Gluten…Friend or Foe?
Everyone wants to be gluten free these days! But, would you really be better off without it?
- What is gluten?
- What does it do?
- Is it a friend or an enemy?
- What are the symptoms of intolerance?
- What can you do?
What Is Gluten?
Put simply, 2 proteins, called Glutenin and Gliadin, are brought together to form gluten. It is found in wheat, rye, and barley. It is not inherently bad for you, nor is it a product of food processing. Gluten is the Latin word for glue. In effect, it is the glue that holds bread together. It was discovered by monks in the 7th Century.
If you’ve ever eaten gluten free breads, you have probably missed the chewy texture that you get with regular bread – that’s the gluten. Gluten enables products, made mostly from wheat, to be more flexible and stick together easier.
Is It a Friend or an Enemy?
It’s not the enemy unless you are intolerant.
A person who has celiac disease will struggle absorbing gluten because their immune system sees it as an enemy and wants to eliminate it. This reaction by the immune system can cause problems in the small intestine and a “domino effect,” causing poor nutritional intake.
Having celiac disease is not the same as a food allergy. Food allergies to such products as wheat or shellfish involve the body’s antibodies attacking something that they see as an invader. Celiac, though, is an auto immune disease, so the immune system is attacking the body itself.
When a person with celiac disease consumes gluten, their immune system starts attacking the villi in the small intestine that are responsible for absorbing the nutrients in food. This lack of nutrients, in combination with the immune system attacking its own body, causes a number of negative physiological effects. It can even stunt development in children.
But it’s not only those with celiac who are affected. You could still have an adverse reaction to gluten, causing the same symptoms, even if you do not suffer from celiac disease.
What Are the Symptoms of Intolerance?
- General feeling – Weak, light-headed, but heavy body feeling, poor balance
- Digestion – Bloated stomach, excessive flatulence, either constipated or suffering from diarrhea
- Head – Severe headaches or migraines
- Hormones – An imbalance could cause increased pre-menstrual syndrome or infertility
- Joints – Feeling stiff and/or inflamed
- Emotions- Feeling anxious or depressed, or having mood swings
- Skin – Non-efficient use of Vitamin A may cause the skin on your arms to lack smoothness, feel “crusty,” and develop a rash
What’s the Problem?
The problem is that finding a gluten free product doesn’t automatically mean that it’s any better. In fact, it may not have gluten but, incredibly, it could have more fat, sugar, and calories!
Despite what the marketing may claim, gluten free products may not necessarily be healthier.
In fact, removing gluten from your diet may make it even more challenging to get the right amount of vitamins and minerals your body needs, and which are found in foods with whole grain.
What Can You Do?
Don’t be fooled! “Gluten free” has been cleverly marketed as a lifestyle choice and has generated a plethora of products aimed to fill that need. That’s awesome if you suffer with celiac disease or are genuinely intolerant to gluten, but these products may still be laden with unhealthy ingredients.
Luckily, the FDA has recently set standards for gluten free labeling. Gluten free standards are now specifying that anything under 20 parts per million is allowed to be considered free of that gluten.
The truth is that we still just aren’t completely sure of any added benefit to your health from simply making the choice to treat gluten as the enemy; in fact, it could even have the opposite effect on your general health.
If you don’t need to live gluten free as a result of being a celiac or gluten intolerant, avoiding gluten will not inherently make you healthier. Outside of the 1% of Americans with celiac, as many as 7% of people will have a gluten sensitivity. But many other people are piling onto the gluten free bandwagon. With Americans tending to overeat grain and breads, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The Trouble with Bread
Whole wheat is definitely healthier than processed grains. White bread has been stripped of its nutrients. However, a lot of whole wheat breads that are flooding the market have a lot of added chemicals, sugar, and fake ingredients.
When you are trying to lose weight, you should avoid all whole grains. When you include bread in your diet you are going to have a lot harder time sticking to the diet. The simple reason is that bread is ADDICTIVE.
Bread tastes good, and most people have trouble sticking to just a single slice. It is also part of our food culture. It seems strange not to eat bread with our meals, especially our lunch, but the benefits that you will gain by cutting bread from your diet will far outweigh any sacrifice that you make as you withdraw from the bread habit.
Apart from helping you to lose weight and eliminating a whole host of stomach issues, cutting bread from your diet can help to reduce your appetite. When you eat bread, you are increasing your appetite. That’s because the bread breaks down into fast-absorbing sugars that make you hungry again just after you’ve eaten. So, when you cut grains from your diet, you will feel less hungry than you did before.
Compensate Don’t Generate!
If you do choose to go gluten free, don’t generate more fats and sugars in your body by poor choice of gluten free products. Ensure that you compensate the right type and amount of vitamins and minerals that you may unknowingly be cutting out of a healthy balanced diet.
In the end, gluten may be your friend. But if it is your enemy, you still need to eat well.