Is bread really bad for you and how do you live without it?

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Every month or so in the health and wellness community, news comes out about how a once thought healthy food is now deemed poison or vice versa. We know health claims on most foods in packages are purely marketing and can often be misleading.

Fat free comes to mind. There was a hysteria for so long about how fats were bad, but we know that good healthy fats are one of three major nutrients, including protein and carbohydrates that are essential for health in our bodies. It is true that too much fat can harm the liver (fatty-liver) but good fats, including saturated fats are important in enhancing the immune system and actually protect the liver from alcohol consumption.

Doctor Keith wrote Pt. 1 of a two-part piece last week about diabetes in honor of Diabetes Awareness Month (Pt. 2 coming next week).  This week, I wanted to touch-base on something else that is cropping-up on packages and even restaurant menus all around us and that is the very complicated issue of gluten and why “gluten free” (GF) is so prevalent in honor of National Gluten-free Diet Awareness Month.

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye and most oats (there are GF oats out there!). Do you have issues with gluten? Does it make you feel bloated, headaches or does it make you feel dizzy or diarrhea? About 40 percent of the population experiences some form of sensitivity.

One way to find this out is to simply remove all forms of gluten from your diet for 21 days as it takes about 21 days to change your lifestyle habits. This may seem impossible for all of you white-flour addicted (READ: pizza) and craft-beer connoisseurs, but it can easily be done. As for the bread, there are many GF options including Udi’s which will be a proper fake-out for the 21 days and gluten-free beers are flooding the market as are pastas and pizza doughs.

After the 21 days, try to reintroduce gluten into your diet. As part of our seasonal cleanses, I found this out first hand. Upon completion of our progressive cleanse, we were invited to a birthday party at a popular pizza joint on the North Side. One slice of pizza and half a beer and my upper belly became distended: I looked like I was preggers but on the upper belly, below the rib cage.

How is it that I could have gone so long without noticing? I look at it like this: when your body is in a constant state of inflammation and you are constantly irritating your gut, it is more difficult to discern if you in fact are intolerant to gluten, have an allergy, or the much more difficult and often dangerous celiac disease.

The 21 day elimination is the least expensive and best way to discover an intolerance, but a simple home test may also be affective.  Diagnosis of celiac can be more difficult and a biopsy of the small intestine is needed to know if you have this autoimmune disease.

Why the sudden rise in gluten sensitivity? For one, gluten is essentially a binder of starches and it is used in thousands of processed foods as an inexpensive filler and often as a thickening agent. It is also very easy to add to these processed foods as it is highly subsidized and very cheap. It is in everything and even vitamins often have gluten as their binder. Recent cause for concern is that the rise of genetically modified organisms in the Western diet is somehow correlated to the rise in gluten sensitivity.

Where do you go from here now that you think you have gluten issues? For one, eliminating processed foods from your life and cooking your food at home is the first step to ensure you are truly removing gluten from your diet. Fortunately, in Chicago we have restaurants like Bountiful Eatery which devote their entire store to being free of gluten. Another great step is to do some research by typing in “gluten-free restaurants Chicago” and find local restaurants which offer GF options and often full GF menus.

Never feel intimidated when you are dining out and ask for the GF menu or ask what options are available. This is a very serious problem for some people and it needs to be treated as one might treat an extreme food allergy. Know this, if you are on the extreme end of the spectrum, be careful of cross contamination from other gluten sources from the restaurant unless you know it is 100 percent GF.

The key here, as with most of my columns, is to eliminate processed foods. The only way that we know we are eating healthy and living the healthy lifestyle is to cook a majority of the foods from your kitchen. No major corporation that pumps-out these “franken-foods” has your health in mind. It is all “health claims,” marketing dollars and bottom lines. You are the only one who can take responsibility for your health.

What do you think?

About Chip Allman, CHHC

Chip is a healthy lifestyle coach and owner of health and wellness company Naturally Fortified. He's a nutrition nerd at heart and plans to save the world one kale "chip" at a time!