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Gluten-free Diet Hype

February 5th, 2012


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.

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3 Responses to “Gluten-free Diet Hype”

  1. hemajang:

    I had no idea what gluten-free was...just an inkling that it was a restrictive diet for health reasons. On an impulse, I bought a gluten-free potato chips (I know...bad) only because it was on sale and cheap, plus my eyes couldn't resist the thick crispy-looking salt-laden chips. The package said gluten-free so I reasoned it was somewhat healthy...ha, ha! I expected it to taste different but it was like any salty chip. It was good and somewhat natural tasting unlike Pringles. Went to the market this week but alas, not on the shelf. Oh well, so I got some sweet potato chips instead. I know...bad choices but my regular diet is typically good.

  2. Haken:

    I pretty much eat what I want without encountering problems. I also avoid as much processed food as possible, which may be the reason why I've had no problems (except for the occasional over the top spicy, which actually doesn't do any harm, except when it comes out). I wish the rest of my family would do the same, but that's a topic for a different blog. I believe many of the problems we have today is because people are eating too much processed food instead of eating whole foods. Too much chemicals, too much preservatives, too much genetic modifications, which are all either damaging our body's immune system or causing it to go into overdrive and triggering allergic reactions.

    Gluten somewhat falls into this category because the wheat we use today isn't the same wheat that was available a century ago. The wheat we have today has a lot more gluten in it and we put gluten in everything. As the saying goes, too much of a good thing is no good, which is probably the case with gluten.

    So, really, it isn't because that grains like wheat are bad, it's that the kinds of wheat that we are consuming as a result of mass production are.

    Case in point. Your 100% orange juice may not be wholesome as you might think.

    Just check this out.

  3. Lori Okami:

    Hey hemajang!
    I wondered about that too because sooo many seemed to be jumping in. As usual, it is again the outcome of marketing hype.

    Hi Haken!
    Yikes! Like we keep saying....FRESH and BUY LOCAL! Gosh, you can't even trust labels anymore either! Thanks for sharing! I didn't hear about that. That's horrible!!! I don't drink much juice. I prefer to eat the whole fruit anyway but I know many who have OJ as part of their daily routine. So disappointing!

    Great info!