Think you know AARP? What you don't know about us may surprise you. Discover all the 'Real Possibilities'



Martina Navratilova: Why I Switched to a Gluten-Free Diet

Three years ago, my digestive system tried to tell me something. I'm glad I listened,

Dream Vacation Sweepstakes

10 weeks. 10 amazing trips. Seize your chance to win! Official rules.

En español l As I went through menopause, I noticed that I felt bloaty and gassy a lot of the time. My energy was low, and I was usually very uncomfortable. These symptoms seemed to worsen whenever I ate pasta. At first, I thought the offender was the marinara sauce. So I switched to clam sauce. My digestive system still growled. I had no clue what was wrong with me, so I wrote it off to getting older.

Subscribe to the AARP Health Newsletter

Gluten-free symbol on grocery store shelf, Martina Navratilova goes gluten-free (Kyle Bursaw/DeKalb Daily Chronicle/AP Photo)

Some stores clearly label their products for shoppers interested in a gluten-free diet. — Kyle Bursaw/DeKalb Daily Chronicle/AP Photo

My doctor of 20 years did some tests and it turned out — ta-da! — I am gluten-intolerant. But I was unfamiliar with the condition, so never made the connection.

Now that I'm more educated on this topic, I've learned that gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley, and if you're sensitive to it, as I am, it triggers an immune reaction that can damage your small intestines and prevent absorption of some nutrients. Hence the tummy pain and the fatigue.

(There is a more serious gluten sensitivity condition called celiac disease, an autoimmune intestinal disorder that causes severe allergies to gluten. About one in 130 people has celiac disease; many more people are gluten-intolerant.)

After the diagnosis, I eliminated gluten from my diet. Within two days, I dropped a whole size from my waist, the bloat disappeared and, best of all, I began to feel energized again.

Going gluten-free is challenging but manageable. I'll be honest: I miss bread, especially dark, chewy whole-grain bread, like the kind I grew up with. Giving up pasta wasn't as difficult, although I do cook with gluten-free pasta when I need my Italian fix. And if you don't want to prepare it yourself, a lot of restaurants now offer gluten-free pasta, even pizza. Regardless, I just feel so much better. My body was telling me that I needed to change a huge chunk of my diet, and I always listen to my body. The benefit is that I feel healthier than ever.

If you're considering going gluten-free, here's some advice:

  • Don't concentrate on what you can't have. Concentrate on what you can have. Although I was initially challenged by a gluten-free diet, I've been able to find many alternatives to my favorite foods, from gluten-free beer to gluten-free oatmeal and bread.

  • Get familiar with grains you can eat, such as brown rice and quinoa.

  • Try new foods that are gluten-free. Gluten-free foods have gone mainstream, and they're easier to find than ever. Most major grocery stores now carry them.

  • Read labels carefully, and look closely at the ingredients list. You'll be surprised at how many foods contain wheat and wheat by-products. Salad dressings, soups and sauces are usually thickened with wheat, for example. Packaged processed foods — anything that comes in a box — are loaded with preservatives and derivatives that often contain gluten.

  • Be assertive (politely!) in restaurants. Ask the server if certain foods contain wheat or gluten. Fortunately, many restaurants now serve gluten-free foods.

  • Consider taking digestive enzymes. These nutritional supplements further assist your body in fully digesting your food. I take a raw enzyme product, and it has helped me tremendously.

  • Pay attention to how you feel once you've dropped gluten from your diet. I predict you'll feel much better and more energetic.

As for me, my symptoms have disappeared, and I'm happy with my stomach's decision to be gluten-free. All my life I've gone against the grain, and now I'm doing it with my diet.

Martina Navratilova is AARP's fitness expert.

Visit the AARP home page every day for great deals and for tips on keeping healthy and sharp

Topic Alerts

You can get weekly email alerts on the topics below. Just click “Follow.”

Manage Alerts


Please wait...

progress bar, please wait


GO ORGANIC! Martina Navratilova shares four tips for buying organic produce for healthy eating.

Tell Us WhatYou Think

Please leave your comment below.


Discounts & Benefits

From companies that meet the high standards of service and quality set by AARP.

Prescription medication spilling out of bottle

Members get a free Rx card from AARP® Prescription Discounts provided by Catamaran.

Walgreens Pharmacy

Members can earn exclusive points with Balance™ Rewards from Walgreens.

Caregiving walking

Caregiving can be a lonely journey, but AARP offers resources that can help.

Most Popular


bring health To Life-Visual MD


Social Security

How to strengthen Social Security for future generations. Discuss

Medicare & Insurance

Share health coverage information and experiences common to being age 50+. Join

Health Nuts

Share heart-smart recipes, fitness tips and stress relievers. Join