What Does it Mean to Go Gluten-Free?

Photo by khloe arledge on Unsplash

As a fitness fanatic, you know that what you eat is just as important as making it to your next hot yoga class. With so much information out there, it’s easy to get confused about what you should eat at times, and what to look for on sneaky labels.

From special menus at restaurants, to gluten-free cookies and gluten-free beer and wine, you cannot go anywhere these days without seeing those words splashed all over everything. We bet you have at least one friend who has tried going gluten-free in the past few years.

Much like the fat-free trend of the 90s, the words “gluten free” now have a health halo effect making even people that don’t know what gluten is (Thanks Jimmy Kimmel!) avoid it at any cost.

So what’s a health-conscious girl to do when browsing for their next good-for-you snack? Get the skinny (pun intended) on what going gluten free really means.

What is gluten?

Think plain and simple: gluten is a protein found in certain grains like wheat, rye and barley.

Gluten is like the office hook-up that went awry. You know that mistake you made after the holiday party that now stops by your desk just to say hi and always seems to be in the break room when you walk in? Yeah, gluten is that guy and it’s everywhere whether you realize it or not.

If you take a look at the ingredients in packaged foods, you’ll most likely see wheat in some form or another. Soy sauce? Check! Soup? Check! Salad dressing? Check! A burger sans the bun? Surprise! Some restaurants add breadcrumbs to their burgers to bulk it up.

Who should go gluten free?

About 1 in 100 Americans have celiac disease, which causes damage in the small intestines when gluten is ingested. If untreated, it can cause a slew of problems like anemia, rashes, infertility and diabetes. If you think you have celiac disease, get tested by your doctor. It may be a wheat intolerance and doesn’t mean you have to swear off gluten completely, but consume in smaller quantities. 

Common myths about going gluten free.

These are all things that simply aren’t true about going gluten-free: The pounds will melt off. Gluten-free products are healthier than their gluten filled counter parts. Your weight, headaches and acne are ALL gluten’s fault. Anyone can benefit from ditching gluten.

What are the benefits of going gluten free?

Sorry to burst your health bubble, but unless you do have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, there isn’t really a benefit for a regular, fit, individual to go gluten free. I know, I know, but “I feel better if I avoid gluten” you say or “My friend lost a ton of weight going gluten-free.” There are many factors that can be attributed to those side effects. Many people avoiding gluten are opting for whole foods like fruits and veggies versus bread and pasta. Processed foods also contain things like preservatives and chemicals; many of which we still don’t have enough research on to determine the effects on our bodies.

Is going gluten free for you?

Again, if you think you are affected by gluten, see your doctor stat (and avoid using WEBMD to self-diagnose). Don’t be fooled by the buzz words on packaging from those clever marketing gurus. Not only are many foods naturally gluten free and always have been, but others are chock-full of fillers and have just as many, if not more calories and fat as regular ones do. Also, when you completely eliminate certain foods from your diet, because of one thing in it, you potentially risk missing out on the benefits of vitamins, minerals and fiber. 

Your health is your choice – but be smart about your choice to go gluten-free just to lose weight. There are other ways to get in shape (Classes! Veggies! Oh My!), instead of making a drastic change to your lifestyle. 

Joanna Tong works as a marketing professional for a non-profit in Boston. Her passion for boot camp workouts, suspension training, and mastering the hand stand is matched by her love of food and belief that you should always apologize for things said when hangry.