This is part two of our ongoing #WellnessWednesday series, where we’ll discuss a healthy eating trend and share our favorite places to try it out in Park City. Catch up on part one here.
A few years ago, the gluten-free craze began to take hold in popular culture. Best-selling books like Dr. David Perlmutter’s Grain Brain and William Davis’ Wheat Belly focused on the serious health consequences of gluten, a sticky, chewy protein found in wheat and some other grains.
Gluten-free advocates blamed gluten for a litany of health problems, such as weight gain, mental health issues like anxiety and depression, cognitive decline and neurological disease, and chronic conditions such as diabetes and arthritis.
These arguments are backed by years of scientific research and studies, as well as case studies of people who have boosted their health by cutting out gluten. But can you really change your entire life, just by avoiding one food group?
Yes and no. As you may have read or heard, people on both sides of the argument have written countless article and books about the pros and cons of gluten — and to be fair, there are solid reasons on both sides.
Keep reading to learn the real deal on this grainy subject.
Why go gluten-free?
1. You have a certain health condition. The number-one reason to go gluten-free is if you have celiac disease, a rare autoimmune disease. (About 1 in 100 people — or 1% of people — have this condition, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation.)
In celiac disease, ingesting even the smallest amount of gluten triggers the immune system to attack the small intestine, which can cause significant damage. Since the small intestine is where your digestive system absorbs essential nutrients, such as calcium and iron, people with untreated celiac disease can develop serious nutrient deficiencies, fatigue and other autoimmune disorders. The only treatment for celiac disease is to adopt a strict gluten-free diet.
Another health condition that requires a gluten-free diet is a skin condition called dermatitis herpetiformis (DH), which causes an itchy, bumpy rash. This rash can be painful, and often appears to be symmetrical on both sides of your body. Try taking a gluten test to find out if you’re gluten intolerant.
2. You have non-celiac gluten sensitivity. As many as 18 million Americans have non-celiac sensitivity to gluten (about six times as many who have celiac disease). These people may experience symptoms due to eating gluten, such as fatigue, digestive issues (think: gas, bloating and diarrhea), joint pain and even mental health issues like anxiety. They may find relief from their symptoms when they avoid eating gluten, but they don’t necessarily have to avoid it to the extent of people with celiac.
3. You want to improve your gut health. Another way gluten affects your body is by messing with your gut flora, a.k.a. the bacteria that live in your digestive tract. Experts say that gluten can cause evident, long-term changes in your gut bacteria, including reducing the amount of certain types of important bacteria in your gut. (Here’s a more detailed description how gluten affects your gut.)
Effects of poor gut health can include bloating, an upset stomach, or finding yourself in the bathroom more often than normal. Plus, your gut health impacts your overall health more than you may think. Research has linked gut health to mental health, brain health, mood and overall inflammation in your body.
Why not to go gluten-free
1. You think it’s a magic bullet for weight loss. Not only can you lose weight without going gluten-free, but what’s more is that gluten-free products are actually less healthy than the regular versions. For example, gluten-free crackers, breads and baked goods often contain more fat and more calories than their gluten-filled counterparts, since manufacturers have to add extra ingredients to make up for the lack of the sticky protein.
2. You think you might have celiac disease. You need to get tested for this by a physician; it’s not something you can figure out on your own.
3. You want to start a healthier lifestyle. If you’re taking steps toward a healthier lifestyle, kudos! However, there are plenty of other things to focus on first before eliminating an entire food group. Exercise, sleep and self-care all play more important roles in your health than cutting out bread.
Our favorite gluten-free dishes in Park City
Even though I’m not celiac, when I’m trying to eat a more anti-inflammatory diet or improve my gut health, I still like to reach for gluten-free dishes. Plus, I often have friends and family who are gluten intolerant come to visit me in our mountain town. During those times, here are some of my favorite gluten-free go-to’s:
- Blind Dog: This seafood and steakhouse spot has lots of gluten-free items on their menu — even tempura-battered shrimp and fried chicken — all of which are clearly marked on the menu.
- Yuki Yama Sushi and Shabu are two awesome spots for sushi on Main Street, and almost everything on their menus is gluten-free. Just replace the soy sauce with tamari, a great gluten-free substitute for the sushi staple.
- Element Kitchen & Bakery offers chef-prepared, healthy and convenient meals to-go for families or individuals. They have lots of vegan options in addition to the gluten-free selections.
- Five5eeds: Always a hit for brunch or lunch, Five5eeds has delicious gluten-free choices like mushrooms on quinoa toast and a lamb bowl. Almost anything on the menu can be made gluten-free on request.
- Versante: This Italian spot in the Park City Peaks Hotel offers a healthier twist on Italian staples by offering gluten-free crust and pastas, as well as zucchini noodles to replace regular pasta in any dish.
- Vinto on Main Street and Este Pizza in Prospector Square are two more of our favorite places to grab a gluten-free slice.