Recently I was in LA, in what appeared to be the gluten free capital of the world. The restaurants there offer a huge selection of innovative healthy meals which were completely delicious to a sometime health freak (who also does like a little something sweet to finish with), and I truly thrived on the foods. I write that because of one of the biggest challenges I face when I travel, which is a lot, is eating out. I want to maintain the feeling of physical and mental wellbeing I have at home where I am in control of my eating, but obviously it can be more of a minefield when I am away. Whilst I know how to make the best choices, if the restaurant isn’t particularly good, even their best choice can arrive sugar and salt soaked from the definitely not homemade ingredients. Anyhoo, no point in complaining and spoiling my trips or my companions, I just re-adjust when home.
Back to LA. I was really struck by the amount of gluten free foods. Almost every meal had a gluten free option. There must be a Coeliac epidemic in LA, or, if not that, an overwhelming preponderance of gluten sensitivity. Maybe there is something in the water……….. Strangely, the few I met that I knew well enough to ask without offending, if they had been tested, all said no.
Self-diagnosis can be a tricky experiment and give wildly inaccurate results. It is estimated that only 10% of all those who go gluten free have Coeliacs’s disease.
Coeliac is a hereditary autoimmune disease with potentially serious consequences, such as Type 1 diabetes, MS and some intestinal cancers to name a few, so it is imperative Coeliac ‘s stick to a gluten free diet. Then there is gluten sensitivity, much more common and definitely a real condition where people can experience extremely unpleasant symptoms such as depression, abdominal pain, bloating and diarrhoea if they eat gluten, so they also need to avoid it.
My concern with the gluten free bandwagon is that too many who cut out gluten seem blissfully and dangerously unaware of the necessary vitamins they are depriving their bodies of, and that they may well need to boost with other foods. So, below are my top vitamin boosting recommendations to living the healthiest life if you are gluten free.
B6 – needed to fight infections, found in chickpeas, tuna, salmon, chicken breast and turkey.
Folate – Another B vitamin, need for cell growth. Think green to boost your folate levels: spinach, asparagus and brussels sprouts all are high in the nutrient, as are green peas and broccoli. If you eat 10 spears of asparagus or two-thirds of a cup of boiled spinach, you’ll be more than halfway to your daily folate goal.
Vitamin D – sunshine vitamin. Studies have shown that people with Coeliac’s or gluten intolernance are often very deficient in this vitamin. Few foods naturally contain much vitamin D, but there are exceptions including cold water fish like swordfish and sockeye salmon, which contain substantial amounts. An egg yolk contains about 10% of the vitamin D you need each day. If you consume dairy products, you can look for products fortified with vitamin D.
Calcium – Bone strength. Like vitamin D, calcium is found in dairy products, milk, cheese, yogurt etc, be careful though if you are lactose intolerant. If you are, look for tofu or canned fish with bones. Some orange juice brands also contain added calcium (as with vitamin D-fortified products, just make sure to buy only gluten free).
Iron – Oxygen carrier. Anaemia is a common symptom of Coeliac disease, so those who suffer from it need to be more careful than average to get enough iron, either through their diets or through supplements. People who don’t have Coeliac but who are following the gluten-free diet also need to be careful. Iron is easy to get if you eat meat: beef and turkey contain plenty. Oysters also are high in iron, and tuna contains some iron. If you follow a gluten-free vegetarian diet, you can obtain iron from soybeans and legumes.
Vitamin B12 – Fight fatigue. Vitamin B12 helps maintain your nerve and blood cells, and those who are particularly deficient in B12 can find themselves fighting constant fatigue. Meat, fish and dairy products tend to be the best sources of vitamin B12, so vegetarians and vegans often are more deficient. A meal-sized portion (4 oz. or more) of salmon or trout will provide 100% of your recommended daily intake, while 6 oz. of beef will give you half of what you need. A cup of milk or an ounce of hard cheese will provide about 15% of your vitamin B12 requirements.
So, please, before you decide to exclude any food group, do check what else you will be removing from your diet. Make sure that you are not missing out on any other vital vitamins or minerals. If you are, your health will suffer in ways you may not be expecting.