If you're wondering what nutrient deficiencies arise by following a gluten-free diet, I'll let you in on a big secret.
There isn't a nutrient found in a gluten-filled grain or food product that you can't obtain elsewhere. In other words, you ain't missing out on nothin'.
Like Amber, I avoid gluten and dairy and am often questioned by well-meaning friends and strangers about how I get enough of certain vitamins and minerals. When it comes to allergen-free diets, there's an erroneous perception that you must deprive yourself of vital nourishment (and tasty food, too).
Let's talk about gluten for a moment. Gluten is a protein found in grains like whole wheat, barley, spelt, kamut and rye. Of all the gluten-containing grains, wheat is the most ubiquitous in our food culture, found in everything from soups and sauces to shampoo and medications.
I won't deny that whole wheat has its benefits. It can promote digestive health, heart health and blood sugar balance. Wheat is also a good source of important nutrients like fibre, amino acids, B vitamins (which are essential for energy and nerve function), vitamin E, magnesium, iron and zinc.
Unfortunately, most of the whole wheat on the market has been so processed, hybridized and refined that many of these nutrients have been stripped away. Dr. William Davis, author of the new book 'Wheat Belly', says another downside of wheat is it makes you fat.
However, gluten-free grains have fibre, amino acids, B vitamins and the rest of the gang, too.
Let's do a little comparison shopping. A cup of quinoa has more than double the iron, four times the vitamin E, four and a half times the essential fatty acids and significantly higher amounts of zinc, mangnesium, calcium and potassium than a cup of whole wheat.
Brown rice has nearly 20 times the amount of selenium - a potent cancer-fighting antioxidant - than whole wheat. Buckwheat (despite the name, it's gluten-free) has more vitamin K, magnesium and potassium than whole wheat, along with 35 percent less sodium.
But you know what else has plenty of vitamins, minerals, proteins, essential fats and fibre? Fruits and vegetables. Beans and legumes. Nuts and seeds. Lean meat and fish.
A diet rich in these foods (especially the fruits and veggies) is what will keep you in good stead. Wheat has only been cultivated for about 12,000 years – yet us humans have been around far longer than that. It's estimated that 300,000 Canadians and two million Americans have celiac disease, and yet there haven't been reports of these people dropping like flies. So I think it's safe to say that gluten isn't essential to our survival.
I believe that the biggest challenge of shifting to a gluten-free diet is making the commitment to cook at home. Gluten-free diets, or any alternative diets for that matter, propel us to forgo pre-prepared, processed convenience foods in favour of old-fashioned home cooking.
Eating a gluten-free diet of freshly-cooked, whole foods is simple and delicious once you learn the basics, and it definitely provides you with all of the nutrients you need to thrive. So please don't let anyone guilt you into thinking you or your child cannot be healthy because you choose to eliminate gluten.
Sondi Bruner is a Vancouver-based food blogger, freelance writer and holistic nutrition student who believes that fresh, whole foods contain tremendous power. Explore gluten-free, dairy-free and vegetarian recipes on her blog, The Copycat Cook.