Eating gluten-free has become the number one trending diet. With the help of marketing, the number of products available and restaurant menus, there are no signs of it slowing down. But, is a gluten-free diet right for you? What is gluten anyway? Do we need it? Should we eliminate it from our diets? Let’s discuss…
Gluten in Latin, means “glue”. It is a group of proteins found in wheat, barley and rye that can be found in breads, pasta and desserts. Gluten is what makes these products doughy, elastic and dense. It could also be used as a flavor enhancer, or thickening agent.
These proteins, for some, can cause an attack on the intestines ultimately damaging the digestive tract. The body is unable to absorb vital nutrients which can lead to malnourishment and other chronic conditions. It can be very painful. This is what people diagnosed with celiac disease experience. But, only 1% of the population has been diagnosed with celiac disease. There are also people with non-celiac gluten sensitivity; these people experience similar symptoms to celiac disease, but without digestive damage (stomach discomfort, bloating). Only 6% of the population has been diagnosed with non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Less than 1% of people have other gluten-related disorders, yet over 23% of Americans site health concerns, other disorders, or a gluten-free lifestyle.
So, how did gluten free diets become such a trend-setting way to eat? Marketing diets is a huge industry in and of itself. Add to that, Americans are very quick to try new diets all the time. There are hundreds of diets offering promises of quick weight loss, and gluten-free became one of those diets. There is a myth that if you don’t eat foods with gluten, you will lose weight and have a “flat belly”. The truth is, a diet lacking in these vital nutrients damages your gut flora, and, ironically, can lead to weight gain. A bigger issue is the diagnosis; this includes self-diagnosis and fields of professionals that are not educated in diagnostic testing for celiac disease. It is only professionals in the medical community that can actually conduct the correct testing for celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity. It is important to take the time necessary when being tested for accurate results.
“Gluten-free sales are projected to reach $6.2 billion by 2018. Being a label detective would be smart when shopping gluten-free products.”
THE FUTURE OF GLUTEN-FREE:
What about the proliferation of gluten-free foods on the market and in restaurants? GF sales are projected to reach $6.2 Billion by 2018. Being a label detective would be smart when shopping gluten-free products. Look for what is being substituted for gluten: rice starch, cornstarch, potato starch are highly refined carbohydrates used to replace gluten. They release as much sugar into the bloodstream as the vilified foods making gluten free foods no more healthy than their gluten counterparts. Remember, junk food is junk food, with or without gluten. Independent and chain restaurants both feature gluten-free choices. This is a trend that has no sign of declining, while it’s great for those who medically need it, it will simply run up the bill of those who don’t and potentially cause health issues down the road.
CASE & POINT:
If you believe that you have gluten intolerance or celiac disease, consult with your doctor and take the necessary steps for diagnosis. For most, a gluten-free diet does not result in weight loss, increased energy or flat bellies. (Sorry!)
If you are going to eat gluten-free, food choices are bountiful. The focus should be on whole, nutrient-dense foods like fruits and veggies, plant-based proteins (beans, nuts, seeds), lean meats, poultry and fish. Gluten-free whole grains are abundant: quinoa, millet, brown and wild rice, certified gluten-free oats, nut flours, bean flours. With all the whole, nutrient-dense foods already available to nourish your body and assist in weight loss, consider opting out of the processed foods marketing gluten-free as a healthier (more expensive) option. Stay nourished!