Gluten free products have been sweeping the nation, making it easier for everyone to have access to a variety of gluten-free foods. It started as an alternative for people with Celiac disease, to whom consuming gluten is very harmful to their health and immune systems. In time it also seems to have morphed into a health craze where people feel strongly that gluten-free is the healthier choice they should always try to opt for. In grocery stores and restaurants today you can find gluten-free menus, baked goods, cereals, pastas, ice cream cones, pizza... you name it, and there is likely a gluten free substitute. So the questions are: what are the benefits of eating gluten-free, is it healthier, and could it benefit you? Read on my friend....
What is Gluten?
Gluten is a protein composite found in wheat, barely, and rye, as well as all their hybrid forms, such as spelt and kamut. It helps to give bread and pasta that spongy texture that many of us like so much. However, don't be fooled that gluten is only found in starchy bread and pasta sources, it also hides out in products like soy sauce, pickles, hot dogs, veggie burgers, licorice, canned soups, and salad dressings. Therefore, if you determine that gluten is something you want, or need to avoid, then reading labels will be very important. Here is a snap shot list of the main food label main that mean a product contains gluten:
- Wheat protein/hydrolyzed wheat protein
- Wheat starch/hydrolyzed wheat starch
- Wheat flour/bread flour/bleached flour
- Bulgur (a form of wheat)
- Malt (made from barley)
- Couscous (made from wheat)
- Farina (made from wheat)
- Pasta (made from wheat unless otherwise indicated)
- Seitan (made from wheat gluten and commonly used in vegetarian meals)
- Wheat or barley grass (will be cross contaminated)
- Wheat germ oil or extract (will be cross contaminated)
Who Can and Can't Eat Gluten?
Anyone who doesn't have Celiac disease is safe to enjoy and consume gluten. People who have been diagnosed with Celiac disease must not eat gluten because it will damage the lining of their small intestine and be seriously damaging to their overall health. Celiac disease affects about 1% of our American population and is a chronic, immune-mediated, mainly intestinal process, caused by the ingestion of gluten that appears in genetically predisposed people of all ages. Celiac is not only a gastrointestinal disease, because it may evolve to several organs and cause an extensive variety of non-gastrointestinal symptoms, such as: bone pain, anemia, digestive issues, severe skin rashes, aa well as also being completely asymptomatic. Following a lifelong gluten-free diet is the only medically-accepted treatment for people with Celiac disease. If you are suffering from gastrointestinal issues or other symptoms that have driven you to see a doctor, this is one of the tests they can do to rule out the possibility of you having the disease and being put on a medical, gluten-free diet.
What's the Harm in Avoiding Gluten?
If you don't have Celiac disease, but still want to cut back on gluten, take a moment to consider a few things first. For starters, going gluten-free means saying no to many common and nutritious foods. Gluten is found in wheat, barley, rye, bulgar and farro.... some whole grain foods that have wonderful health benefits. They are rich in an array of vitamins and minerals, such as B vitamins, iron, and fiber. Studies show that whole grain foods, as part of a healthy diet, may help lower risk of heart disease, type-2 diabetes, and some forms of cancer. By abstaining from these foods you will miss out on these key nutrients.
Also consider that the gluten free substitutes may not be as healthy as you think; often times they are higher in saturated fats and cholesterol, and filled with less nutritious fillers as they try to compensate for what is missing. Any time you eliminate whole categories of food from your diet you’ve been used to eating, you run the risk of nutritional deficiencies. Gluten-free products are no exception as they tend to be low in a wide range of important nutrients, including B vitamins, calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium, and fiber.
There’s also little point in eliminating just some gluten. For people who feel they are sensitive, even trace amounts of gluten can cause damage to the small intestines. So an "almost" gluten-free diet isn’t going to help if you really do have a problem. Choosing gluten-free foods has another drawback; most gluten-free alternatives are significantly more expensive than their conventional counterparts.... on average they are twice as expensive as the price of conventional products. The bottom line: If you think you may have a problem with gluten, get tested before getting sucked down a rabbit hole that could be doing you more harm than good.
In a Nut shell
Eating gluten free-foods won't harm you, but if it isn't necessary to your healthy to cut it out, then it may not being doing you any benefits since it actually isn't healthier. I recommend striving for a well-balanced whole-foods diet with a foundation of real foods from the earth: lots of organic fruits and vegetables, followed by lean meats, whole grains and dairy. Your body, your choice!
Health is Wealth!