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.


10 Tricks to Make Your New Year’s Resolutions Stick

scale with tape measureHappy New Year! If you’re like many Americans, you’ll resolve to lose weight, hit the gym every day, drink less alcohol or kick your cigarette habit. Unfortunately, few New Year’s resolutions last past January. But that doesn’t mean you should give up hope and enter the New Year without a resolution.

Redefining Resolution

A resolution often involves forming a new habit. It’s difficult to create new habits, which is why so many New Year’s resolutions fail. Experts say it often takes about six months to form a habit. After the first six months, the new behavior — whether it be going for a walk each day or drinking more water — will be easier to do.

However, getting through the first six months is challenging. It’s common to fall off the wagon, get disappointed and give up. With some careful planning, realistic goals and determination, you can stick with your resolution throughout the whole year.

10 Tricks to Make Resolutions Stick

Follow these 10 tips to turn your resolutions into lasting habits:

1. Be realistic. Create a plan that works for your lifestyle. If you’re not a morning person, don’t try to work out at 5 a.m., instead plan to exercise after work.

2. Think baby steps. Do not go cold turkey. If you’re trying to cut out caffeine, start by first switching from caffeinated coffee to half caff. Changes are sometimes easier to make if you modify behavior gradually instead of going all or nothing.

3. Track your progress. Write your plan down and post it in a visible place, like on the fridge or your desk. As you meet small goals, check off a box. Seeing what you have already accomplished can encourage you to keep going.

4. Make one change at a time. If you want to revamp your diet, start slowly. Do not eliminate soda, fried foods and sweets from your diet in one fell swoop. Changes are usually easier to make if they’re small. Cut down on the soft drinks first and once you’re used to that, try to eliminate French fries.

5. Focus on the process. Saying you want to lose 50 pounds is a vague goal. How are you going to get there? Focus on the process of getting to your goal instead of on the end result. Say you will start keeping portion sizes in check and counting calories.

6. Set up an incentive program. Once you have started modifying your behavior and habits, reward yourself for your success. For every two weeks you go without a cigarette, treat yourself to a movie or a massage.

7. Be flexible. Some days are harder than others. If you can’t make your afternoon cycling class because you have a dentist appointment, make adjustments. Go on a walk first thing in the morning or during your lunch break.

8. Seek support. Share your goals with your loved ones so they can cheer you on. Or find a friend with the same goal as you. Then you can share tips and support one another throughout the process.

9. Have a plan for obstacles. You may have the best intention of avoiding the snacks offered at your morning meeting, but if you’re hungry, you won’t be able to turn them down. To resist temptation, make sure you eat breakfast and bring an apple or other nutritious snack with you so you have something to munch on.

10. Anticipate setbacks. Falling off the wagon now and again is normal. Know that minor slip ups happen and it’s not a reason to give up. Remember how far you’ve come and don’t dwell on the setback.

Have you ever made a successful New Year’s Resolution? How did you do it?


Antioxidants, Free-radicals and You

“Antioxidant” has become one of the most persistent, and successful, buzzwords in the fitness industry. The substances are portrayed almost as microscopic superheros, patrolling our bodies to fight against the evil free radicals. Prevailing theories tell us that antioxidants fight cancer, aging and just about every other disease and condition out there. But emerging science has shown this view to be a potentially dangerous oversimplification of a very complicated system.

What is the role of antioxidants, then? Are free radicals really the villainous molecular marauders that they’re made out to be? Is there any harm in antioxidant supplementation?

Poor, Misunderstood Free Radicals

Even at the molecular level, everything likes to be in balance. One of the ways that molecules maintain their balance is by having pairs of electrons. When a molecule has a lonesome, unpaired electron, it becomes a thief and tries to steal an electron from a neighboring molecule. The victim now becomes a thief, trying to replace its lost electron. These are free radicals and, through their criminal activity, they damage cell walls and cause disease.

It is true that antioxidants neutralize free radicals and prevent them from damaging further cells but this is only part of the story.

Free radicals aren’t all bad and, in small doses, may even be vital since they are used in energy production at a cellular level. Certain free radicals, like those produced by hydrogen peroxide, actually play a key role in a healthy immune system. This means that megadoses of antioxidants, which destroy these free radicals, may be counterproductive, according to several studies.

The Science

The chief study that points to the benefits of the much maligned free radicals was conducted in 2010 by researchers at the Department of Biology at McGill University of Montreal, Canada. The study found that worms that had higher levels of free radicals actually live longer than normal worms. Additionally, when the worms were given antioxidants, their lifespan returned to a normal length. More research is needed, though, to fully understand this relationship as well as the effects in humans.

It also worth noting that, despite all the positive press, there is no research that conclusively proves all of the touted benefits of antioxidants. In fact, beta carotene, vitamin E and vitamin C have all produced lackluster results in studies on human. Beta carotene supplementation actually increased the risk of lung cancer by 28 percent and the death rate by 17 percent, in one study. An extensive U.S. Women’s Health Study also suggested that vitamin C supplements could accelerate atherosclerosis in diabetics.

Should You Supplement?

Each of these studies on various antioxidants are performed with a pure extract of the substance and point to something interesting: Taking supplements that contain the purified forms of the compound is no substitute for a diet high in fruits and vegetables.

The tests that initially led to the fame of antioxidants were performed in a test tube, not in the human body. When they were reproduced in humans, researchers found that the antioxidants had little to no effect since the human body only uses specific forms of the substances and excretes the rest.

People who already have a deficiency in a given antioxidant, vitamin E for example, are the exception. But you should only supplement under the direction of a doctor since even these substances can have side effects when taken in large doses.

As is the case with most health and fitness topics, balance is the key. Science still cannot full explain the relationship between free radicals and antioxidants, apart from knowing that they are both important in the right doses. The safest course, then, is to stick to a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and let your body do the rest.