish. For those with celiac disease and gluten intolerance, this is not just a “diet.”

It’s a lifestyle, and a medical necessity. It’s a way of life and a way of living. It’s extremely important that manufacturers and restaurants understand the medical implications of the gluten free distinction and follow good practices, not just jump on the gluten free bandwagon.

There are those have not been diagnosed with gluten intolerance or celiac disease who choose to live gluten free. They may be part of the many who are undiagnosed. It may be a personal decision. Honestly, the description provided by the brochure above would be a beneficial way for most people to eat.

Bottom line-there is no “magic” in a gluten free diet. If by going gluten free you cut out processed carbs, then by default your calorie intake may drop, which will cause weight loss if your activity stays the same. It’s not magic. It’s math.

What are your thoughts? Have you experienced people asking you about a gluten free diet? Speak your mind in the comments below!

Follow up on Nutrient Absorption and Importance of Vitamins in Celiacs

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You may have read my previous post on common nutritional deficiencies found in individuals with celiac disease. If not, go read it here.

Today I read a post by Mike at the Gluten Free Blog about the positive benefits of supplementing with the nutrients that are commonly lacking-Vitamin B6, B12 and folate. Specifically what they examined was the effect of these nutrients on homocysteine levels. High levels of homocysteine are correlated with risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Regular B Vitamin supplementation appeared to have a positive effect. It certainly appears to be something worth looking into.

To read the full post on the Gluten Free Blog, click here.

Common nutrient absorption issues with celiac and what to do about it

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As we all are far too familiar with, celiac disease can present some challenges with absorbing nutrients from our foods.

Villi

Prior to being diagnosed, the inflammation and damage in the small intestine can cause food to “run right through us” so to speak, and even when that doesn’t happen those little villi aren’t up to par. (Which makes me think-those of use with intestinal issues are certainly a but more familiar with anatomy than the average person, aren’t we?

Villi to anyone else may sound like a shape of pasta-but I digress.) And just in case you are not familiar with the word “villi”, it’s not a pasta or a grape varietal, they are the little finger-like projections that stick out from the walls of the small intestine, sucking up the good stuff-nutrients, vitamins, minerals, etc.

When the lovely little villi get mad at us if we eat what they consider to be the wrong thing, they don’t work so well.

They get riled up and inflamed, and then they don’t do a good job absorbing the good stuff anymore. Over time they can also get smaller (“villous atrophy”, anyone-prior to that are “flattened villi”) and then there’s even less surface area to absorb the good stuff. This continues on as long as the irritant is ingested-in this case, gluten.

The good news

The good news is that the gut can heal to a large extent as long as gluten is not ingested-the irritant is removed and healing can begin. Some of us as are very fortunate and are diagnosed quickly, before too much permanent damage has been done. Others who have suffered through a lengthy diagnosing/mis diagnosing process have a bit more of an intestinal structural challenge when it comes to absorbing properly.

This impaired ability to absorb nutrients can create several issues, of which I’m going to touch on just a few, and lump some together as well. A good idea is to get tested for baseline levels of these items by your doctor (the ones that can be tested for,) generally a simple blood test will do the trick and give you a starting point.

1) Overall lack of nutrient absorption can cause weight loss while undiagnosed.

This is not a good thing. Conversely, after being diagnosed people may find they gain weight. Up to a normal weight this is a good thing, and necessary if an individual has been malnourished due to lack of nutrients. Weight gain after diagnosis is not uncommon, and something I will be touching on in greater depth in another article.

2) Essential fatty acids-Omega 3 and 6’s.

They are all over the media lately, so you’ve probably heard of them. In general, we get enough Omega 6’s from everyday stuff. However, unless you eat a lot of fish, you may want to actively get more Omega 3’s in your diet. Fatty fish like wild salmon are great sources. You can also get some vegetarian sources from walnuts, pumpkin seeds and flax. I also supplement with a fish oil. A TBSP a day of Carlson Fish Oil covers me, and really isn’t bad at all, I promise. Pour into a measuring spoon and just slam it.

3) Vitamin D, Calcium and Magnesium.

I lumped these together because they are all important for bone health. At age 30 I was diagnosed with osteopenia, and here I am an athlete who lifts weights! Bone health is a huge issue for celiacs in general, especially the females amongst us. Calcium is obviously in dairy, but that doesn’t help the casein intolerant, does it?

Food sources of calcium: spinach, greens, (turnip, mustard, collard, kale) broccoli, molasses, squash, cabbage

Food sources of magnesium: pumpkin seeds, brazil nuts, halibut, spinach (see a pattern…) beans, artichokes

Food sources of Vitamin D: cod liver oil, salmon, milk. Other dairy products are generally NOT fortified with D.

Even with all this, in regards to Vitamin D that’s more than likely not going to get you enough. And I’m sure you’ve heard about how Vitamin D is the “sunshine vitamin” which we don’t produce enough due to our largely indoor-dwelling and sunscreen-wearing lives. I supplement with all 3-calcium, magnesium and Vitamin D in pill form.

The The Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine has established 2000 IU as generally safe for adults. There’s also a lot of talk about the RDA for Vitamin D being raised significantly. There are also many anecdotal reports of much larger doses being used without adverse affect.

I say, do your research and read, then make an informed personal decision. My personal decision involves 2000 IU of Vitamin D, plus the amounts in my multivitamin, Cal/Mag supplement, and limited sunshine from walking the dog.

4) Iron.

There are 2 types of iron: heme and non heme. According to the McKinley Illinois website:

HEME iron is found only in meat, fish and poultry and is absorbed much more easily than NON-HEME iron, which is found primarily in fruits, vegetables, dried beans, and nuts.

The absorption of non heme foods can be enhanced by eating it with a Vitmain C source (such as citrus fruit, strawberries, red bell pepper) or by being cooked in a cast iron skillet.

Heme iron sources: liver (you knew that was coming, didn’t you?), beef, chicken, pork, salmon, tuna, turkey

Non-heme sources: almonds, apricots, beans, molasses, rice, broccoli

This just begins to scratch the surface. I always take a multivitamin/mineral to cover my nutritional bases. I think a digestive enzyme supplement and pro/prebiotics could also be helpful to assist in maximizing nutrient uptake.

Did you notice any patterns in the lists of recommended foods? Green leafy veggies, lean protein sources, healthy fats in the form of nuts and fatty fish, high fiber food like beans and the veggies again….sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

Go forth and absorb!!


References:
www.mayoclinic.com
www.health.gov
www.mckinley.illinois.edu