All About Gluten

Today’s post is going to be about a somewhat controversial topic: Gluten. Will a gluten free diet help you lose weight? What do you do if you have symptoms of gluten intolerance? What is gluten and where is it found? Gluten is an increasingly popular topic, and this post is to clear up any confusion.

First let’s define gluten. Gluten is a protein found in certain grains, like wheat, that is not completely broken down by the body. For most people, the leftover protein passes through the gastrointestinal tract, no harm no foul. In some cases, however, gluten wreaks havoc on the person’s system. The body recognizes the protein as foreign, and then initiates an autoimmune response mediated by “immunoglobulins”, which are simply the body’s usual way of fighting infection. This causes actual damage to happen to the intestinal lining. This disease process is known as celiac disease. This disease can even go undiagnosed, but if a doctor was ever to look inside the person’s stomach and intestines, there would be considerable inflammation and malabsorption occurring. About 1% of the population has celiac disease, many of whom are undiagnosed due to few or absent symptoms.
There’s a growing trend in medicine, however. Many people do not have official “celiac disease”, but may have gluten sensitivity. No test exists to diagnose this condition yet; it is usually diagnosed by completing a gluten free diet trial and then monitoring symptom improvement. This condition may be present in up to 6% of the population, many undiagnosed.

If you have any GI symptoms, the most important thing you can do is bring it to your doctor’s attention. There are many potential causes of GI distress. Don’t attempt a gluten free diet on your own. One of the reasons for this is if you actually do have celiac disease, it is impossible to diagnose if you are already following a gluten free diet. The diagnosis is important itself because you will need to be followed by a GI doctor and see a Dietitian in order to help you navigate food labels to follow this difficult diet. This is the only way, though, that you will see your symptoms improve.

So what about a gluten free diet for general health or weight loss? This is not advised. Gluten-Free has become a tag-line that companies use to try to sell products because many people associate them with being healthy. According to one article in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, “between 2004 and 2011 the market for gluten-free products grew at a compound annual rate of 28%, with annual sales expected to reach $2.6 billion in 2012.” Unfortunately this is a marketing tool and not really a sign of a product being healthier. Many gluten-free products are actually higher in calories, refined grains, and sugars. You can take the wheat out of something, but if it still has other flours made out of grains that have been refined, that is no better than white flour if you don’t have a gluten intolerance or sensitivity.

If you are thinking about following a gluten-free diet for weight loss, think again. In one study of adults with celiac disease, 82% of overweight patients gained weight on the gluten-free diet. Granted, they probably felt a lot better and so were eating more, but there is also no evidence that strict gluten-free diets will support weight loss in any healthy individual.

There is also some evidence that a gluten free diet may be harmful for those without gluten intolerance. This is because some of the compounds in whole grain wheat have shown to proliferate a healthy gut flora, or the bacteria naturally present in your gut that help your immune system and to keep your bowel habits regular.
So, here’s a recap as well as my sources. Gluten free diet: helpful for those with gluten intolerance and sensitivity. Make sure you follow your doctor’s guidance and discuss symptoms with him/her before making dietary changes; not helpful for those simply wanting to make a dietary change to improve health or lose weight.


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5 Things that Sound Healthy but may not be

Very often, going to a restaurant is difficult when trying to live a healthy lifestyle. Even worse, sometimes things are made to sound healthy, but end up being one of the worst things on the menu! Below I have listed several things that sound healthy, but may not be. Remember when you eat out to plan ahead and check a restaurant’s nutrition facts prior to going, or order something very simple that you know for sure is healthy, like a chicken breast and side of vegetables.

1) Specialty Salads

Salads are wonderful! Except many times when you go out to eat. Lettuce, fresh vegetables, legumes, beans, nuts, seeds, lean meats, and low-fat dressings make an excellent salad, but most of the time this is not what you get at a restaurant. Restaurant salads contain high fat dressings, fried foods, croutons or other refined grain products, fatty cheeses, and the list goes on. To give an example, Applebee’s Oriental Chicken Salad, which sounds rather healthy, packs a punch of 1360 calories, 98 g fat (!), 1600 mg sodium (!!), and 90 g carbohydrates (!!!). Then, if you order more dressing — which many people do — you are adding even more to that! Stay away from most restaurant specialty salads.

2) “Baked” Dishes

Dietitians often teach to look for the word “baked” at restaurants in order to get a dish with less fat. This usually works if you are ordering a cut of meat such as a pork chop or chicken breast; however, use caution because sometimes things that are “baked” are casserole style and come with large amounts of added fat and calories. Baked Ziti with Sausage at Maggiano’s, for example, has 1070 calories, 30 g fat, 2130 mg sodium, and 127 g carb. If you also eat bread, drink wine, and get dessert, you likely will exceed your calorie, fat, sodium, and carb needs for the entire day in just one meal.

3) Soups

So you go to a restaurant, and you think about all those “bad” options out there. You’ll just have soup. Soup and a house salad – can’t go wrong there, right? Maybe not. While soup may be advertised as a healthy or light choice, many times restaurants add fat and salt to soups to make them tastier, giving you high calorie, high sodium results without you even knowing. It could even be something that sounds healthy, like Chili’s Chicken Enchilada Soup with 400 calories, 26 g of fat, and 1450 mg sodium per bowl. The carbs are better at 26 g, but this is not enough to overshadow the rest of it.

4) Sandwiches

Much like salads, a sandwich is a healthy concept to start out with. If you took fresh meat, added vegetables like lettuce, tomato, avocado, and onion, some condiments like low-fat mayo and mustard, and a whole grain bread of some sort, this is actually a very healthy option. Restaurants like to ruin anything that starts out healthy, though. Special sauces, fried meat, or deli meats salted to the nines are what you are really going to get. An example of this is Atlanta Bread Company’s Bistro Chicken Press Sandwich which contains 780 calories, 41 g fat, 1660 mg sodium and 59 g carb.

5) Smoothies

Have you been keeping up with the smoothie trend? Green smoothies, fruit smoothies, workout smoothies, post workout smoothies, and the list goes on! Maybe if you went home and pureed fruits, vegetables, and yogurt, your smoothie would be healthy. But don’t be fooled by smoothies mass marketed to consumers. Most of these smoothies are filled with sugar, and touted to be healthful. Remember also that these smoothies are advertised as “meal replacements”, but most people usually eat a meal shortly before or after because smoothies generally don’t fill you up. An example is Smoothie King’s Peanut Power Plus Strawberry containing 680 calories, 21 g fat, 94 g of sugar and 112 g total carbohydrate, and only 179 g of sodium, but this is not the issue. Please, please do not be fooled into thinking that a smoothie is healthy.

So there you have it. Are you scratching your head, about to swear off restaurants forever? Don’t do that! Restaurants are a large part of our social culture, and saying you won’t go to one again is like saying you will never eat another piece of pie. You just have to get good at recognizing what’s good and what’s not. But first, start out by going with a plan – look at the nutrition facts BEFORE you order or go. That way you won’t be caught off guard.

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3 Easy Healthy Meals

I often hear people say that they don’t have time to eat healthily. While I sympathize with a busy lifestyle – I do work full time, have 2 children, and do writing gigs on the side – I also know that I can whip together a healthy meal in a matter of minutes. I realize that I might be more motivated than other people to find something healthy to make, lest I be hypocritical given the advice I give other people, but I still think anyone can eat healthy if he or she really tries. Thus I am going to give you an example of 3 healthy meals that take me less than 30 minutes to prepare.

1) Stir fry and rice

I recently bought a Wok and it is the most amazing piece of equipment I own! You can cook an entire meal using just one dish! I end up using two, though, because I like to have a little bit of rice with my stir fry. I usually put a little bit of oil in the bottom of the wok, throw in some kind of meat (either chicken or beef) and frozen or fresh vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, etc), and then just stir it around while it cooks – hence the term “stir-fry”. It’s pretty hard to mess up. If you are running short on time, Uncle Ben’s even makes brown rice in a pouch that you can nuke in 90 seconds.

2) Meat n’ Three

When I was a kid, my dad always used to take me to a “Meat n’ Three” truck stop where you can choose some form of meat and three “vegetables” on the side. Granted, I wouldn’t call most of these meals healthy since at restaurants they usually add copious amounts of salt and fat; however, you can imitate the concept pretty quickly to make yourself a healthy meal and leave out the extra calories and salt. I buy plain chicken tenders from the store, spray some Pam on a cast iron pan, and fry. This might take 15 minutes, maximum. I can also steam some broccoli, throw a can of no-salt-added green beans in a pot, and cook a baked potato (or sweet potato even!) in the microwave in another 10 minutes. Voila! Healthy, fast meal.

3) Crock Pot It

Okay, maybe this is cheating because it really takes ALL DAY to cook, but the prep work itself takes less than 30 minutes, so I’m counting it. Before I leave for work in the morning, I will brown a lean beef roast. I add some unsalted beef broth, vegetables of my choosing (usually potatoes, celery, onions, and carrots), and let it do it’s thing for 8 hours. Then I can come home to a cooked meal, which is always nice.

So there you have it: 3 meals that I make quite often that are fast, easy and healthy. What do you make for a fast, healthy meal?

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Stop Fighting over What’s Healthy!

What is a healthy diet? The truth is, there is no exclusive “healthy” diet that works for everyone. Yes, there are protein, carbohydrate, fat, vitamin, and mineral requirements. These needs need to be met. There are a number of different healthy ways to meet these needs, however. Vegan, Vegetarian, Omnivore, Clean Eating, versions of Paleo or Primal (as long as you don’t try to avoid carbohydrates altogether!), and many many other eating styles are healthy and adequate.

Some of the most remarkable and interesting studies done are on the Native Alaskan diet. They eat mostly mammals and sea animals – huge amounts of saturated fat! However, their risk of chronic disease is significantly low! While it is thought that this is due in part to their large consumption of omega-3 fatty acids, the point is this: If you are eating natural, clean foods, you are probably doing great, and better than most! I wish these different sectors of eating styles would stop fighting and start supporting each other. If we support each other and educate the public on what is truly unhealthy – i.e., fast food, processed foods, refined grains, etc., then maybe we can make some traction together. I don’t believe the people who should be fighting are the ones who are at the lowest risk for chronic disease!

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Nutrition and Behavior

While there is a lot about nutrition that is “knowledge”- i.e., the knowledge to eat one food over another due to it’s health benefits, I believe that 90% of healthy eating and nutrition is behavior, goal setting, and self control. You can 100% know for sure that an apple is better for you than a cookie… but how many of you will pick up the apple rather than the cookie? Making changes is a lifelong process in which you have to continually coach yourself.


Most of what we do is based on habits. It’s interesting to study the human brain and realize that what we do is habits which are chemical pathways in the brain that we automatically go do when performing a certain set of activities. When you drive somewhere familiar, like to work or a friend’s house, your car kind of “takes you” there. That’s because you’re used to the route, the scenery, the turns, etc., and thus you go there out of habit. Sometimes it’s difficult to go somewhere else if you’re going on a route that’s similar to one you take often! This is the same with nutrition. Having trouble NOT stopping at McDonald’s on the way home? That’s because it’s a habit! If you’re used to doing it, it’s so hard not to! Keep yourself motivated by keeping a check list and reward for every day you don’t do it in order to break the habit. It takes about 21 days to break a habit – once you get past that, it gets much easier!

Goal setting

Goal setting is SO important when it comes to nutrition, or really anything! I could go into what makes a good goal and what makes a bad goal, but that may take a while. Try to keep your goals realistic though. So many people start out by saying they are going to change every aspect of their diet tomorrow. If you try to change everything all at once, it will be really difficult, especially considering all the habits you will have to force yourself out of all at once! Start with one thing at a time. For example, you could start with your beverages – switch to water only. Give that 21 days – make it a habit! Then tackle something else. Don’t try to change every snack, breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert and beverage all at once! It will be so overwhelming and you’ll be back to your old ways in a few days.

Self Control

You can set a million goals and try to break a million habits, but if you aren’t able to control yourself, it is all for naught! Self control is something you have to practice. Start with something simple. Say no once per day to something you otherwise would want. Let it empower you! Tell that candy it has no power over you! You don’t need it. Then throw it away. Don’t expect too much from yourself! Even I have a very difficult time resisting temptation multiple times per day. Once I decide that I will not eat something again, I get rid of it so it doesn’t tempt me. I have been known to throw away entire cakes after birthday parties! It is such a shame to waste, but I’d rather keep my waist.

In the end, it’s the little simple things you do every day that affect your nutrition and your weight! What little things do you do daily to keep yourself in check?

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