Ah, Myth 2, you baffle me. The video I referenced two weeks ago, indicated that eliminating a food group like gluten — still baffled by this — can lead to nutritional deficiencies and even fatigue. Gluten, as you know if you are gluten-free, is a protein found in wheat. The similar proteins found in barley and rye have different names, but for the sake of ease, we lump them all together as “gluten.”
So, yes, gluten contributes to your overall nutrition profile (but still isn’t a “food group”). Gluten is a good thing for many reasons, not just protein. It makes breads rise, doughs elastic, and other good things for baking and cooking. On the other hand, it makes me and many, many others very sick. Because we must exist without gluten in our diets — and again, I speak only of those glutens relating to wheat, barley, and rye — we are clear and absolute proof that gluten is not necessary to maintain nutritional health.
So, okay, what *could* be the cause of fatigue for people, including those on a gluten-free diet? The key causes tend to be less-than-optimal intake of important vitamins and minerals. Specifically:
- B Vitamins, including thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), folic acid, and more. There is nothing about the gluten-free diet that should reduce your intake of B vitamins, particularly if you’re eating a balanced diet of legumes / pulses, meats, eggs, and dairy products. Cereals and grain products are often fortified with B vitamins, including riboflavin. Fish, shellfish, soy products, like tofu, and leafy greens also contribute to a good balance of B vitamins. You don’t need gluten-filled foods to get your nutrition this way.
- Magnesium. It turns out magnesium is important for energy in the human body. Obviously, you can take magnesium supplements (I’d strongly suggest discussing this with your doctor first), or — and you are probably starting to notice a pattern here — enjoy more foods that are rich in magnesium. These include dark leafy greens, seeds, nuts, whole grains such as brown rice. Legumes and pulses. Nuts and seedes. I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that avocados and dark chocolate are great for upping your intake of magnesium. Please note, again, that you can get plenty of magnesium without ever ingesting gluten.
- Antioxidants. These include Vitamins C and E, selenium and coenzyme Q10 (of which I know little, but apparently get plenty of), and low levels of antioxidants can cause fatigue. Guess what? You can totally get your antioxidants without consuming gluten (you knew this, right?). Fruits — prunes, raspberries, strawberries — beans, nuts like walnuts, leafy greens. Yep, definitely a pattern here. Again, you don’t need gluten to get your daily dose of antioxidants.
- Calcium. Our old friend calcium also doesn’t require gluten to be included in our diets. Dairy products, including yogurt, are great sources of calcium. So are leafy greens. Or basically, you can solve many of your nutritional deficiencies with a lot of kale, spinach, and my beloved Swiss chard!
Other nutrient deficiencies include low iron, in which case you need to work with your doctor to determine the root cause and best solution for increasing iron in your body. Potassium deficiencies can be addressed with bananas, dairy, vegetables, you get the picture. Basically, ahem, a good balanced diet is your best friend when it comes to upping your energy level.
And if dietary changes don’t help, please, please see your doctor. The Internet is a wonderful place, but it doesn’t have a medical license!
Tip of the Week
When you’re doing your weekly meal planning, make it a point to include leafy greens with every meal — or as close as possible. Greens hit all the key nutritional groups and are super-versatile when it comes to main courses or side dishes!
Gluten-Free Meal of the Week
After reading up on nutritional deficiencies, I feel like I need a huge spinach salad. Or my favorite spinach pie with baked eggs. However, I am eager to make a garlicky spinach and polenta pie to see if it will be a winner for the next time I host my book club. I love serving a vegetarian main so everyone can enjoy the meal.
What I love about this recipe is that is provides a great template for the pie, while allowing for lots of flexibility. Already, I’m thinking of adding feta cheese and roasted red peppers (plus a bit of cumin. Oh, and maybe some preserved lemon). Basically, you can take this recipe in lots of directions, incorporating Mediterranean flavors, Indian spices, or even Latin American oomph!
- Garlicky Spinach Pepper and Polenta Pie
- Fruit and Berries with Preserved Lemon Infused Greek Yogurt