Hope I’m not sounding like a broken record here, but I wanted to share some recent experiences with sugar intake that might save some of you from needlessly depriving yourselves of grain products. Many if not most people who think that going gluten-free is going to make them healthier are buying into a false premise. This is not to say, and I want to emphasize this point, that there isn’t real gluten intolerance, with the most extreme of course being full-blown celiac disease. But most of us need to cut out sugar, not gluten.
(As I’ve mentioned before, there is some question in the medical community about the reality of non-celiac gluten intolerance, but we’ll leave that aside for now.) If you say, “Every time I eat something with gluten I get bloated and uncomfortable. Ergo, ipso facto, I am gluten intolerant and must now avoid all gluten-containing grain products,” you may be veering unnecessarily into a difficult, expensive, and ultimately less healthful diet.
So, a little bout of confession here. Last week I did a massive freezer cleanout/organization, putting items into bins according to type of food, and lo and behold—in the midst of the chaos there was a ziploc bag with six or seven of my signature Tiny Tim Cranberry Tarts that had been left over from some Christmas event. Let me be clear: these little things are seriously delicious, even straight from the freezer, but the frozen ones don’t hold a candle to the freshly-made ones. And yet . . . I sat down and ate them all. All six or seven of them, at six grams of sugar a whack, so 36-42 grams right there on the spot, edging up to double the amount of sugar you’re supposed to limit yourself to per day, 25 grams. I ask you, folks: what would have been the best thing I could have done? Thrown them out. They were past their prime. There was no party going on. They were superfluous.
Well, one little indulgence wouldn’t have been too bad. Let’s not do too much breast-beating here. But because of my Abstainer tendencies, which means that I’m pretty much all-or-nothing in sticking to habits, I then found myself indulging in the stash of white chocolate I have in the pantry, a stash that doesn’t ordinarily tempt me. But now the dam had been breached. I didn’t keep track of exactly how much I ate, but there were several days there when I certainly didn’t stay below the recommended daily sugar limit.
What happened? The scale showed a gain of 3-4 pounds. Folks, while I may have indulged a bit, I certainly hadn’t taken in an extra 10,500-14,000 calories, which is what I’d have had to consume for that amount of actual weight gain (at 3,500 calories per pound of weight gained). I’m going to say on the basis of a rough calculation I just did that I may have taken in at the very most, including the tarts, somewhere around 2,500 extra calories. That’s about a day and a half’s worth of intake and not enough to gain even one extra pound. But the scale was telling me bad news, and I felt bloated and uncomfortable. The only mechanism that could have been in play here must have been water retention, and the only food item that could have caused it was the excess sugar I had consumed. While the tarts had some flour in the crust, I think it’s fair to say that white chocolate is not a high-gluten item.
Over the past few days I’ve gotten back into my good eating habits and this morning my weight was back down by three pounds. It’s still a little higher than I want it to be, but at least it’s heading in the right direction. The horrible bloated feeling is pretty well gone. I’ve certainly eaten gluten-containing products, but I’ve stayed below the 25-gram-per-day added sugar limit. While it’s true that I’m very sensitive to sugar intake because of my pre-diabetic state, I would venture to guess that a lot of this “I went on a gluten-free diet and now I feel great” brouhaha is really tied to the fact that cutting flour out of your life almost always means that you’re cutting sugar and other refined carbs out of your life, and it’s the lowered sugar intake that’s actually giving you your desired outcome. I know I’ve said this before, but it beans repeating: You don’t need to cut good, wholesome grains out of your diet if you’re not actually suffering from celiac disease or truly allergic/sensitive to gluten/wheat. In fact, if you say, “But I lost weight when I cut out gluten!” that’s the best evidence there is that you don’t have true celiac disease, because people with untreated CD are almost always underweight. Their intestines are so inflamed that they can’t absorb nutrients into the bloodstream. CD can shorten or even end the lives of its sufferers because of the malnutrition it causes.
Ho-kay, as I often say. Let’s all be sensible, shall we? Here’s a good summing-up paragraph from an article in The Washington Post about food myths:
●Whole-grain vs. gluten-free bread: Gluten-free foods were created for people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. But “gluten-free” has morphed into a marketing buzzword that people erroneously equate with “healthy.” According to a survey of more than 1,500 U.S. adults, 38 percent eat gluten-free foods because they believe they’re better for their overall health. But studies show that most gluten-free foods contain more fat and salt — and less fiber, protein and vitamins — than their gluten-containing counterparts. A dense, whole-grain sprouted bread made from fiber-rich, wholesome ingredients is a much healthier choice than a gluten-free bread made from fiber-free cornstarch, tapioca and rice flour. Gluten-free does not mean healthier. (from “6 Foods that Marketers Want You to Think Are Healthy”)
P.S. I think part of the problem with gluten is that it sounds so awful, as if it’s made out of glue or something. Maybe they could change the name!