Should you be Gluten Free?

Gluten-free seems to be the latest diet craze and I am down right sick of it. It first started to get under my skin when a few running friends went gluten free, believing that gluten made them feel better and helped their runs. Now, I see clients on a weekly basis (weekly!) who have jumped on the gluten free bandwagon. And quite frankly, they need to be educated. I have come across people claiming to be gluten free, for x,y,z reason, though they have not officially been diagnosed. It finally hit a button in me, when yesterday, while on Facebook, a young gentleman was arguing that gluten raised blood sugar (not glucose but yes he meant gluten). It troubles me that people are avoiding an abundant amount of food groups and therefore possibly missing out on essential nutrients, because they are misinformed. Because they think gluten free will allow them to lose weight (wrong!), because mentally they feel better, etc. The list goes on and on and people really think they have a gluten intolerance, when they don’t. Well let me tell you folks, gluten free is NOT something you want to follow, unless you HAVE to.

The symptoms of gluten intolerance, also known as celiac, involve the following:

Stomach Pain, bloating, gas, vomiting, sever rash, skin problems, iron deficiency, seizures, diarrhea, and weight loss to name a few. What happens internally is that the villi (small protrusions lining the small intestine) are destroyed. Villi allow nutrients from food to be absorbed through the walls of the small intestine into the bloodstream. Without healthy villi, a person becomes malnourished (http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/celiac/). Celiac disease is thus an abnormal reaction to gluten, that cause an immune or inflammatory reaction as well as a malabsorption condition. It is detected via blood test as well as an intestinal biopsy.

A gluten-free diet includes not eating foods that contain wheat, rye, and barley. This is because gluten is the protein component of wheat, giving bread the ability to rise properly. Many doctors and studies claim that it is the gliadin component of wheat that causes weight gain and triggers disruption in the intestinal barriers, not necessarily gluten. Keep in mind that not all gluten-free foods are actually wheat-free! Yes, some contain ingredients that are originally derived from wheat but have been processed to remove the gluten. So, please do not get gluten and wheat confused.

Anyways, celiacs can consume a variety of nutrient rich foods and flours such as potato, rice, soy, amaranth, quinoa, and buckwheat instead of wheat flour. Most other proteins such as fish and meats, beans, fruits, and vegetables do not contain gluten, so people with celiac disease can eat these foods. Some things to be mindful of though is that those with celiac are at an increased risk for nutritional deficiencies due to malabsorption and low intake.  Thiamin, Riboflavin, B12, Calcium, Iron, and folate are a few of the common deficiencies.

So, let me set you straight:

Gluten itself doesn’t really offer any nutritional benefits- does it impact blood sugar? there are not sufficient studies to date.

Many of the whole grains that contain gluten are rich in nutrients.

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.

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that half of all carbohydrates in the diet come from whole grain products.

Meeting the dietary guidelines can be quite tough if you are eliminating foods.

Gluten free can be more expensive.

Remember, just because something is labeled gluten-free doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Many products that are gluten-free contain refined flours and tons of sugar!

If you are already gluten free for no reason at all or considering it, please be wise and do your research. If it makes you feel better physically because psychologically you think it makes you feel better then go for it. But, please don’t think going gluten-free will magically make you healthier or more nutritious…because it won’t. And if you think you really are gluten intolerant or wheat or gluten sensitive get tested ALWAYS!

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