By Lori Okami
I’ve never been one to follow fads or be the first in line for the ‘latest greatest’ new product on the market. I generally wait until the dust settles and the studies surface. By then, a more balanced, tested and well-researched perspective arises. No difference here.
So many I’ve spoken with have touted that they are on a gluten-free diet. When I ask, “Why? Has you doctor recommended it?” The answer is typically, “No. Gluten is bad, right? So I don’t eat wheat anymore.”
Well, here’s what I’ve discovered…
Gluten is a protein in wheat, rye, and barley. Gluten commonly appears in bread products and pastas, but also hides in food products you’d least expect, like cold cuts, beer, ketchup, soy sauce, ice cream, and even salad dressings. A diet that is gluten-free is necessary for people with Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. About 1% of people in the U.S. have celiac disease, with as many as 10% who may have gluten sensitivity. Common symptoms are gastrointestinal problems (abdominal pain, bloating, and diarrhea) and, if left untreated, deterioration of the intestinal lining. However, once gluten is removed from their diet, symptoms subside and damage is healed.
Is this diet good for everyone? The simple answer is no. A gluten-free diet can be difficult to follow and there are nutritional drawbacks. Many beneficial whole grain foods that help prevent other diseases are on the list of foods that contain gluten. So while a gluten-free diet is a must for people with Celiac disease and/or gluten sensitivity, the benefits of a gluten-free diet have been unproven for the greater population.
There is nothing inherently healthier about a gluten-free diet, especially since many consume pre-packaged “gluten-free” products, processed with extra additives to improve palatability. Moreover, gluten-free foods often contain higher carbs, in substituting rice flour or potato flour for wheat flour. Remember, gluten-free is NOT synonymous with low carb, low calorie, or low fat, AND gluten-free doesn’t necessarily mean nutritious. Similar to what happens with other processed foods, manufacturers of gluten-free products add extra sugar, fat and salt, and remove the fiber to simulate the texture and satisfying fluffiness that gluten imparts. In addition, many gluten-free products contain lower amounts of essential nutrients and can cause deficiencies in Iron, Vitamin B9 (folic acid), Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, Magnesium and fiber.
So if you choose to go gluten free, avoid the pre-packaged products on the market shelves. Instead, eat a variety of foods and select more fresh fruits and vegetables, low fat dairy products, eggs, lean meats, and naturally gluten-free whole grains like brown rice and quinoa. If you think about it, these are the same recommendations that we have repeated over the years to maintain a healthy diet period.
Live well. Eat well.
*** I invite you to visit my website www.lifefitnet.com and participate in a short online survey that should take only 2-3 minutes to complete. No one’s personal, individual data is ever shared and the aggregated information is used to Build a Healthy Hawaii and better understand individual needs and preferences related to establishing healthy lifestyle habits. Mahalo for your support! Lori