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The Truth About Gluten-Free Food

Truth About Gluten-Free Food

Suddenly they’re everywhere…gluten-free foods.

These products are all the rage and have begun flying off supermarket shelves.

The problem?

Well, this new “health” trend isn’t really about health at all.

So, what’s the truth behind the gluten-free craze?

Let’s get straight into the facts…

The Goods on Gluten

Let’s begin by making it clear what gluten is …

Very simply, gluten is a protein found naturally in wheat, barley, rye, and other related grains (bulgur, spelt, faro, etc.).

The reason that gluten has come to the forefront of the news is that because some people suffer with Celiac Disease. This disease is caused by an abnormal immune response to gluten. The symptoms vary, but generally include diarrhea, anemia, bone pain, and skin rashes.

It can be a very debilitating disease, however, Celiac Disease only affects an estimated 1% of all Americans – and while others may have milder gluten intolerance – it is still very, very rare.

For those who suffer with these issues, gluten-free products are a great help to maintain a varied diet with less difficulty.

And for the rest of us?

The Gluten Gluttons

First of all, be informed, not fooled.

Because gluten-free foods have become trendy (and largely because they are misunderstood), the market for them is booming.

The thing is, gluten has become such a buzzword that I have seen it added to the labeling of items that have NEVER had gluten. As a matter of fact, yesterday at the grocery store I saw signs for gluten-free meat and bottled water.

Really, water?!?

More importantly, be aware that gluten-free in no way means that something is healthier.

As a matter of fact, eating only gluten-free foods if you are not gluten intolerant can be bad for you because you can lose out on the many vitamins, minerals, and fiber that naturally come from whole grains.

Also, as with fat-free foods, in the case of some of the processed gluten-free foods, extra sugars or fats are added in to pump up the flavor. This means that they may actually be bad for your weight loss efforts.

As Dr. Alesio Fasano, lead author of that study and director of the Center for Celiac Research at the University of Maryland School of Medicine says, “one thing a gluten-free diet does not do is make you lose weight.”

And finally there is the cost. Almost all gluten free products will cost you more than those that are not. This is great for the manufacturers who raked in $4.2 billion last year alone, but not so great for you.

For more about the cost, check out this article from Time Magazine: http://business.time.com/2013/03/13/why-were-wasting-billions-on-gluten-free-food/

The Takeaway

In no way do I want to detract from the misery that Celiac Disease can cause for those suffering from it. And for these people who need to carefully monitor everything that they eat for the rest of their lives, I think that having gluten free options makes life much easier.

However, for the rest of us, these products are costly and completely unnecessary. They are not health food, and they will not help you to lose weight.

All right, now I’ll get down off my soapbox and enjoy a cup of Wu-long Tea (which is gluten-free by the way). :)

Comments

  1. vincent schofield commented:

    contrary to the 1% mentioned much recent research is showing up 35% of the worlds population have some type of Gluten intolerance that impacts badly on humans health. See research by DR Mark Hyman & Dr peter Dadimo (USA). Gluten is proving to be the catalyst in disarming the bodys immune system to fight many other common diseases. (Alzeimers /MS/Diabetes???)
    This has come about by modern food prep methods by world flour millers who now chemically strip the goodness from flour . (as against in ancient milling all the goodies were left intact.)

    • I think that more research is needed, but according to the Center for Celiac Research and Treatment, gluten sensitivity affects approximately 6% of the population. Celiac Disease itself only affects about 1%.

      I am in complete agreement that our overly processed diets are one of the number one contributing factors to a multitude of health problems. Overall, I really want people to eat as much whole food as possible, and I just don’t want anyone to exclude whole grains if they don’t need to.

  2. I think there’s more to gluten then you wrote. I do appreciate how you mentioned it may not always be healthy since there could be added sugar/fat to gluten-free products.
    This is from bodyecology.com:
    “The proteins in gluten are pro-inflammatory and can damage the lining of the gut.

    In fact, research has found that gluten protein fragments can destroy the bond between cells lining the intestinal wall. This bond is like the cement that holds bricks—or cells—together. The bond between intestinal cells is what prevents large food particles from leaking into the bloodstream.

    Gluten destroys this bond and makes the gut leaky.

    A “leaky gut,” or deterioration of the wall, can be triggered by gluten. Whether or not this happens depends on if we were exposed to gluten within our first year. It also depends on the balance of “good” and “bad” bacteria in the gut.”

    • I absolutely agree gluten can have these effects, but only on a certain percentage of the population. And, at some, point, I would really like to write an article that gets really deeply into the research available.

      However, the point that I was most trying to make was that a lot of people don’t really understand what gluten is, and are purchasing these products because they are a trend.

      For some people, gluten-free is absolutely necessary, but there are a great number of people who believe (often because a gluten-free diet was endorsed by their favorite celebrity) that it will be a great way to lose weight, which is simply not the case. I am also frustrated by manufacturers taking advantage of people by labeling ridiculous products as gluten-free.

  3. Sharon commented:

    I first became curious about the “gluten-free” craze when a well-known talk-show host touted the book by cardiologist, Dr. Richard Davis, “Wheat Belly”. Have you heard of it? The host commented that after going off foods containing wheat, he did lose a little weight, but more than that, his cholesterol number went way down and his allergies disappeared. He said he wasn’t a zealot, if he wants a cookie once in a while, he will eat it.

    I do appreciate your thoughts on this because gluten-free products has become “all the rage”.

    • I think that “Wheat Belly” has been useful for opening up more conversation about our overly processed and genetically modified foods. However, the book actually creates a very restrictive diet that cuts out grains and carbs very similarly to that of other carb free diets (Atkins, etc.) As with any “diet” plan, I would take it with a grain of salt (so to speak). It is also sold as a weight loss book, and Dr. Davis himself has admitted that actually losing weight takes far more than just eliminating wheat.

      Again, I would say that for a percentage of people, gluten-free is a necessity. However, for the majority of us, a well balanced diet (including whole grains) is really the ideal.

      Ultimately, I absolutely agree that we eat significantly too much processed food, but you cannot single out one particular aspect of food (sugar, fat, gluten) as the ultimate culprit for all of our health and weight issues, rather it is a combination of all of these things and over-consumption.

      Mostly, I want people to eat well and not just jump on board with any plan that is “all the rage.”

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