While we’re not ones for fad food trends (sorry, Cookie Diet), there’s one popular health-food craze that’s taken the R29 offices by storm: going gluten-free. Whether by choice or medical necessity, many of our staffers have opted to cut the wheat out of their diets and have nothing but praises to sing for it.
According to nutrition expert Dr. Frank Lipman, they've got the right idea. Gluten is a hard-to-digest protein that can be found in many grains such as wheat, barley, rye, couscous, bulgur, and spelt. Says Lipman, the grain with the highest gluten content and the one we eat the most of, by far, is wheat.
And what, pray tell, is so bad about gluten? In moderation, it's perfectly acceptable for the average person, but many people either eat too much of it, or have an underlying sensitivity to it. "The majority of patients who are intolerant to these grains have a non-celiac gluten sensitivity," says Lipman. "The reaction to gluten creates inflammation throughout the body, with wide-ranging effects across all organ systems including your brain, heart, joints, digestive tract, and more. The majority of people who have a gluten sensitivity suffer chronically from a vague unwellness, which doctors don’t diagnose."
Dr. Lipman also says that gluten sensitivity has been linked to a wide range of health woes, including fatigue, aches and pains, weight gain, recurrent canker sores, neurological symptoms, nausea, bloating, constipation, rashes, and even infertility. Upon cutting out gluten, Lipman says many of his patients' issues gradually cleared up and they lost that vague feeling of unwellness that plagued many of them for most of their lives.
Worth noting: One downside to cutting out gluten is that you may see a dip in your fiber intake, but he says it's easy to supplement that loss by adding other fiber-rich foods to your diet.
So, how do you tell if you're one of those (not-so) lucky individuals with a gluten sensitivity? Lipman says you have to cut it out first in order to discover if you've got issues. "After eliminating gluten, if you eat it again, you may have a more pronounced initial response," he says. "This can be helpful information because you will be able to see if you're sensitive to gluten. The spectrum of sensitivity really varies from person to person — it's not all-or-nothing. Don't get stressed about the decision. Treat this as an experiment for two weeks, and if you feel much better you can stick with it for longer."
Here, eight of our wheatless wonders share their secrets to living without it, including their best recipes, favorite brands, health benefits they’ve noticed, and some of the real-life challenges they face. Whether you’ve been considering ditching wheat or are incredulous of the whole thing, this is a definite must-read for you.
Illustration by Naomi Abel