Thanks to Novak Djokovic – who soared to the number one ranking in men’s tennis after a breakthrough season that has been hailed as one of the greatest ever – the gluten-free diet is all the rage. Not a day goes by that we don’t hear about a grocery that’s stocking gluten-free products or a celebrity or athlete who’s decided to lighten up by trying it, like Djokovic pal Andy Murray, the number three-ranked player.

But what is the gluten-free diet? Does it work for all? And what does it say about our ambivalent relationship with carbohydrates, since gluten is a protein composite found in breads and pastas?

Gluten-sensitive enteropathy (GSE), also known as celiac disease or sprue, is a disease in which the malabsorption of nutrients from food in the small intestine causes gluten intolerance, which is apparently what Djokovic has. This condition also affects an estimated 1 percent of Americans.

The most common symptoms of gluten intolerance are body aches, fatigue, headaches, joint or muscle pain, bloating, diarrhea, heartburn and other digestive problems. In some scientific studies, autoimmune illnesses such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid disorders and diabetes have been connected to gluten intolerance.

There is a test to determine if you are gluten-intolerant. However, it is quite painful and eliminates too many people who might actually benefit from trying a gluten-free diet.

Indeed, there is no down side to trying the diet and seeing how it affects you. Initial fears associated with the gluten-free diet revolved around the potential loss of B-vitamins, iron and fiber and the carbohydrate/energy connection. Carbohydrates during training or competition have traditionally been considered essential in maintaining blood-sugar levels and energy while providing for a quick recovery.

As research has advanced, so has the information rebuffing the gluten-free diet fears. The diet is more likely to increase the amount of energy production and improve vitamin and mineral absorption, the immune system and hormone balance by reducing the stress on the intestine caused by gluten.

And it’s not as restrictive as you might think. A gluten-free diet includes fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and many dairy products like eggs, as well as rice, corn, soy, potato, tapioca, beans, sorghum, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, arrowroot, amaranth, teff, Montina and nut flours. Here you’re going to have to do your homework and read food labels. Gluten-free foods are labeled as such.

Try following the gluten free diet for a week first, see how you feel, then go on to the 30 day diet:

Most who try it, myself included, say there is a miraculous improvement in their symptoms and an overall sense of well-being.

Having said all this, I’d like to add that unless you are mortally allergic to gluten, you can certainly splurge here and there and have a slice of pizza or a bowl of fresh caccia e pepe pasta or a slice of panettone. It won’t kill you, and you’ll enjoy going back to your gluten-free diet even more.

Remember, it’s all about balance.

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