In these final days of National Celiac Awareness Month, I thought I’d get personal on the issue of health and be fully transparent by sharing the results of my annual physical blood tests.
Now that we’re back in Colorado, I’ve resumed seeing the primary care holistic doc who first pegged my troubles with gluten back in early 2007. (What can I say? I feel a certain sense of loyalty to the man since he successfully uncovered what other doctors had failed to…) I haven’t seen him since 2010, since we were living in New York for all of 2011 and most of 2012.
So why share my blood test results? There are two illustrative reasons.
First, I hope that by using myself as a transparent example, I can be at least one demonstration of how an active gluten-free lifestyle with a particular set of dietary choices can result in positive health outcomes.
Second, and maybe more importantly, I’m hoping to refute some of the haters out there. Let me explain. The gluten-free community these days is larger and more diverse than ever. Within that broad group, you find some very conservative opinions about what the “right” and “wrong” types of gluten-free diet are. Just yesterday, a gluten-free blogger-friend was taken to task by a reader on social media for the butter and sugar she used in a recipe. There are those who vilify gluten-free grains, such as rice, corn, and quinoa. There are those who take it a step further and also vilify gluten-free, non-grain carbohydrates, such as potatoes and tapioca. And the list could go on.
But as my Gluten-Free Edge co-author Melissa McLean Jory and I write, there are some sound nutritional principles to follow (such as focus your diet on fresh, whole foods), but there’s also room for plenty of personal variability within that. We need not—and should not—be so dogmatic about our approach to the food we eat. And though I’m only a sample size of one, as you’ll see, my blood test results refute the critics.
Some background: my lifestyle
Of course, before I share the actual test results, it’s helpful to understand my particular form of the gluten-free lifestyle.
For one, it’s an active lifestyle. As most of you know, I’m an ultramarathon-distance trail runner (currently 34 years old), and I train and race an average of 30–70 miles per week for a good chunk of the year. When I’m not trail running, you can also find me camping, hiking, rock and ice climbing, skiing, you get the idea.
For another, my diet is focused on fresh, whole foods. Lots of fruits and vegetables (including fairly regular morning smoothies, as well as tofu). Some eggs and modest amounts of dairy (plenty of Greek yogurt, plus milk, butter, mozzarella cheese). Some nuts and seeds. A regular sprinkling of seafood (primarily fish and shrimp, and not nearly enough lobster for my liking). Lean meats (chicken, turkey), with some pork, and smaller quantities of beef.
And finally, while it’s focused on fresh, whole foods, it’s also moderately indulgent. I enjoy from-scratch gluten-free pizza more or less weekly. I drink my fair share of wine (probably 1–2 bottles per week, if I’m being honest with myself), to a lesser degree gluten-free beer, and in the summer months cocktails. In modest quantities, but on a fairly regular basis week in and week out, I enjoy treats such as chocolate, ice cream, potato chips, and especially from-scratch baked gluten-free goodies, ranging from cookies to cupcakes (usually in association with developing recipes for the blog).
Please do note that my diet includes many of the items some members of the gluten-free community vilify: rice, corn, quinoa, sweet and white potatoes, soy (via tofu), brown rice pasta, an all-purpose flour blend that includes whole grain brown rice flour, whole grain sorghum flour, cornstarch, potato starch, and potato flour. We bake (and sweeten other dishes as needed) with a variety of options including white sugar, brown sugar, molasses, honey, maple syrup, and agave nectar.
But enough about that. On to the results!
The blood test results
Electrolytes and other athlete-relevant markers
Sodium = 142 (target range: 136–145)
Potassium = 4.6 (3.5–5.1)
Chloride = 106 (96–111)
Creatinine = 0.73 (0.65–1.36)
As I noted back in March in a post about magnesium, a gluten-free diet resolved electrolyte imbalances across the board in peer-reviewed studies, and my own electrolyte panel is all in the sweet spot.
Blood sugar, protein, and the dreaded lipid panel
Glucose = 89 (70–99)
Calcium = 8.8 (8.5–10.1)
Total Protein = 7.3 (6.4–8.2)
Cholesterol = 182 (less than 200 desirable)
Triglycerides = 71 (less than 150)
HDL = 61 (40–59)
LDL = 107 (less than 100)
VLDL = 14 (less than 30)
As you can see, measures such as blood glucose, calcium, and total protein are in the sweet spot. My overall cholesterol is great. Even better news, my HDL (good cholesterol) is high. In fact, it has nearly doubled since 2010, when it was 35. The current level of 61 the American Heart Association and Mayo Clinic rate as “considered protective against heart disease.” Meanwhile, my LDL (bad cholesterol) is in the “near optimal” range, again according to AHA and MC. Finally, my VLDL—an important risk factor for heart disease—is also in an optimal range.
Vitamin D = 23 (30–150)
There were lots of other measures on my blood test, but the only one that was outside of desirable ranges was my vitamin D, which was a bit low. Curiously, it was exactly the same in 2013 as it was in 2010. I’m not especially surprised that it’s low, since as a matter of routine I always get my annual physical in late winter/early spring, when your vitamin D levels are naturally their lowest over the course of the year. But I’ll be paying closer to attention to getting good dietary sources of vitamin D and plenty of sunshine (not a problem when I’m trail running outdoors for hours on end these days).
As I said above, I’m only a sample size of one, and perhaps my ultra-running makes me a fairly unique case from a fitness standpoint. But the message is clear: a gluten-free diet combined with an active lifestyle can be a path to good—even great—health. And to the haters who maintain that gluten-free grains—or even gluten-free carbohydrates in general—are a path to destruction, let’s all remember a bit of tolerance. Each person has to choose the form of the gluten-free diet that works best for their individual biology, and for some of us, that includes gluten-free grains and other carbs.
Image copyright Skypixel | Dreamstime.com. Used with permission.