Just Between Us Gals

How the gluten-free diet can improve your health
By Carla Spacher

Gluten is everywhere, but is it innocent or is it betraying your body? By now you probably already know that people on the gluten-free diet avoid wheat, barley, rye, and any oats not labeled gluten-free. And gluten can hide in the most unexpected foods like some brands of broth and corn tortillas.

Gluten not only affects people with celiac disease but supposedly healthy individuals as well. There is now evidence of a condition called non-celiac gluten sensitivity, which mirrors the same symptoms as celiac disease but without causing damage to the intestine. Why gluten sensitivity is so prevalent now is not entirely understood. There are, however, a number of professionals who offer advice for women about the gluten-free diet.

Does gluten cause bloating?

Bloating seems to be the number one complaint among women. Physicians used to turn their heads regarding this subject as it seemed to be naturally occurring during menstrual cycles and in menopausal years. Then came irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Per my gastroenterologist, there is no science to an IBS diet—she suggests simply avoiding the foods that bother you. For me, one of those foods is gluten.

Daniel Leffler, MD, an international authority on celiac disease and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, explains that gluten and related proteins in grains can draw water out of the intestines and feed bacteria in the intestines, causing bloating, gas, and indigestion. In light of this information, the hormone explanation for bloating is no longer sufficient. However, bloating is one of the more minor issues that gluten can cause.

Can the gluten-free diet help osteoporosis?

If you have one autoimmune disease (like celiac), you are prone to additional autoimmune diseases, like osteoporosis. Vikki Petersen, DC, CCN—the co-author of The Gluten Effect, and an expert in the field of gluten sensitivity with over 20 years in practice—fits gluten sensitivity/intolerance and celiac disease under the same umbrella. She states that her patients’ bone density often improves on a gluten-free diet.

Equally important, she explains that, though it is typical for osteoporosis specialists to recommend that their patients consume more dairy products, she finds that her patients feel better on a dairy-free diet. Milk tends to be acidic, which causes additional inflammation. When you consume acidic foods such as dairy and red meat, your body takes calcium from your bones to handle the acidity in your bloodstream, thus weakening your bone structure.

Dr. Petersen also points out that many people’s bodies do not make the lactase enzyme needed to digest another mammal’s milk. Even babies can only digest their mother’s milk for up to two to three years. The medical community concentrates on calcium loss, but Dr. Petersen notes that your bones not only contain calcium but magnesium, zinc, and boron. If you have osteoporosis, you should be tested for these minerals as well.

Diets in the United States and Europe are considerably higher in dairy and animal products compared to other countries, and these countries have the highest incidence of osteoporosis and loss of bone density. Countries that consume little to no dairy or animal products have a lower incidence of osteoporosis. To be clear, however, calcium is vital for those with osteoporosis and everyone else. The best form is found in fresh, green leafy vegetables and fruit. Women should have seven servings per day, and men should have nine.

How does the gluten-free diet affect PMS, infertility, miscarriage, and hormone imbalance?

Your adrenal glands are responsible for regulating and balancing the levels of your hormones, including estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and DHEA, as well as the non-sexual hormones like cortisol (the stress hormone) and thyroid. When you are gluten intolerant and eat gluten, it can place stress on your adrenal glands, causing them to function improperly.

Your immune system is like a fireman choosing which fires to put out first based on priority. When your adrenals are stressed, it has to choose things like regulating your heart rate over sex hormones, thus the sex hormones fall by the wayside. This explains the high prevalence of infertility and miscarriage in those who are gluten intolerant. Gluten or other food sensitivities can even alter your mood.

Balanced hormones are extremely beneficial for your health, but a decent sex drive is as well. Then perhaps the words, “I’m not in the mood,” would be spoken less frequently. In addition, orgasms increase endorphins, putting you in a better mood. You can also produce endorphins through exercise—and it burns calories too.

Weight loss and the gluten-free diet

Natasha Turner, ND, writes, “Hormones dictate every aspect of weight loss, from appetite cravings to how well you burn and where you store fat, yet 80 to 90 percent of adults are hormonally imbalanced.”

While you can get somewhat of a handle on your imbalanced hormones, why not attack the possible cause instead? Wheat is not digestible in any of us, but your immune system quickly handles the problem—if you tolerate gluten. But that’s a big if: There are a growing number of individuals who are gluten intolerant in some form or another. My view is that if your body has just so much energy to expend addressing tasks, why sabotage it with toxins, foreign bodies, and indigestible food? Why waste its energy on gluten?

The gluten-free diet is only as healthy as the foods you consume: You can eat tons of processed food, loaded with starch and carbohydrates, or you can eat more natural foods such as fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats such as avocado. The choice is yours.

However, if Dr. Petersen is correct in that gluten-intolerant individuals may have hormonal imbalances, and Dr. Turner is correct in that hormones dictate weight gain and weight loss, continuing to consume gluten when you are intolerant is counterintuitive to losing weight. Find out if you are sensitive to gluten by getting tested.

Gluten intolerance testing

Even if you believe gluten is causing a physical or emotional reaction for you, some doctors won’t test their patients for gluten intolerance. If you are running into this problem, consider getting tested through Cyrex Labs. They not only test for gluten, but other sensitivities as well. Sometimes other foods react similarly to gluten: cow’s milk, casein, whey, chocolate, oats, yeast, coffee, sesame, buckwheat, sorghum, millet, hemp, amaranth, quinoa, tapioca, teff, soy, egg, corn, rice, and finally, potato. Sometimes many of these foods bother me and other times they do not. My belief is that when your adrenal glands are not under stress, they do not mistake these foods for toxins and perform their job well.

There are a plethora of gluten-free products on the market now—I cannot even keep up with them all. My readers are continuously forwarding me products to add to my list of gluten-free products, though I rarely receive a request to add anything to my celiac list of foods to avoid.

The gluten-free diet may be a positive lifestyle choice for you. If you decide to give it a try, remember to be patient, as it takes time to adjust to a new diet. Find the foods that are right for your body. I have included a couple of recipes to get you started. I hope you enjoy them.

Though I entitled this article, “Just between us gals,” I am hoping that you men reading will pass this information on to the women in your life.


Carla Spacher is a gluten-free consultant, expert writer, professional recipe developer, and the founder of glutenfreerecipebox.com. Follow her on Twitter @GFrecipebox or Facebook as Gluten Free Carla.


Gluten-Free Oat (or Sorghum) Bread

1 cup non-fat milk (or water), heated to 110 degrees

2 tablespoons organic honey

1 packet or 2 1/4 teaspoons instant dry yeast

1 1/4 cups gluten-free oat flour (or sorghum flour, 5.5 ounces, if oat intolerant)

1 cup potato starch

1/2 cup tapioca flour/starch

1/4 cup flaxseed meal

1 tablespoon xanthan gum (or guar gum)

3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

4 large organic egg whites, at room temperature

2 teaspoons gluten-free oats for top (optional)

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (or gluten-free spray oil), for pan

Grease or spray oil a nine by five pan or nine by four by four metal loaf pan. Mix warm milk/water and honey together in a large cup. Add the yeast and stir. Set it aside until foamy on the top, about five minutes. Beat the egg whites at high speed in the bowl of a stand mixer until bubbly, about 30 seconds. Whisk together the remaining dry ingredients. Set them aside.

Add the oil, vinegar, and yeast mixture to the egg whites and blend on low speed for about 15 seconds. Add dry ingredients all at once and blend just until all of the dry ingredients are moist. Beat on high speed for four minutes. Add water to a cup and dip a rubber spatula into the cup several times and pat the top of the dough with droplets of water. Distribute the dough evenly and smooth out the top. Drain off any excess water, if necessary. If topping the bread with oats, sprinkle them on top and pat them into the dough with moistened fingers.

Place the bread pan in a warm environment, preferably 80 degrees. Allow the dough to rise until it is about half an inch over the top of the pan, about 35 minutes. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the pan on the center of the rack in the center of the oven and bake for about 37 minutes. Remove the loaf from the oven and immediately transfer it to a metal rack to cool completely, about two hours.

Slice the bread with an electric slicer, electric knife, or serrated knife. Store unused slices in a zipper storage bag and freeze for up to several weeks.


Soft Gluten-Free Naan (Indian Flatbread)

1/2 cup water, heated to 110 degrees

1 tablespoon organic honey

2 teaspoons instant dry yeast

1/2 cup buttermilk (or one tablespoon apple cider vinegar plus enough gluten-free rice milk to make 1/2 cup)

3/4 cup white rice flour

3/4 cup brown rice flour

1/4 cup plus two tablespoons potato starch, plus more for dusting

1/4 cup plus two tablespoons non-GMO cornstarch (Bob’s Red Mill brand)

2 teaspoons guar gum (or xanthan gum)

1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt

1/4 teaspoon gluten-free baking powder (Rumford, or Featherweight for corn-free)

1/4 cup neutral-flavored cooking oil

2 large eggs, beaten (optional for vegan diets*)

Butter (or Earth Balance spread), for buttering tops of naan

If using rice milk and vinegar, mix and set aside for 15 minutes or until thick. Use more vinegar, if necessary. Proof the yeast by stirring the warm water and honey together in a medium-size bowl. Add the yeast and stir. Set it aside until it forms a foam layer on top, about five minutes.

In a separate large bowl, add remaining dry ingredients and whisk thoroughly. Add the buttermilk, oil, and beaten eggs to the yeast mixture; whisk it well. Preheat a heavy skillet over medium heat.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients; using a rubber spatula, stir until it reaches the consistency of creamy mashed potatoes; allow it to rest for 20 minutes. Scatter two tablespoons of potato starch to a clean, flat surface; scoop 1/4 to 1/3 cup at a time of dough onto the surface; knead with starch-dusted hands; shape into a disk as wide as your spatula. Add additional potato starch as needed.

Using a wide spatula, transfer the disk to the preheated skillet. Using your fingers or a floured pastry roller, immediately flatten and distribute the dough in the pan, working from the center and moving outwards. Be careful not to burn your forearm on the pan.

Fry the dough on each side for approximately 2 1/2 minutes; and coat tops of fully cooked naan with salted butter. Repeat these steps with the remaining dough or refrigerate any leftover dough for up to three days or until the expiration date on the buttermilk. Serve warm.

*If omitting the eggs, increase the liquid.