Saturday, June 7, 2014

Why gluten free (or grain free, or low carb) is not for me

This post has been sitting in the bottom of my stomach for months. I'll randomly think about it, but I haven't had time to get it down on paper. I haven't had time to get any of my un-processed adventures on the blog either, but this post needs to come out of me. I'll compose sections of it in my head, and hope I can find the same wording when it comes time. I can't promise verbal eloquence, but hopefully I'll get my message across.

I'm going to start by giving a shout out to all of those with Celiacs disease. You are all warriors in my mind. You have to watch everything you eat, everywhere. People with Celiacs disease can NOT eat gluten. They can't drink wheat beers, wheat alcohols, and of course every human delicacy made with wheat. Not because they think it'll make them fat, tired, and stupid. Because they have a severe reaction to it. Celiacs is a DISEASE that should not be taken lightly. I'm so glad that for those that have it, they have discovered it and altered their lifestyles accordingly.

Going gluten free, or all out grain-free, is a common trend these days. Folks have claimed that they feel better, perform better, and all things that ail them have gotten better since giving up gluten. The Paleo diet is a hot search topic everywhere.

Here is why a gluten free/grain free/Paleo diet is NOT for me, and probably why it isn't for you either.



1) I tried it. I didn't like it. 

Yes, I too wanted in on this "extra energy" and full body performance the paleo diet seemed to promise people. I figured I would try it for a while just to see if it was worth the effort. It couldn't hurt, right? I don't have many food sensitivities beyond bananas and cilantro, so I figured I'd just see what the hype was about. I wanted to get off the sugar train too. I love sugar. After the holidays, I needed to cut it out for a while. This is nothing new to me. I know that sometimes, I just need to hold the sweets.

The first few days, I did get a headache from the lack of carbs, but this was nothing new to me. My body always goes through withdrawal if I change something abruptly. It generally goes away after a few days and I start to feel better again. After a few days of eating "Paleo", I did feel better, but not great. I just felt kind of normal.

Then something I didn't expect - I started to feel worse. I was tired. I was slow. I was eating lots of veggies, fruits, grass fed meats, nuts, and healthy oils. I talked to a friend also trying to cut out grains and she said that it can take over a month for your body to adjust. OK. I guess I'd give it some more time.

Well, 5 weeks went by, and I wasn't feeling any better. My workouts were weak. I didn't feel great. I did lose a few pounds but it was probably because I wasn't eating sugary baked goods like I was over the holidays. My brain was foggy. I would randomly get dizzy. I decided that maybe this wasn't for me.

I added grains back into my diet. Whole grains, as usual. Holy cow. I felt FANTASTIC almost immediately. I didn't gorge myself on it either. Just a piece of whole wheat bread with my lunch. I felt like angels were lifting me around my house helping me handle the kids, housework, and everything else. I slowly started to add grains back in, and suddenly, I was myself again. My mind started to clear  (as much as Mommy brain clears), I increased my 5K time by 4 minutes, and I was able to do more sets of my weighted workouts in my living room.

What this showed me was that maybe some people function well on a limited diet. However, not me. I think I function best with everything in my diet. I don't think it is good to eat high concentrations of anything, and if you cut one thing out, something else is going to be consumed more. Sure, almonds are healthy. That doesn't mean you should go eating as many as you can.

2) Just because something it "Paleo" doesn't mean it is healthy and can be eaten in abundance. 

Oh, its sweetened with honey? Perfect! I'll take 3! It is made with coconut oil? That is like a vitamin! Pile it on! Umm...no. Well, yes, because I'm a glutton, and enjoy yummy things, but I'll eat them the same way I eat any sweet. Just because something is "Paleo" or "low carb" doesn't mean its a free pass. Paleo foods are nutrient-dense for sure, but that also means they are loaded with calories. I am person that really likes volume when it comes to food. I like to eat LOTS of food. I don't have the control to eat small portions of things. I think you need that control to go on a low-carb, high fat and protein diet. It has been shown time and time again that while honey and maple syrup are less processed and come from nature, they effect your body the SAME way as sugar. You aren't getting away with anything by using these sweeteners. Now, I do prefer them over sugar most of the time. Why? Because I can get them locally, that's why. And they taste great. Local foods trump processed foods any day in my book. If they were growing organic sugar cane next door would I use it...you bet!!

So, just because it doesn't have wheat, doesn't mean it is healthy. A lot of gluten free foods use refined rice flour, or starches like tapioca that have very little nutrients. I consider them even worse than sugar, because they are so processed. Gluten free does not mean it is healthy for you. Food companies can smell a food trend from miles away and will label products as gluten free to jump on the wagon. People eat that up. People fall for it all the time. Food corporations want one thing: more money. They don't care if they are selling you a healthy product or what happens to you as a result of your eating their product. If you will pay for it, they will sell it.

Also, a note on Agave nectar: http://blog.doctoroz.com/dr-oz-blog/agave-why-we-were-wrong

3) Food culture

I am a foodie. I love gourmet food. My husband teases me for how much time I spend in the kitchen creating things. I make restaurant-style meals for our family when I cook. I love trying new things. I see food as not only eating to keep us alive and get us through the day. I see recipe books handed down from generation to generation. I see family gatherings in kitchens making meals for holidays and celebrations. I see my great-grandmother making scones and biscuits from scratch. I see people enjoying food, enjoying being together, and celebrating life. Food has been the center of our culture, and many cultures, for centuries. When I make food, I want it to be fresh, healthy, and nurturing. I also want it to be comforting, warming, and make people happy. Give me the option between a artisan loaf of french bread with a perfectly crispy crust and soft, risen interior and a piece of processed, 50-calorie sponge that claims to be "healthy" and you can guess which one I'm going to chose.

My point is, food culture is important to me. I make my grandmother's shortbread cookies and Irish soda bread and relish the fact that I got these things from her. I feel like I got a lot of things from her, but these are tangible, edible pieces of the past. My great-grandmother lived until she was 102, and I'll be damned if she didn't spread real butter on her bread until the day she died. Unless a doctor tells me I'm going to die from eating a shortbread cookie, there is no way I'm giving those up. It is a part of me.

4) A "diet" is a lifestyle, not something that should be used to get healthy or lose weight and then forgotten. 

I get the impression that a lot of people go gluten free or Paleo to try to fix something. To lose weight, to gain energy, to get rid of their acne. Whatever. The problem is, if you are going to eat that way, you have to eat that way for LIFE. LIFE is forever!! That 's a really long time, you know?! If you are going to make a diet for yourself, it has to be something you can stick with forever. I am not OK with never having a piece of birthday cake, food served at a party, or any other food that is considered "off limits" for the rest of my life. In fact, sometimes I like daily treats! I think it is incredibly dangerous to say you'll never eat one food again for the rest of your life for one reason or another. I would just be asking for trouble. Don't get me wrong, some people function well that way. And for people with food allergies and diseases, they HAVE to give them up. But I don't have to. So why would I? If gluten and sugar are going to take years off my life, I think more years would be taken off by the stress accumulated from giving up those foods. I chose to not eat processed foods most of the time. However, if my friend puts out crackers for a party or orders a pizza for dinner....you bet your bottom I'm eating it. Lots of it. And enjoying it. Guilt is the pits, you know.

5) I. Love. Grain. 

And everything made with it. Mostly bread. Seriously, I just can't imagine living without it! Pasta I can do without. I can even do without cake, cookies, and crackers. I can make do. But a piece of bread to soak up the juices from my dinner, or to slather with butter, or to make a PB&J? I just don't want to delete that from my life. I just get too much pleasure from it. Life isn't really worth living without joy, correct? Bread brings me joy. GOOD bread brings me joy. Making it brings me joy. That in itself is enough.


There it is in a very large nutshell. I could go on and on, but I think I've made my point. Perhaps gluten free/grain free/low carb diets are for some, but they aren't for me. I do avoid certain foods. I have PCOS, and avoid soy, rice, and processed foods. We all have to act accordingly to how we respond to the food we eat. Jumping on the latest trend boat may not be what is right for everyone.


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