Should You Go Gluten-Free?

The health food industry seems to operate in waves. Every so often a different food or substance is vilified. Suddenly, it becomes a badge of honor for foods to be labeled as free of it. Once it was fat, then carbs became the target. Right now, gluten seems to be the thing to avoid. A brief stroll down any grocery store aisle will show the growing prevalence of gluten-free foods. In fact, the gluten-free industry is now worth about $7 billion dollars per year.

Originally, however, the gluten-free diet was designed to help the one percent of the population suffering from celiac disease, an auto-immune condition triggered by the wheat protein. Now gluten-free diets are used to treat just about every symptom and are even said to encourage weight-loss and athletic performance. The Garmin-Transitions pro-cycling team follows a gluten-free diet while racing in an effort to reduce inflammation and easy digestion.

Celiac Disease, Gluten Intolerance and Wheat Allergies

There is a solid medical basis for opting out of gluten.

As mentioned, celiac disease is the chief reason people traditionally dropped the protein, found in wheat, barley and rye. When someone with celiac disease eats or, in some cases, uses a product containing gluten, their immune system misfires and attacks its own small intestine. In the ensuing violence, the villi, which absorb nutrients are damaged or destroyed. With the villi not functioning, the person can become severely malnourished.

Recently, though, doctors have started to identify other conditions that might require a gluten-free diet. Gluten intolerance, or gluten sensitivity, is distinct from celiac in that it is not an auto-immune disease and involves a completely different biological response. The science is still young, though, and the symptoms are a bit nebulous. The primary signs include bloating, diarrhea and cramps, but the list includes well over 100 other symptoms as well.

There is also the possibility of developing an allergy to wheat, not necessarily to gluten. This is a completely different condition and may only justify avoiding wheat, rather than all gluten containing products.

Gluten intolerance and wheat allergies can both develop later in life and the numbers show that sufferers are steadily increasing.

Why the Increase?

Initially, the immediate skeptical response was to blame faulty diagnoses for the rise in gluten intolerance. Some experts, though, feel that there is legitimate concern due to modern genetic changes in wheat crops.

During the so-called Green Explosion of the 1950s, wheat was cross-bred to not only increase its productivity but to also increase its protein content. Many feel that this manipulation changed the gluten in ways that adversely affect the human body.

More research is needed to prove or disprove this theory, however.

Does Removing Gluten Help?

More and more people, though, are turning to gluten-free diets because they want to lose weight or because they’ve heard it can help their performance in competition.

Unfortunately, there’s little evidence that avoiding gluten can do all that. It is possible that adopting a gluten-free diet could help you lose weight as a by-product of reducing highly processed, calorie-rich foods. Sometimes, sadly, the opposite is true. Many gluten-free foods are loaded with sugars and fats, which boost the calories dangerously high, despite .

No research supports the idea that gluten-free diets can help athletic performance, either. Again, it’s possible that you might feel better as a result of a more healthy diet but unless you have an undiagnosed sensitivity it’s the lack of gluten that’s helping you.

Sources

http://beta.active.com/nutrition/Articles/Should-You-Go-Gluten-Free?page=1

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704893604576200393522456636.html

http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504763_162-57483789-10391704/gluten-free-diet-fad-are-celiac-disease-rates-actually-rising/

Treating Exercise-Related Hypoglycemia

According to diabetes experts, muscles are responsible for about 90 percent of the body’s use of glucose as fuel. Exercise also affects various hormones which have a direct impact on blood sugar levels. It’s not surprising, then, that non-diabetic hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, is common in frequent exercisers and athletes.

If you’ve ever worked out on an empty stomach, you’ve probably experienced the dizziness, muscle weakness and exhaustion of a blood-sugar crash. Understanding how your blood-sugar levels are controlled, and what you can do to prevent these crashes, can help you avoid these symptoms.

How Blood Sugar Works

The sugar called glucose, which is stored in the muscles and liver, is the primary fuel your muscles use during strenuous activities. As part of a careful balancing act, two hormones are released to try to maintain healthy levels of glucose in the blood, where it can be used readily.

Insulin is released into the blood by the pancreas when blood sugar levels are too high, where it bonds with specialized receptors on the cells. Insulin stimulates the cells at these receptors and tells them to absorb glucose. Once these cells respond to insulin, blood sugar levels drop.

When blood sugar is too low, however, the pancreas releases glucagon instead. This hormone tells the liver to releases some of its stored glucose into the blood so that can be used as fuel.

Exercise puts much higher demands on your muscles, forcing them to utilize more fuel — in much the same way as making your car go faster, or pull a heavy load, will increase how much gas it burns. Overtraining can even cause a permanent shift in this balance by increasing insulin sensitivity, which will make it much more difficult for you to maintain a healthy blood sugar balance.

Keeping Your Balance

Research suggests that endurance training, as opposed to strength training, can be beneficial in preventing exercise-induced hypoglycemia. While strength training uses carbohydrates like glucose for fuel, endurance training uses fat as the primary source of energy. This will prevent blood sugar levels from getting too low.

The most effective method for preventing exercise-induced hypoglycemia, though, is by adjusting the timing and composition of your meals. Focus on complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, starchy vegetables and legumes, which will give you several types of sugar and dissolve more slowly in your system. Try to have a large, carbohydrate-heavy meal at least three hours before your workout so that you have plenty of stored glucose when you start your exercise.

Throughout the day, eat six small meals and snacks rather than the traditional three large daily meals. These meals and snacks should also be made mostly of complex carbohydrates and proteins. Avoid simple sugars like sodas and baked goods, since these will cause a spike in insulin — a response to the quick release of sugar — which will, in turn, cause your blood sugar to crash.

Drinks like coffee that contain large amounts of caffeine can also cause a crash when the stimulant effects of the drink wear off. The symptoms of this “caffeine crash” can be very similar to hypoglycemia.

Most importantly, discuss your hypoglycemia with your doctor, since it can sometimes be a symptom of a more serious condition, such as diabetes.

Have you ever experienced exercise-induced hypoglycemia? How have you managed it? Please share your tips in the comments!

Sources

http://diabetes.about.com/od/whatisdiabetes/a/How-Insulin-Works-In-The-Body.htm

http://www.alfediam.org/media/pdf/RevueBrunD&M2-2001.pdf

http://www.drugs.com/cg/non-diabetic-hypoglycemia.html

http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/treatment-and-care/blood-glucose-control/hypoglycemia-low-blood.html