After spending nearly two years working for an all-raw completely gluten-free vegan retreat center in Arizona, I had effectively stopped eating all gluten. After a year or so experimenting with eating some gluten since I left the center, I’ve still had a hard time allowing myself to eat gluten when gluten-free options are available. Many health circles promote a gluten-free lifestyle pretty heavily. It’s become trendy to eat gluten-free, and frankly, that concerns me. I have mostly cut gluten from my diet, but there isn’t really research out there effectively showing it’s not suited for the average person. I’ve been wondering: have I decided to eschew gluten without really questioning whether research shows it’s better to go GF without diagnosis of an allergy or celiac?
In the past few weeks, I have been gently coercing myself to try foods containing gluten. A little wheat-containing fake meat here, a little piece of bread at Vedge there. I’ll admit, even dabbling in gluten territory has been kind of tough for me emotionally. It’s been labeled an “unsafe” food by the medical doctor I worked for at the center, and as someone with a history of disordered eating, I’ve worked hard to move beyond labeling foods as “good” and “bad” (purely from a nutritional standpoint. This doesn’t apply to animal products, because I acknowledge that they’re foremost horrible from a cruelty standpoint).
I spent years studying with a doctor who said gluten would eff you up, and I’ve read enough Kris Carr and Mind Body Green blogs to see why it’s just cooler to avoid gluten. But sometimes I take a look at JL Goes Vegan, or a post on Choosing Raw that includes a gluten option, and I am faced with the question: am I really avoiding gluten because I feel kind of icky physically after eating gluten, or is it emotional, or both? I think these are important questions to ask ourselves, regardless of the food items in question. Our emotions are certainly tied to our guts–scientific studies have shown that the bacteria in our guts can influence our emotions in big ways–but there isn’t enough scientific evidence to suggest that those without intolerance to gluten need to forgo it, and it’s so plentiful in many vegan foods, it seems a shame to tell people to avoid it altogether and push them towards gluten-free products, many of which are not vegan.
I’ve noticed many so-called health-oriented vegans moving away from veganism because while being a gluten-free vegan is certainly doable and even easy once you get the hang of it (If you’re a gluten-free vegan, I highly recommend the Manifest Vegan blog!) it adds yet another set of “must-do’s” and may make veganism feel more restrictive to certain folks. High raw seems like a great option for folks who want to eat raw food but don’t want to be all-raw; gluten-free, as in “you must not eat anything with gluten,” may push would-be-vegans off the path. Nutritoinist Ginny Messina discusses the importance of vegans encouraging diverse food choices in their budding vegan friends and loved ones, and I agree with that.
I’ve got one wacky food allergy that I am already aware of (no testing needed)/ I’m the only person I know who gets Angelina Jolie lips and breaks out in hives when I touch or eat mangoes (it’s a shame, I know–they really are delicious). It’s not inconceivable that I’ve got a gluten intolerance given that eating gluten sometimes makes my tummy feel weird, even in small quantities. But, I’m willing to get tested to find out for sure what’s going on. Even if I do choose to avoid gluten after testing negative, that will at least be a more informed choice. While I believe that we should honor how our bodies feel above test results, I really am curious whether my outsized fear of gluten is just that–a fear–or if it really is rooted in a biological issue.
Have you ever considered cutting any vegan foods out of your diet completely, even if you haven’t been diagnosed with an allergy or intolerance? I would really love to hear from you in the comments.
Thank you for reading. Stay tuned for the results of my gluten tests. xo