Spry editor Lisa Delaney is one of the rare souls who know what it’s like to be an “after.” This journalist and author of Secrets of a Former Fat Girl shed 70 pounds—and six dress sizes–and has kept it off for 20 years. She answers your questions here each week
DEAR READERS: At the risk of developing eye strain, I’m continuing my series of reviews on the latest and most intriguing diet books.
The plan: South Beach Diet: Gluten Solution, by Dr. Arthur Agatston, with Dr. Natalie Geary
The premise: The South Beach diet doctor is back, this time with a mission to set the record straight on gluten. Many people, Agatston says, are “obsessed” with gluten but don’t have anything to worry about—they don’t need to eliminate healthy whole grains, and shouldn’t. But some people may be sensitive to the wheat protein, experiencing fatigue, headaches and GI symptoms that eat away at their quality of like. Agatston sets out to help readers determine their “personal gluten threshold” with a basic elimination diet strategy in Phase 1.
Key details: Overall , the diet is basically the same as South Beach, emphasizing non-starchy veggies, fruits, whole grains, lean protein and good fats—you’ll just be giving up gluten for a few weeks to determine if you have gluten sensitivity. He focuses not on calorie-counting but on serving size (which I think is more practical, anyway), allowing for three meals and two snacks daily. The good doctor does a good job of explaining why gluten may cause problems, including the changes in the processing of wheat and commercial baking methods that have, he says, made gluten less easily digested, and the fact that baked goods and many other products are supplemented with gluten to improve texture. Agatston also sites promising, yet preliminary, evidence that gluten may throw off the bacteria balance in the gut, resulting in bloating and other GI symptoms. He falls short, though, of recommending probiotics—the “good bacteria” found in live-culture yogurt—as a remedy.
The diet has three phases: Phase 1, recommended for people who have 10 lbs to lose, as well as intense cravings and gluten sensitivity symptoms, is a replica of South Beach, banning any sugars, starches or other simple carbs, as well as forbidding gluten-containing foods like wheat, barley or rye, grains, and surprising gluten sources like soy sauce, soy products, imitation crabmeat and blue cheese. During Phase 2, dieters reintroduce gluten-free starches like quinoa and corn tortillas and fruits gradually, working up to three gluten-free starches and three fruits/day over 2 weeks. If, after that, you are symptom free, you can reintroduce slowly, swapping healthy sources of gluten (like whole grains) for gluten-free starches. The book includes modifications for people who have little or no weight to lose but who think they are gluten sensitive.
Agatston also emphasizes the importance of exercise, recommending interval training as a smart strategy for optimizing your workout time.
Quick cautions: It’s important—as Agatston says—that you consult with your doctor if you experience symptoms after reintroducing gluten, as you may have celiac disease. A blood test that measures the levels of an antibody released when the lining of the intestine is damaged by peptides produced by partially digested gluten can confirm a celiac diagnosis.
FFG fave? Yes! I appreciate that Agatston isn’t just jumping on the gluten-free bandwagon, but attempting, in a very clear and considered way, to help people figure out whether gluten is indeed a problem for them, and provide a solution. The basic South Beach Diet itself has always been, I think, a good one for its emphasis on variety, quality carbs, good fats and lean protein. The book is really practical and readable, revealing sources of hidden gluten, providing tips for travelers and dining out strategies, as well as including recipes.
Lisa Delaney is editor of Spry magazine and Spryliving.com. Ask her your question here.