Cutting out Gluten and Dairy? Is it Healthy?
It’s never been easier to eat a gluten and dairy free diet. Restaurants are increasingly catering to people with a range of dietary requirements, and every product manufactured and sold in supermarkets must clearly display allergens on its label. A restaurant may have a GF or DF beside its dish to let you know if it is gluten free or dairy free, and your waiter should be able to check with the chef. You will be accommodated.
When should you cut out gluten and dairy, and when should you not?
Coeliac Disease is believed to be underdiagnosed in the UK1, and it cause a whole range of health issues, so maybe cutting out gluten is a good thing. You can also be severely intolerant to gluten without a diagnosis of Coeliac. In fact, often, if you have eliminated gluten from your diet and undergo a blood test for Coeliac Disease, you can get a false negative result. This happened to me, and I can tell you, I know I’m intolerant to the point of extremity. Many of us also know about “dough babies” - when you get bloated from eating pizza or pasta or any gluten rich foods. For this reason, a lot of people stop eating gluten in the run up to big events, so they don’t feel like a bloated whale.
Dairy, too is not a food that humans are supposed to consume - this about it, it’s food for baby cows.2 Dairy products tend to be full of fat, high in cholesterol and have been known to cause flare ups of irritable bowel syndrome. If you get bloated, have bad skin, flatulence or diarrhea after consuming dairy, you might be lactose intolerant.3 So whether or not you’re trying to have a healthy gut, lose weight or lower your cholesterol, cutting out dairy could help you.
Dairy - What contains it? Why do I need it?
Milk, and derivatives of milk contain dairy. This means cheese, yogurt, ice cream, butter, custard and cream. There are more, but these are the most apparent ones, so if you wanted to cut down or cut out dairy, start here. However, while dairy products are, technically, food for infant calves, there are a number of nutrients that humans get from dairy products. These include: calcium, Vitamin B12, Vitamin B2, iodine, protein, phosphorous and potassium.4 This might seem like a long list of reasons for you to consume dairy, but these nutrients are available in other forms, which leads me to…
Dairy alternatives and supplements.
There are so many dairy free options available now, that have the same consistency as dairy. Soy, coconut and almond milks all mean that you can still have your coffee with foam. Your best option for other substitutes is to look for a vegan option as it is guaranteed to be dairy free. So, vegan cheese, ice cream, butter are all going to have no dairy products. Don’t worry - you can still have chocolate. Most dark chocolate containing 70% cocoa or more won’t contain any dairy, but make sure you read the label if you’re seriously intolerant.
Try to eat a healthy, balanced diet, to make sure you get the most out of what you eat. You can find most of your nutritional needs in fruits, vegetables and meat, but if you’re worried you’re not getting enough, you could consider taking supplements.
A supplement for bone support will contain calcium, magnesium and vitamin D, which is a good option if you’ve cut out dairy.5 We all know that calcium is good for maintaining strong and healthy bones, but did you know about magnesium? Magnesium is good for boosting the immune system and energy levels, which means it’s an essential worker for our bodies.6
A vitamin B complex supplement is also a good idea. Dairy products contain vitamins B12 and B2, and a B vitamin complex will contain these and more.7 Every B vitamin is important for different reasons, and each B complex supplement will have varying degrees of these vitamins, so look for one with the highest amounts of B1, B2 and B12.
You can up your intake of protein by eating more beans and lean meats, which are protein rich. Iodine supplements are readily available, and can help with improving your brain function, and unless you eat an awful lot of seaweed or seafood you probably aren’t getting enough into your body.8 So you should probably consider upping your intake anyway. Vitamin A is also something you might be deficient in if you cut out dairy, because it is found in whole milk and butter.9
Gluten - what is it? Why should I eat it, or not?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. It binds foods together and help foods retain their shape. So, bread, pasta and cakes are all out if you suffer Coeliac Disease or have a severe intolerance. However, you can also fall prey to something I refer to as “sneaky wheat”. This is when foods you wouldn’t expect to, have wheat in them. This is most common in sauces, prepared meats such as sausages, and treats.
Gluten isn’t all bad though - it is a major source of carbohydrates, which is what you need to keep going. Gluten is also a source of fibre, which keeps your bowels moving correctly. That is, of course, if you don’t have Coeliac Disease. If you suffer from Coeliac Disease, gluten can be dangerous for you - it damages your intestines and can cause malnutrition as your body is unable to absorb all the vitamins and minerals it needs from your foods. Long-term, it can even cause anaemia.10 If you have an intolerance, you’ll suffer from stomach pains and feel bloated, and have constipation, but you will not necessarily damage your gut. Either way, cutting gluten from your diet can be achieved.
Gluten free foods and minerals.
Ensuring you get enough carbohydrates for fuel, and fibre for bowel movement is essential in a gluten free diet. Carbohydrates are generally found in starchy foods, and some good alternatives are: potatoes, rice, quinoa, sweet potatoes, nuts (cashews in particular) and seeds. You may think cous-cous is a gluten free alternative, but avoid it. It does contain gluten, and a lot of it.
Likewise, you can get fibre from brown rice, green vegetables, lentils and peas. A balanced diet should provide you with all the carbs and fibre you need, but if you suffer Coeliac Disease, you are at an increased risk of having a vitamin and/or mineral deficiency due to your body’s inability to absorb all the nutrients it needs.11
The B Complex vitamins I mentioned earlier will be a great bonus to you, because you could very well be deficient in those, in particular, folate (B9). Calcium is another one you’ll need to top up, to make sure your bones are healthy and strong.
Psyllium husk is great for helping with tummy troubles, and is a fantastic source of fibre - which you might find yourself struggling to get enough of.12 It can ease constipation, and put a stop to diarrhea, so it should be an essential in your cupboard if you are prone to bowel problems such as irritable bowel syndrome.
Selenium will give you a little energy boost, and also boost your immune system.13 Also working as an antioxidant, it is a nice little guardian of your gut and nervous system. If you’re suffering the ill-effects of gluten, it’s one you should consider to boost your body into health.
Likewise, manganese is a good supporter of healthy and strong bones, so if you have been malabsorbing calcium for a long period of time, you could do with adding some manganese supplements to your day.14 It also helps with your joints, so you can keep active and metabolise all the nutrients you need.
Healthy living without gluten or dairy
So, while food pyramids recommend we eat a balanced diet, which includes dairy and gluten, but this is only good for us if we aren’t intolerant. If you have undiagnosed or misdiagnosed Coeliac Disease or are lactose intolerant, consuming gluten and dairy could be doing you more harm than good. Eliminating the above doesn’t have to be radical, and it doesn’t have to be a lifetime commitment, but maybe changing your diet to see if you feel better is a good idea.
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