Boost your Energy with a Gluten-Free Diet
Going gluten-free is all the rage. Dr. Sigrid Grosby breaks down the science of what gluten is and how reducing it in your diet might help you.
Few of us can have a productive day without reaching for our daily cup of coffee or that “pick-me-up” bar of chocolate in the mid-afternoon. Caffeinated and sugar-laden foods and drinks are well-known for their almost instant positive effect on our energy levels, which easily explains their popularity. When we feel tired, we are quick to reach for those edible energy-boosting foods – but we rarely think of food as a potential cause for our fatigue. And yet, who has not felt that overpowering desire to nap around 2pm, incidentally right after the lunch break?
While stress or a poor night’s sleep can certainly affect our energy levels, there is another common culprit: gluten, a protein found in virtually all of our meals. It comes from cereals from a specific tribe of grass, the Triticeae, which includes barley, rye and wheat. If you have toast for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch and pasta for dinner – a relatively common food combination– then you’ve consumed gluten in all of your meals.
Gluten is not well-digested in the stomach, such that the intact molecule makes it into the small intestine, which is lined by a thin membrane that has a dual role: it allows properly digested nutrients to enter the bloodstream and at the same time, it serves as a barrier to prevent unwanted substances from entering the bloodstream. Unfortunately, it is increasingly common for this membrane to become damaged and let the undigested gluten protein pass into the bloodstream where our immune system detects it and reacts to it, causing a variety of symptoms such as bloating, anemia, fatigue, skin rashes/eczema. These immune reactions are rarely immediate. Someone may have consumed bread on Monday but may not feel any negative effects before later on in the week, making it difficult to associate the symptoms with the foods that triggered them! This explains why although 2.8 million Americans are diagnosed with full-blow gluten intolerance, many also go undiagnosed.
Fatigue is one of the most common presentations of gluten-intolerance, because partially digested gluten has a molecular structure very similar to “opioids” – a class of substances that can affect our brain and our behaviour. Many people have identified gluten as the source of their fatigue and have switched to a gluten-free diet – a trend that the food industry has quickly recognized, creating a US$4 billion market for gluten-free foods in the US alone! The best way to find out if you are gluten-intolerant is to remove gluten from your diet for two weeks to one month and journal how you feel each day. If you no longer feel as tired, reducing the amount of gluten-containing foods in your diet may be a good idea.
Some tips to make your journey into gluten-free eating a little easier:
- Try out some lesser-known grains like quinoa or millet
- When baking, replace wheat flour with brown rice flour, soy flour or tapioca flour
- Explore health food stores, as they often have a number of gluten-free options.
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