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Fat- free diet, Carbohydrate-free, Hollywood diet…The list goes on. What do these diets all have in common? Well, they can be said to be fad diets. The term ‘fad’ tends to have a negative connotation. With good reason because a lot of these diets that come and go have wild claims about purported benefits and are largely medically unsupervised. By medically unsupervised, I am not referring to a simple decision to omit that serving of greasy fries for lunch and dinner, but more involving individuals who follow these ‘trendy’ diets to extremes without consulting with a doctor, nutritionist or dietitian.

Why all the fuss?

The current craze seems to be with gluten free products and if you haven’t noticed, just take a stroll down your supermarket aisle and the words ‘Gluten-Free’ will pop up somewhere, if not plastered across food packaging. But before we delve any deeper, here’s a simple explanation about ‘gluten free’.

Gluten is an elastic protein found in wheat, barley and rye. It basically is what holds your slice of bread together allowing it to rise, giving it that lovely texture. Many other grains are also considered to contain gluten due to the same facility in which these grains are processed. Individuals who should be most worried about gluten containing foods are those with Celiac disease. Celiac disease is a condition in which antibodies are produced against gliadin, a protein component of gluten. These antibodies attack the lining of the small intestine leading to a host of potentially debilitating health problems. Avoiding gluten-containing products is thus paramount to a sufferer of Celiac.

Lately, there seems to be a trend where ‘perfectly healthy’ individuals are eliminating gluten from their diets. There have been reports of increased energy, less brain ‘fog’, weight loss, less joint pain and improved digestion. I have heard first hand from such individuals and can attest to their belief. So gluten free fans can rejoice then? Was it the gluten or was it something else? Hmm….more on this in a bit.

Jumping on the bandwagon

With the likes of celebrities such as Miley Cyrus and Kim Kardashian touting the gluten-free lifestyle, many more people let alone corporations are jumping on the gluten free bandwagon. Domino’s pizza became the first national pizza delivery chain to offer gluten-free crust. Where’s the punch line you’re wondering? Well, as you may have it, this gluten-free crust is suitable for people with mild gluten sensitivity but is not recommended for those with Celiac disease. A marketing ploy perhaps? Go figure.

Frito-Lay, one of the largest manufacturers of snacks which includes brands such as Lay’s, Doritos, Cheetos and Ruffles now carry the gluten free label on a number of their products. So, that makes it healthier somewhat?

Campbell’s which has been notorious for their mouth watering but sky high sodium levels in their soups have jumped on the gluten free band-wagon too. Though they do not ostentatiously plaster the gluten free label on, you can still find the label on a select number of their products. If you read the label, 1 cup (250ml) of gluten free Chunky Chicken & Sausage Gumbo contains 650mg of sodium. Considering that the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) limits daily sodium intake to 1500mg, a simple serving of that Campbell’s soup approaches half that recommended daily intake of sodium.

All that glitters is not gold

If you rely solely on gluten free packaged foods for sustenance then yes, you would be subject to vitamin and mineral deficiencies as most gluten free grains are not fortified with B vitamins, vitamin D, magnesium, iron etc. Gluten free confectionery tends to be more carbohydrate rich and some are simply laden with sugar – so do not assume that just because a loaf of bread or cookie is gluten free, it is a healthier option.  Gluten free foods also tend to contain less fiber which would spike blood sugar levels let alone decrease the movement of one’s bowels if that was the only source of fiber intake.  The lower content of fiber also reduces satiety which might lead us to consume more in order to feel full.

The next time you pick up a gluten free product take a closer look at the ingredients. The amount of processing that goes into that product in your hands is comparable to a non gluten free option. Some noteworthy ingredients are maltodextrin, a refined carbohydrate produced from the breakdown of corn, wheat or potato starch. Typically used as a filler and binder since the ‘natural cement’ gluten, no longer exists to ‘hold’ that delectable cookie or slice of bread in place. So we are technically removing an ‘offending agent’ only to replace it with a refined substance. I shall go ponder over which is the lesser of the two evils.

Another ingredient that might conveniently slip by your beady eye when you scan through the ingredient list is ‘corn syrup solids’. Corn syrup solids are made from corn syrup which is basically where high fructose corn syrup comes from. Assuming corn syrup solids are made in the same facility, which would be utterly strange for it not to be, therein lies the issue of contamination with mercury due to the mercury-containing chlor-alkali processing plants. I doubt I need to elaborate there.

To those with a discerning eye, ‘Xanthan gum’, might ring a bell. Xanthan gum is a thickener and emulsifier made by introducing a strain of bacteria, Xanthomonas campetris into processed corn sugar. Yup. Corn reigns once again. I swear I heard the faint cheer of Monsanto advocates.

Standards

Analytic techniques can consistently detect 20ppm (parts per million) of gluten in foods which is currently the gluten-free standard, at or below 20ppm. As stated by Health Canada, “Based on the available scientific evidence, Health Canada considers that gluten-free foods, prepared under good manufacturing practices, which contain levels of gluten not exceeding 20 ppm as a result of cross-contamination, meet the health and safety intent of B.24.018 when a gluten-free claim is made.”

This is great in safe guarding the individuals with Celiac disease and they have every reason to avoid gluten and to seek out gluten free foods.

If I don’t have Celiac Disease, should I avoid gluten?

Avoiding gluten in ‘healthy individuals’ is fine and may in fact be beneficial for gluten sensitive individuals. Many experience improved vitality on a gluten-free diet simply because they were over-consuming gluten prior to avoidance. However, when you choose to go gluten-free, your food choices become limited.

If you were previously consuming a lot of processed foods, you may feel like the elimination of gluten was the cure to your health problems but it is probably more the act of avoiding processed foods, baked goods and refined products which helps to establish a healthier blood sugar balance amongst other things. A word of caution with gluten-free products on store shelves: not all that is gluten-free is ‘healthy’. Bottom line, read the labels before you buy.

What about a whole-food based diet?

The old adage “You are what you eat” couldn’t ring more true. For most individuals, perhaps what’s more important than going completely gluten-free, is following a diet based on whole-foods – meaning, consuming foods that are found in their whole element, unaltered. A good place to start would be your local farmer’s market. If there isn’t one near you, your local supermarket would do just fine.

However, the key is to shop around the perimeter of the supermarket. Why? Simply because the processed foods that come in boxes, packets, cans, bottles etc. tend to be located in the center aisles! Voila. The secret to healthy grocery shopping.  Here is a link to a great cookbook for you to work that healthy whole foods magic. The Whole Life Nutrition Cookbook can also be purchased at our clinic.

A word about food sensitivities

So you think you’re a gluten sensitive individual and you have taken steps to remove gluten from your diet but you still feel like something just isn’t right. What then? Well, it may well be the case of multiple food sensitivities.

In this day and age of a ‘toxic’ society where we certainly aren’t living an optimal healthy lifestyle, your body suffering from allergic reactions to everyday foods is very common. By allergic, I don’t mean throat clamping up, suddenly having trouble breathing coupled with massive hives and itching. That is a life threatening allergic reaction mediated by the IgE antibody.

Another form of allergy is termed an ‘IgG reaction‘. IgG is another antibody in the body that is associated with more of a delayed allergic reaction. Think of an IgG reaction as a constantly dripping water droplet gradually eating away at a rock vs an IgE reaction as a sledgehammer cracking down on that same rock. Helps put things in perspective.

With that mental image in mind, you can now see how a IgG food reaction can lead to chronic inflammation in the body which may well go unnoticed for a long time. Weight gain, digestive disturbances, mood and emotional imbalances, joint pain, skin and respiratory complaints are amongst a few problems individuals commonly experience with underlying food allergies.

IgG food allergy testing is one way of determining what foods you might be allergic to. A simple blood draw is required after which the blood sample is sent to a lab for testing. We currently offer food allergy testing at Port Moody Health.

Confused about diet? Let us help you! After reading all the information, you may feel more confused about your diet than ever. There are many variables with health, diet and nutrition that can shape how a person will respond to a particular type of diet. Sometimes, determining what diet is best for any given person can be simple and straightforward, while other times it can be more complex.

While there are some foundational principles to apply to healthy nutrition, they key is to understand what type of diet is best for YOU, rather than follow dietary ‘trends’. The best way to determine what dietary approach is going to give you the best present and long-term outcome for your health, is to have a licensed naturopathic physician perform a thorough, whole-person assessment and provide the professional guidance you need to obtain the greatest health benefit possible from your diet.

For more information on food allergy testing or to set up an appointment with Dr. Oon, call (604) 949-0077.

References

1) ‘Mercury from Chlor-alkali plants: Measured concentrations in food product sugar’. Environ Health 2009 Jan 26;8:2

2) www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/securit/allerg/cel-coe/gluten-position-eng.php

3) www.ewg.org/skindeep/ingredient/706998/XANTHAN_GUM/

4) www.grainprocessing.com

5) www.celiac.com

6) glutenfreeexpo.ca

7) www.rmalab.com