Gluten-Free Food: Villain or Hero For Holistic Health?

Fats, salt and sugar are a passé, a new dietary villain has arrived. It’s called gluten. It has overtaken all the regular dietary villains from your daily grocery store. Scan the grocery aisles and it’s impossible to miss the proliferation of products proclaiming that they are “gluten-free.” But, is gluten a villain, or have we just created one. Well, on that note, let me put forth my views on what exactly GLUTEN is all about.

Pick up a magazine or go online and you are likely to read about yet another celebrity or athlete who has banished gluten from their diet. Gluten is the most recent nutrient to catch media attention. This is likely due to athletes and celebrities touting gluten-free diets.

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Gluten is a protein in wheat, rye, and barley that is commonly found in bread, beer, pasta, and a wide range of other processed foods containing these grains.

The Truth About Gluten

The two main proteins in gluten are glutenin and gliadin. Gliadin is responsible for most of the negative health effects. When flour is mixed with water, the gluten proteins form a sticky network that has a glue-like consistency.
This glue-like property makes the dough elastic and gives the bread the ability to rise when baked. It also provides a chewy, satisfying texture. It is an important source of carbohydrate and protein in human diets and often can be metabolised by our digestive tract without a problem.

However, approximately 1% of the population has Celiac disease, an autoimmune condition in which patients experience a range of problems including bloating, Diarrhoea, vomiting, headaches, joint pain and rashes after the consumption of gluten. Celiac disease is diagnosed through blood and bowel tests, but there are no good tests to determine non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

Should You Go Gluten-free?

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In basic terms, gluten is a storage protein found naturally in wheat, barley and rye. Because these grains, particularly wheat, are so abundant, gluten is in many foods we consume on a daily basis. More and more groceries and health food stores stock gluten-free products. That’s good news for people with celiac disease, who for health reasons should not eat wheat with gluten. Yet paradoxically, most of the people who reach for gluten-free products don’t have celiac disease and or even a sensitivity to wheat!

The market for gluten-free products is exploding. Many people have just perceived that a gluten-free diet is healthier. In fact, it isn’t. For people with celiac disease, a gluten-free diet is essential. But for others, “unless people are very careful, a gluten-free diet can lack vitamins, minerals, and fibre.

Gluten itself doesn’t offer special nutritional benefits. But many whole grains that contain gluten do. They’re rich in an array of vitamins and minerals, such as B vitamins and iron, as well as fibre. Studies show that whole grain foods, as part of a healthy diet, may help lower risk of heart disease, type-2 diabetes, and some forms of cancer.

What are examples of naturally gluten-free whole grains?

gluten free diet

A few whole grains don’t contain gluten, including amaranth, millet, and quinoa. But they are far less common than gluten-containing grains. Meeting the dietary guidelines goal is very tough if you have to eliminate wheat, barley, rye and other gluten-containing whole grains.

Gluten is not entirely without blame in this, and for some people, it comes by its nasty rep rightly. Celiac disease, which is an immune reaction to gluten that damages the small intestine, is a very real thing. Gluten ataxia is a scarier condition that attacks the brain, leading to problems in gait and muscular control.

The basis of a healthy gluten-free diet, as with any diet, should be natural foods. Lean meats and fish, fruits and vegetables, and low-fat dairy products are all safe for people with celiac disease. Grains that don’t contain gluten, such as quinoa and amaranth, are another healthy option. More and more products are being made with such grains, from bread and breakfast cereals to pasta.

The popularity of the gluten-free diet may be the result of the public perception that gluten-free is a healthier way to eat. An increasing number of people have diagnosed themselves with gluten sensitivity and claim improved gastrointestinal health after giving up gluten. Many believe it helps with nonspecific gastrointestinal symptoms and aids in weight loss. As a result, gluten-free foods are more widely available now than ever before.

Eat More Gluten: The Fad Diet Must Die

gluten free diet

Food fads are nothing new, and they do run their course. Eventually, the gluten-free cookbooks will wind up in the same river of pop detritus as the no-carb wines and the fat-free cookies. When that happens, the people with celiac or gluten ataxia or genuine gluten sensitivity will still have to wrestle with their illnesses, while everyone else returns happily to their baguettes searching for the next big thing to exercise.

Gluten-free has become an untamed monster. Whenever there is money to be made, the fad soon follows. And holy-moly has gluten-free become a fad.

Gluten is to this decade what carbohydrates were to the last one and fat was to the ’80s and ’90s: the bête noir, the bad boy, the cause of all that ails us, but, can its elimination heal you?

gluten free foods