a special feature from *Debra Orringer, Clinical Exercise Physiologist

The newest buzzwords on the health circuit are “gluten free” and “dairy free” but what do they really mean and can these diets positively affect our health as well as combat adult and childhood obesity?

Besides the popularity of gluten and dairy-free diets, one main reason that people restrict these foods is for medical issues they might have. Basic symptoms of gluten and/or dairy intolerance can be gas, bloating, stomach pain, nausea and even diarrhea after consumption. It is important to note here that a gluten-free diet is the only medically accepted treatment for celiac disease. And, if you or someone in your family is gluten intolerant, please consult with your physician in order to understand your specific diet guidelines.

Sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish between which food might cause the sensitivity in your body. If you do decide to cut out a particular food from your diet, it may be beneficial to add or subtract one food at a time within a couple weeks span from each other to see any potential side effects.

If you were to Google the two phrases gluten-free and dairy-free, your computer might explode from the enormity of articles that are out there relating to these subjects, whether related to health, ethics, or allergies. One resource might give benefits of replacing these items in your diet, while the next will give reasons to keep these foods in your diet. So, what’s what?

GLUTEN FREE:  Refers to refined grains – During the refining process, the bran and the germ portion of the grain seed are removed—and so are the fiber, vitamins, and minerals present in those two layers. Any nutrients added to “fortified” grains do not make up for what is removed during the refining process. These grains (usually refined wheat and corn) are then turned into junk and snack foods.  Fiber, water and complete proteins, which fill you up, are missing.  The calories are super concentrated whereas the nutrition is not.  These foods are easy to over-consume, and tend to promote cravings and blood sugar spikes.

Whole grains are better than refined grains, but still not as nutritionally dense as fruits and vegetables. Whole grains also have a lot of added sodium and sugars.

Instead of running to the “gluten free aisle” in the grocery store (unless you are gluten intolerant), think of getting your nutrition and your carbohydrates from fruits and vegetables.  Even the so-called gluten-free foods are a buzzword for highly processed, low quality and over-sweetened junk.

DAIRY FREE:  Did you know that nearly half the carbohydrates in dairy come from sugar?  While over-consuming fat is not a great choice, it’s not fat that makes us fat. The sugar is what our bodies are fighting. Many people simply cannot digest lactose and it can lead to a whole host of ailments, both acute and chronic.

What about ‘calcium’? Dairy is not the only source of calcium. You can find calcium in significant amounts in a wide variety of non-dairy, nutrient-dense foods, including vegetables, meat and seafood, nuts and seeds. Dark leafy greens like kale and spinach, meat and seafood like salmon and oysters, as well as nuts and seeds like almonds and walnuts are sources as well.

Is gluten-free or dairy-free a fad or a lifestyle? If you want to give up gluten, dairy and even sugar, you will need to become a careful reader of food labels, find nutritional replacements for the foods you give up and spend extra time in the kitchen preparing meals. You can still eat some grains on a gluten-free diet. Options include brown rice, buckwheat and millet. Rice milk and almond milk may be used in place of cow’s milk. You can also enjoy the natural sweetness in fresh fruits and the best are the ones that are locally grown and in season.

Remember, we are not restricting our diet but instead complementing it with healthy alternatives. Our bodies crave balance and when we fuel our bodies properly we live healthier, happier and more energetic lives. It’s a win-win situation when you understand the differences.

*Debra Orringer, MS from Naples, FL, is a Clinical Exercise Physiologist with 20 years in the fitness industry. She has managed the wellness programs at the Kennedy Space Center as well as consulted for several national fitness companies, authored articles, and retains a myriad of advanced level certifications. Debra works as a Wellness Coach for Isagenix.

For further comments contact Debra at: debo@321GetFitt.com