Years ago, eating gluten-free used to be next to impossible if you weren’t in 100% control over your food. Nobody knew what gluten was and yet it was in everything!
These days, there are gluten-free aisles at the grocery store, many restaurants often offer separate gluten-free menus, and there are more options than ever to support the lifestyle.
Despite its ubiquity, there are still some skeptics out there. Going without gluten may be a fad for some people, but it has very real benefits for many of us who are intolerant!
What is Gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and other grains that can wreak havoc with your immune system and gut health.
One in 133 people have a complete inability to digest gluten. This is known as celiac disease, where gluten can damage the microvilli on the small intestine and impair absorption.
Then there is non-celiac gluten sensitivity. The numbers vary, but it is estimated that between 10 to 40 percent of the population experiences this intolerance. There are tests to help diagnose celiac disease, but it’s not so simple with a sensitivity.
Symptoms of gluten sensitivity can occur hours, or even days, after consuming gluten, and can include:
- Joint pain or muscle cramping
- Bone pain or osteoporosis
- Brain fog
- Digestive issues (gas, bloating, diarrhea)
- Abdominal pain
The best way to know if you’re sensitive to gluten is to do an elimination protocol like The Virgin Diet. You’ll take it out for 21 days, take note to see if the above or other symptoms dissipate, and then reintroduce it to see if they return. If they do come back, you know gluten is not for you.
Benefits Of A Gluten-Free Diet
If you grew up eating bread and pasta with no problems and are wondering why it’s such an issue these days, keep in mind that today’s wheat is much different than it used to be. The wheat our bodies evolved to consume has been bred into something our bodies don’t recognize (there are 14 chromosomes in ancient wheat, compared to 42 chromosomes today).1
It's also not as nutritious as it once was. Today's conventional agricultural practices have depleted the soil that our food grows in of beneficial vitamins and minerals. Farmers prioritize things like crop size, growth rate, and pest resistance over nutritional value, using harmful chemicals to protect the crop and increase yield. Their revenue comes at the expense of our food and health.
Virtually everyone can benefit from a gluten-free diet. Take this small study done on non-celiac participants and their immune response to gluten proteins—the researchers concluded that “gluten elicits its harmful effect on all the individuals.”2
A gluten-free diet has been proven to reduce inflammation, insulin resistance3, and symptoms of chronic health conditions. Many people (including my Virgin Diet participants) experience improvements with their gut health, immune health, weight, energy, chronic pain, hormone balance, and so much more.
5 Reasons to Avoid Gluten
There is plenty of research on the harmful impact of gluten on your health. Here are the top five reasons you should avoid conventional bread, pasta, and other gluten-containing foods.
Reason 1: Gluten causes leaky gut
Gluten damages the tight junctions that act as a barrier in your gut, allowing small particles of undigested food, bacteria, and even toxins to escape your digestive lining into your bloodstream.
Your gut is the foundation of your overall health, so when its function is impaired, there can be a cascade of health problems.
Leaky gut can lead to food allergies and sensitivities, worsened digestive issues like Crohn’s and colitis, skin conditions like acne and eczema, chronic fatigue, metabolic disorders, and immune and autoimmune disorders.4
It’s a terrible cycle. If you’re irritating your gut with gluten, this injures the digestive tract, causing inflammation, contributing to leaky gut and causing malabsorption. Those issues then contribute to new sensitivities, which irritates your gut even more.
Your best bet is to take out the offenders—and one of them is very likely going to be gluten.
Reason 2: Gluten causes inflammation
Inflammation is not inherently bad. It’s part of our immune system and its purpose is to protect us from injury and infection. However, it is acute inflammation that supports our health, not chronic.
Chronic inflammation comes from untreated acute inflammation (like the type from repeated gluten exposure). It’s like poking the bear—it's not going to turn out well!
This type of ongoing, low-grade irritation is a fire that you want to put out as soon as possible before it turns into an uncontrollable blaze. Chronic inflammation contributes to every degenerative disease, including diabetes, Alzheimer’s, cancer, and obesity.5
Reason 3: Gluten-containing foods are often low in nutrients
While grains are recommended by the USDA’s MyPlate guidelines, the form that most people are getting them is not nutrient dense. Unprocessed whole grains may have a place in a healthy diet if—and only if—you can tolerate them (this is another opportunity for an elimination diet like The Virgin Diet!).
The way most people consume gluten is through ultra-processed foods: white bread, pasta, crackers, cookies, even things like hot dogs. Because it’s so cheap, wheat tends to find its way into just about everything (the gum you’re chewing, too).
These foods are stripped of their fiber and lose other nutrients in the process. The ones that are left? You’re probably not absorbing them properly if gluten is also damaging the villi in your gut. In fact, gluten-triggered leaky gut inhibits your body from absorbing nutrients and making vitamin B12.
You’re much better off with anti-inflammatory, nutrient-dense, whole, healing vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, legumes, or gluten-free grains like quinoa.
Reason 4: Gluten can trigger autoimmune disorders
Most of your immune system is located in the digestive tract; issues with your gut health can then impact your immune health.
“Autoimmune” means that your immune system is attacking itself. Eating gluten can trigger this response, research shows.6 If you have Type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, autoimmune hepatitis, celiac hepatitis, autoimmune thyroiditis, or another autoimmune disease, it’s best to steer clear.
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, that’s 23.5 million of you out there, 80 percent of which are women.7
It’s proven that a gluten-free diet can improve symptoms of non-celiac autoimmune disease.8 If you’re looking for meal ideas to help get you started, browse through my recipe page with hundreds of smoothies, salads, soups, entrees, and more!
Reason 5: Gluten causes weight gain
There are several ways that gluten consumption can lead to weight gain. First is the inflammation it creates, which has been found to actually cause insulin resistance.9
Insulin is a storage hormone. If your body isn’t able to use it properly, you’ll end up with high levels of insulin and excess glucose in the blood. Blood sugar that isn’t stored properly will accumulate as fat.
Gluten-containing foods also have antinutrients called lectins, which can lead to pre-diabetes and cause you to store more calories as fat. To make things worse, lectins can trigger leptin resistance, which makes you feel hungrier even after you’ve eaten a full meal.10
Combine lectins with leaky gut, inflammation, and poor nutrient levels that can stall metabolism, and you’ve got a surefire way for the number on the scale to creep up!
The risks and discomfort caused by gluten make an airtight case for removing it from your diet. I know making changes to your diet can be overwhelming, so I want to help you make it as easy as possible. Here are 5 Easy Strategies to Ditch Gluten for Good.
No matter what your personal goals are, the end destination is always the same: To feel better than you ever have. My Ultimate Health Roadmap provides short, actionable steps you can take RIGHT NOW to be the best version of you. The guide is FREE, and you can only get it here.
- Davis, William. Wheat Belly. Rodale Books: New York, 2001.
- Bernardo D, Garrote JA, Fernández-Salazar L, Riestra S, Arranz E. Is gliadin really safe for non-coeliac individuals? Production of interleukin 15 in biopsy culture from non-coeliac individuals challenged with gliadin peptides. Gut. 2007;56(6):889-890. doi:10.1136/gut.2006.118265
- Soares FL, de Oliveira Matoso R, Teixeira LG, et al. Gluten-free diet reduces adiposity, inflammation and insulin resistance associated with the induction of PPAR-alpha and PPAR-gamma expression. J Nutr Biochem. 2013;24(6):1105-1111. doi:10.1016/j.jnutbio.2012.08.009
- Fasano A, Shea-Donohue T. Mechanisms of disease: the role of intestinal barrier function in the pathogenesis of gastrointestinal autoimmune diseases. Nat Clin Pract Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2005;2(9):416-422. doi:10.1038/ncpgasthep0259
- Fasano A. Zonulin and its regulation of intestinal barrier function: the biological door to inflammation, autoimmunity, and cancer. Physiol Rev. 2011;91(1):151-175. doi:10.1152/physrev.00003.2008
- Aaron Lerner, Yehuda Shoenfeld, Torsten Matthias, Adverse effects of gluten ingestion and advantages of gluten withdrawal in nonceliac autoimmune disease, Nutrition Reviews, Volume 75, Issue 12, December 2017, Pages 1046–1058, https://doi.org/10.1093/nutrit/nux054
- Lerner A, Freire de Carvalho J, Kotrova A, Shoenfeld Y. Gluten-free diet can ameliorate the symptoms of non-celiac autoimmune diseases. Nutr Rev. 2022;80(3):525-543. doi:10.1093/nutrit/nuab039
- Wu, Huaizhu; Ballantyne, Christie M. “Metabolic Inflammation and Insulin Resistance in Obesity.” Circulation Research. 2020;126:1549–1564
- Klok MD, Jakobsdottir S, Drent ML. The role of leptin and ghrelin in the regulation of food intake and body weight in humans: a review. Obes Rev. 2007;8(1):21-34. doi:10.1111/j.1467-789X.2006.00270.x