Is Gluten-Free Right For You?
Yesterday, I discussed the issue of gluten intolerance (sometimes called gluten sensitivity) and celiac disease. The gluten free movement is growing fast, but does it make sense to avoid all wheat and wheat products? Possibly. I think it depends. Before you take the plunge, though, there are a few things you should know.
Gluten (specifically, gliadin) is a protein fragment found in wheat, rye and barley. Some people have a genetic mutation that makes their immune systems attack their own intestinal lining when gluten is present in the gut. It’s a serious condition called celiac disease. Avoiding all gluten is the only effective treatment. But emerging evidence suggests the incidence of this once-rare condition is on the rise. A related condition, called gluten intolerance or gluten sensitivity, may also be increasing. Unfortunately, the latter is far harder to diagnose. Presumably, it’s this condition that is driving interest in gluten-free products. Sufferers claim that gluten causes any number of problems, from intestinal distress, to low energy, allergies, headaches, etc.
Here’s what I see as the problem with going “gluten free” to avoid a health issue that may or may not exist. Food manufacturers are raking in the cash rushing “gluten-free” products to the marketplace, but many of these foods substitute calorie-dense substances, such as potato or rice flour, for wheat. These substitutes tend to cause spikes in blood sugar. Overall, alternative products tend to have higher calorie counts than the foods they’re replacing.
I’d like to suggest a compromise. If you suspect wheat is creating health problems for you, go ahead and eliminate it from your diet. But instead of shopping for processed gluten-free substitutes, choose whole foods that are naturally gluten free. Examples include virtually any whole fruits, vegetables, meats or whole grains other than wheat, rye and barley. Try serving salmon and broccoli with brown rice, for example, instead of with dinner roles. Whole foods tend to be nutrient-dense, not calorie-dense. And they’re less likely to contain additives you don’t need or want. So go ahead and jump on the gluten-free party bus, if you’d like, but skip all the trendy “gluten-free” substitute products. And if you really think you have a medical issue with gluten, don’t hesitate to discuss your suspicions—and symptoms—with your doctor.
I have a few friends that after cutting all gluten from their diets, were able to regain their health. They experienced migraines, extreme stomach pains and lethargy but after removing gluten from their diets, they were able to feel great and energized.
What about you? Do you think gluten might be a problem for you, if so leave your comments below and get feedback from others who may have gone through the same trouble.
Kasarda DD. Can an increase in celiac disease be attributed to an increase in the gluten content of wheat as a consequence of wheat breeding? J Agric Food Chem. 2013 Feb 13;61(6):1155-9. doi: 10.1021/jf305122s. Epub 2013 Jan 31.
Lohi S, Mustalahti K, Kaukinen K, Laurila K, Collin P, Rissanen H, et al. Increasing prevalence of coeliac disease over time. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2007 Nov 1;26(9):1217-25.