“Extra gluten for me!”, is what a buddy of mine said to our waiter recently while out to eat after I asked the waiter about gluten free options. My buddy likes to make fun of me because of my gluten free diet. I have thick skin, so I wasn’t remotely offended, but I often find myself annoyed at the misconceptions of gluten free diets.
In particular, there are two major misconceptions about gluten free diets to address.
The first misconception is that gluten free diets are a choice. Because the gluten intolerant and celiac sufferers won’t keel over and die after eating something with gluten in it, people tend to take the ailment less seriously. The peanut gets much more respect than gluten because that is an allergy that can kill you. Indeed, I doubt my buddy would say “Extra peanuts for me!” if I had a lethal peanut allergy.
Let me set the record straight – being gluten free generally sucks. Most people on gluten free diets do it because they feel better by being gluten free…the benefits of the diet outweigh the cost of avoiding delicious food. The symptoms from gluten, if any, vary wildly by person so choosing to avoid gluten is a tough choice for many. I would still eat gluten if I only had a little indigestion.
When I (reluctantly) first went gluten free my fatigue went away, I lost 12 pounds of bloat weight in seven days, and I had “anti-headache” for about 3 months. “Anti-headache” is a phrase of my own creation…I had been living with a constant headache for years and had become used to it to the point that it was just part of life and how I felt every day. When that perma-headache suddenly vanished, I had a sort of ringing clarity in my head for a while until I got used to living without a constant headache.
So is being gluten free a choice? The answer is “no”…most people make the sacrifice to avoid the consequences. There are some folks who choose a gluten free diet because they think it is a healthy diet, and this is my second bone to pick.
The second major misconception about the gluten free diet is that it is a healthier diet. It’s not a healthier diet. There are gluten free substitutes for almost everything at this point and the gluten free substitute ingredients are not better for you than the regular ingredients. The substitutes are usually full of starch and Xanthan gum.
However, there is some healthy magic with a gluten free diet. I call it the “Paradoxical Upward Spiral of Healthiness” that happens with a gluten free diet. As I already mentioned, eating the GF substitute food won’t make you healthier (symptoms aside). What happens is that eventually you will find yourself eating better because you have limited options every time you need to eat away from home. Sure, you would love the BBQ Cheeseburger with onion rings, but that is not a gluten free choice, so you navigate the menu to come up with a GF meal, which is often limited to a salad, no croutons, with a chicken breast or maybe you choose the burger on a bed of lettuce with no bun and a baked potato…and these food choices are healthier.
I think that healthy eating is really all about your habits…so when you commit to be gluten free, you are often limiting yourself to certain foods on the menu and those foods are generally more healthy for you than what you might normally eat. Pretty soon you realize that the GF alternatives taste pretty good, you know how to spice them up, and over time these healthier alternatives become your go-to – you don’t even think about the chicken parmesan and you go right for the salad selections. Change your habit to healthier foods and you will get healthier. So, in a roundabout way, the GF diet does result in you being more healthy.
This second misconception has led to some people to choose a gluten free diet in the absence of any symptoms in the belief that it will keep their weight down like a Paleo or Caveman diet. It is this small group of people that has led to the labeling the gluten free diet as a fad and is resulting in people giving their buddies a hard time about needing to be gluten free.
At the Bluebird, we have a deep understanding of gluten free diets and we cater to those diets. All of our famous quiche is gluten free. Our of sandwiches are all available on gluten free bread, and we offer several home-made gluten free pastries, which are rare for us GF folks.