In my continuing quest to discover what “ultimate health” is all about and maybe see if I could shed a few pounds in the process, I recently tried a gluten-free period of eating. This meant that I ate no gluten-containing food stuffs such as wheat, barley and rye for 3 weeks. I was led to try this after having listened to many of ‘The Thyroid Sessions‘ webinars, where experts came together to discuss thyroid health and the various ways in which people suffering from thyroid disorders can help themselves. One of these such discussions claimed that (don’t quote me on exact numbers, this was the general gist of it) around 90% of people with thyroid issues also have some form of gluten sensitivity. That fact hit me right in the neck (the neck – where the thyroid is located – get it?!). If you’re not aware of my situation, I have an under-active thyroid, I was diagnosed with it around 6 years ago. So what I wondered was – could this claim mean that I may possibly improve my thyroid health, thereby reducing the amount of drugs I take for it? Maybe it would help me lose those last few pounds that refuse to leave my body? It was worth a shot.
As my trial of eating a gluten-free diet began, I switched my regular morning oats for either quinoa with blueberries or for gluten-free muesli. No problem there, easy peasy, and the best bit was that I realised that the quinoa breakfast actually filled me up for way longer than my old breakfast of porridge (oats are not themselves gluten-containing but most oats you buy CAN be cross-contaminated by other crops or at the factory so you need to buy gluten-free oats if you wish to continue with porridge). Another change I made was not having any bread, as this is made from wheat flour. This was not so much of a problem for me as I don’t eat bread more than once a week anyway. For lunch I would have an enormous salad with greens, chopped veg, salmon and quinoa, or maybe a chicken breast with 3 different veggies on the side. Following that I would have a small portion of fruit, to satisfy my sweet tooth and save myself from ‘needing’ my usual afternoon cup of Options Hot Chocolate. In the evening I would make a nice steak with garlic sautéed veggies, or a turkey/minced beef chilli with brown rice, or a chicken & lentil curry. And if was hungry between meals I just grabbed an apple with a little cashew or almond butter. Any whole foods that didn’t contain gluten were a go for my trial.
As I began, I steadily lost 0.2-0.4 lbs most days, which was nice to see on the scales. The loss seemed to stick at around 2 lbs though, so I did begin to question whether I had 2 lbs of extra inflammation (water weight) that cutting out gluten had help me lose, or whether actually I’d just been eating REALLY well and had naturally levelled out at a slightly lower weight. I hadn’t had any bread or the odd extra biscuit or piece of chocolate for a couple of weeks, so was the loss anything to do with gluten or just the fact that I was watching what I ate much more closely?
After the trial period of 3 weeks ended, I reintroduced gluten again – in fact I ate bread three times in one day, just to make a point, so I could watch what happened. And this is what happened….
I didn’t get bloated, sore, swollen or indeed any heavier, and after having had gluten-containing food items for the next few days I was convinced I did NOT have sensitivity to gluten. I understand that there are other reasons to go gluten-free if you have thyroid issues, and there are DOZENS of other things you could also do to help with thyroid issues, too many to go into here. A book I bought, as a consequence of listening to the experts at The Thyroid Sessions was “The Hormone Cure” by Dr. Sara Gottfried. I can recommend this if you want to read further on women’s hormonal issues (in particular it deals with thyroid issues). There are lots of quizzes to assess your own individual set of hormonal problems and sections to show you how to fix these.
You might think that is a natural place to end this post, but I want to explore what happens to people when they go gluten-free. The concept is becoming increasingly popular, with many top-selling diet books based around the principle of eliminating gluten from the diet, and there are an increasing number of research claims to prove that eating grains is not great for your health. So how can it go so wrong for some people?
For most, giving up bread, pasta, cakes, biscuits and many other gluten-containing foods sounds like a nightmare, but if people want to try this lifestyle they have to do it. What happens next is often the problem though. For years they’ve enjoyed a biscuit with a cup of tea, pasta salads for lunch, toast for breakfast, cakes on the weekend, take away pizza for a quick dinner – what now? What happens is they try to replace their old favourites with new, gluten-free products. Gluten-free means no wheat flour but as we know, wheat flour is just THE best thing to use for baked goods. Gluten-free flours are not so good at giving the texture or flavour we’re used to in a bread, cakes or pastries and there are few ready-made gluten-free options available at the supermarkets. So, instead of the biscuits and cakes, people visit gluten-free websites in search of home-baking ideas that will still fulfil their sweet tooth. And herein lies the problem. Gluten-free means taking something out of the diet. What must replace it is some other form of flour – often rice or tapioca flour are used – not a problem AT ALL in itself, but what is also contained in many of these recipes is unfortunately great quantities of sugar or fat or (even worse) BOTH! There are numerous gluten-free baking sites scattered in cyber space, some very good and many full of delicious, healthy, balanced meals. But people are suckers for a pretty-looking cake with the promise of it being a taste sensation. “You’ll never know it’s gluten free!”, they exclaim. And you probably won’t, because instead of the item containing the one thing that you MAY be sensitive to, they’ve usually replaced it with a whole load of other ingredients, plus sugars and/or fats, to make them look and taste so damn good. And you just fell for it. And now you wonder why this gluten-free diet is only making you fatter. You feel worse then you did before. Your confidence takes another nose dive. You think you’re a medical miracle because NOTHING works! You then give up on it, claiming that you must NEED gluten in your life as you were better off before! It sounds ridiculous but it can happen this way if you’re not clued up as to what a balanced diet looks like. Clue: it doesn’t involve cakes every day of your life, even if they ARE gluten-free!
So is going gluten-free the answer? Yes AND no. To many people it really IS the answer they’ve been looking for, to rid themselves of ailments and diseases related to inflammatory conditions that may have plagued them for years. But for others, they will miss the point completely and although going gluten-free COULD have been the answer, they didn’t treat it in the right manner by considering their diet as a whole in order to make it work. Going gluten-free should be just what it says in the name. GLUTEN-FREE …NOT… MANY-THINGS-ADDED-INSTEAD.
So please think about the ingredients you are using if you find these “amazingly tasty” gluten-free items you wish to make, they might not be as good for you as you would hope.
Gluten-Free? YES. Free? NO!
Hope this provoked a few thoughts in some of you. If you have any questions about thyroid issues or going gluten-free please comment below. I’m NOT a medical expert, I am trained in nutrition only, but I will help if I can or point you in the direction of someone else who may be able to 🙂
Have a great weekend!