First do a detailed symptom check by rating, on a scale of 1 to 10, any symptoms that are bothering you. Track these symptoms for at least a week before beginning the diet, and continue to track and note how you're feeling every day for the three weeks you're on the gluten-free diet.
At the end of the three weeks, introduce gluten products back into your diet. Have a moderate amount of gluten right away rather than add it gradually. Start with steel cut, whole wheat hot cereal for breakfast, Tabouli salad made with bulgar wheat (cracked wheat) for lunch and wheat berries (cooked like rice) for dinner. Try that for a week before adding in breads and pasta.
Continue to check your symptoms for one more week. If gluten is indeed the source of your symptoms, you will notice an easing or elimination of those symptoms during the three gluten-free weeks, and then a recurrence when you begin to eat gluten again. If you do notice a reaction to gluten, talk to your doctor and describe what you did and how you felt.
If you feel better without wheat and gluten, it still doesn't necessarily mean you have gluten intolerance or celiac disease. Rather, you simply may have been eating way too much bread, bagels, pasta, cereal, muffins, tortillas, pizza crust, cookies and brownies. They are all made from flour. Despite forming the basis of most Western diets, flour, whether it's white or whole grain, is still a processed food and is relatively devoid of nutrients.
When you think about it, the basic recipes for all of those foods are not that much different from making paste for your paper mache art projects: mix together flour and water (or some type of liquid). Put another way, we eat a lot of paste at each meal and then wonder why we have so many digestive complaints.
Many people have jumped on the gluten-free bandwagon to lose weight — and have seen success from it. That's expected when you eliminate bread, bagels, pasta, cereal, muffins, tortillas, pizza crust, cookies, brownies and beer from your diet. Especially if you replace them with good starchy veggies like squash, peas, carrots, beets, sweet potatoes, turnips, legumes and even potatoes.
Just don't replace eating wheat-based pasta, bread and brownies with rice pasta, gluten-free bread, gluten-free cupcakes, gluten-free pancakes, and gluten-free brownies. If you do, well, you're still eating paste.
If you're trying to lose weight or just eat healthfully, it's a good idea to reduce the amount of refined carbs and processed foods from your diet. You'll probably notice you feel better and have more energy once you do.
However, if you think you might have a true wheat allergy or celiac disease, go see your doctor for a full evaluation.
John is a registered dietitian, certified specialist sports dietitian, wellness coach and personal fitness trainer. He is the owner of Body Kinetics Health Club and Spa in Mill Valley/Novato, CA.
Published November 15, 2011.