Will excluding gluten from your diet help improve your performance and your health?
The world’s top-ranked tennis player says YES!
Trim-and-fit Novak Djokovic is not only No. 1 in men’s tennis, but he’s lately become the No. 1 promoter of a gluten-free diet.
In his book, Serve to Win: The 14-Day Gluten-Free Plan for Physical and Mental Excellence, a gluten-free Djokovic notes: “I was lighter, quicker, clearer in mind and spirit. . . . I could tell the moment I woke up each morning that I was different than I had been, maybe since childhood. I sprang out of bed, ready to tear into the day ahead.”
It should be noted that the somewhat eccentric athlete made other dietary changes before making his climb to the top spot in men’s tennis.
Djokovic, who stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 176 pounds, "went gluten-free, cut out dairy products, and stopped eating as many tomatoes. He also stopped drinking cold water because it inhibits blood flow," according to a BusinessInsider.com story.
We feel obligated to point out that a gluten-free diet is somewhat of a fad diet. While there are a lot of people who are sensitive to gluten, there is a heck of a lot more living a gluten-free lifestyle in hopes it improves their health or lowers their weight.
If you have a disorder that prevents you from processing gluten properly then a gluten-free lifestyle might not only help you feel better, but it just might save your life.
There is a wide spectrum of disorders associated with gluten. They range from celiac disease, to wheat allergy, to gluten insensitivity or gluten intolerance. By one estimate, about 1% of the U.S. population has celiac disease, which is an autoimmune disease that damages the small intestine. If left untreated, it increases the risk for a myriad of diseases that include malnutrition, stunted growth, cancer, severe neurological and psychiatric illness, and even death.
According to celiac.com, celiac disease affects at least 1 in 133 Americans. More and more people worldwide are following a gluten-free diet – including many who have never been diagnosed with celiac disease – simply because they “feel” as if they have the symptoms of gluten sensitivity or gluten intolerance.
It’s what they’re eating instead of gluten that can be the difference between a healthy gluten-free lifestyle or a fad diet way of eating.
It’s hard to argue with the success that Djokovic has achieved on court since going gluten-free. A recent New York Times feature slams home the point:
“For eighty-five weeks, he has been the No. 1 tennis player in the world. In addition to Wimbledon, he has won thirty-six other A.T.P. singles titles, including a U.S. Open, and three Australian Opens straight. In 2011, he played what some people think is the best season of tennis in history, winning seventy of the seventy-six matches he played and recording a forty-one-match winning streak. He hasn’t lost before the semifinals of a Grand Slam in three years.”
It’s probably a safe bet that some of those who read Djokovic’s book will attempt to go gluten-free. A number of athletes and celebrities are already giving it a go. Superstar singer Lady Gaga has said she went gluten-free to lose some weight.
In an article on Slate.com, Djokovic stressed that he is not trying to convert anyone. However, he cannot help but sing the praises of a gluten-free diet.
"The diet changed my life in a really positive way and affected positively my career and my overall feeling on and off the court," he said. "I particularly wanted to share this kind of food regime and this kind of change that affected my life positively with the people, just present them my own experience.”
Many celebs say eating gluten-free makes it possible to lose weight—and when they add gluten back into their diet, the weight returns. This begs the question: because a food is gluten-free, does it make it healthier? Does it make it calorie-free?
There’s a good chance your grocery store has a “gluten-free” aisle. A number of food chains, including Dunkin’ Donuts, have rolled out gluten-free items in an attempt to cash in on the current trend.
There is a “halo effect” associated with the term gluten free. When we buy gluten-free pasta, breads and crackers, we think they are healthier for us.
Be warned: many gluten-free foods have less fiber and fewer nutrients.
According to a report on DailyMail.com, when manufacturers create a gluten-free product, they often remove the wheat protein from the food by swapping wheat flour for another flour such as almond, rice, corn or even bean. However, this missing gluten makes it difficult for breads and bakery products to retain their shape and softness as they cook. To alleviate this, additives such as xanthum gum and hydroxypropyl methylcellulose or corn starch are introduced. Extra sugar and fat are also added to the products to make them tastier.
The result is that gluten-free bread can actually add pounds to your waistline.
These “specialized” products often have especially high prices too.
The best gluten-free diet includes lots of healthy whole foods. Brown rice, quinoa and corn are gluten-free; so are vegetables and fruits, dairy, meats, poultry, fish and beans.
Current U.S Open champion Rafael Nadal isn’t about to follow the lead of his on-court nemesis.
"I am happy with a normal diet,” Nadal said. “I'm not saying it's a negative thing. Now it seems like the gluten-free diet is great, but after three or four years we will find another thing that will be great, too. Then the gluten-free diet will not work any more."
Susan Burke March is Registered and Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Educator, who as eDiet's Chief Nutritionist, promotes the dietary health and well being of consumers worldwide.