Nearly 30% of the Population Says They’re Going Gluten-Free: Why?

Is the trend du jour living up to the hype?

Celebrities, athletes, talk show hosts and nearly 30 percent of people say they are turning to gluten-free diets to solve health issues from “foggy mind” to bloating and obesity. But how many of those can accurately describe gluten and how it interacts with their own body?

Gluten: Wheat Protein Explained
Gluten is a protein matrix in wheat formed by gliadin and glutenin. It’s also present in barley and rye, and their many ancient grain ancestors. Gluten’s structure forms pockets that trap carbon dioxide released by leavening agents, such as yeast, baking powder or baking soda, giving bread and baked goods their texture. Gluten-free products are denser because they can’t form air pockets without gluten.

Gluten-Free From the Experts

We are proponents of eating gluten-free, if it works for you. But like anything else, it’s not a cure-all, and we’d just like you to be aware of why you’re choosing to go g-free.

After all, according to Dr. Stephano Guandalini, founder and director of the Center for Celiac Disease at the University of Chicago, “There is a popular belief that gluten is bad for everyone. This is not the case. There is no evidence to show that anyone who does not suffer from celiac disease (CD) or non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) benefits from following a gluten-free diet.”

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease. When Celiacs eat gluten, it damages the lining of their intestinal tract, allowing many proteins and other substances to enter the blood stream that should not, setting up physical reactions and digestive problems. Contrary to Dr. Guandalini’s statement, there are many people who believe this happens in most if not all people who consume gluten, though the degree to which it happens varies (click here for a podcast discussing this).

Non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) is the other condition that proponents of a wheat-free lifestyle say affects everyone, but Dr. Guandalini says, “Around 0.5 percent of people react to gluten in a way that is not a food allergy but is also not celiac.”

Dr. Alessio Fasano, one of the world’s top scientists in celiac disease and director of the Center for Celiac Research at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, Mass., explains, “Some people simply don’t react well to gluten and feel better when it’s removed from the diet. Unfortunately, there is no test for NCGS and this is part of why going gluten-free has become ‘the’ answer to all that ails us digestively and otherwise. It’s unfortunate because there are a lot of causes besides gluten for digestive issues.”

A high-carb diet is one potential example cause of digestive distress and weight gain—were you to go gluten-free but simply consume substitutes, you’d still be eating a diet exceptionally high in carbs even without the gluten.

Gluten-Free: What Should You Do?

Here’s the main question: even if you can tolerate gluten, are there healthier choices you could be making? The answer is usually yes. Could you eat pita chips and hummus? Yes—but you could also dip any number of raw veggies into that hummus and be equally satisifed. A bagel is an easy, quick breakfast—but is it really quicker than scrambling up a few eggs?

If you’re simply switching from a regular bagel to a gluten-free one, we don’t really see the point—it’s still calorically-dense, high carb, and missing satiating protein and fat. Instead of worrying about gluten and gluten-free substitutes to already-unhealthy foods, we’d like to see society’s collective consciousness focus on making overall healthier choices that include more veggies and quality fat and protein sources.

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Category: Body


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