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GLUTEN GONE

My client George had no problem passing on candy, diet soda or ice cream. He didn't have a sweet tooth. Nor did he mind going without butter, cream, rich sauces, fried foods or other types of high-fat choices. When I first told George about the Virgin Diet, he was fine with the idea of giving up sugar and artificial sweeteners, and he didn't think he'd mind letting go of corn, soy, eggs, dairy and peanuts.

Then we got to gluten, and all hell broke loose. Or at least that's what it felt like on my end of the phone as I listened to George vent his frustration.

“No cereal? No granola? No pasta? No couscous? No bread? How do you expect me to do that?”

Gluten is an ingredient found in most grains, especially wheat, barley and rye. It disrupts your digestion by damaging the microvilli of the small intestine, where we absorb our nutrients. Gluten also makes your intestines more permeable, which can lead to leaky gut, food intolerance, immune problems, inflammation and an inability to absorb nutrients and make vitamin B12. What this adds up to is several different ways that gluten causes you to gain weight, which you're then unable to lose.

For some people, gluten is outright dangerous because they have celiac disease, a form of extreme gluten intolerance. If you suffer from celiac disease, the starchy side of life can create serious health risks, including arthritis, osteoporosis and autoimmune conditions. It can even ultimately cause death. Although celiac disease is often hard to diagnose, George's doctor had run tests and already determined that he didn't have it.

Ironically, the one problem that celiac disease does not cause is weight gain. Because they have so much difficulty absorbing nutrients, most celiacs are thin or underweight.

Luckily, George did not suffer from this problem. In fact, he was struggling with 20 extra pounds that he wanted to lose.

“If I don't have celiac disease, doesn't that mean it's okay for me to eat gluten?” George asked. “I'm sure I could eat it in moderation, anyway.”

“When it comes to gluten — and to the other high-FI foods — moderation doesn't work,” I answered. Celiac disease is only the most extreme form of gluten intolerance, just as IgE food allergies are an extreme form of “immune system gone wild.” But the less extreme forms can also create significant problems for us. Just because George doesn't have celiac disease didn't mean he couldn't be having other problems with gluten. And if he was, then every time he ate bread, pasta, cereal or baked goods, he was sabotaging his weight-loss efforts — not necessarily because of the calories but because of the way high-FI gluten inflamed his system and disrupted his digestion.

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