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The Scary Truth About Gluten-Free Diets

Quite often, diets that have a solid medical purpose become the “in” diet for people who don’t require that diet. This turns the diet into a fad and quite often, fad diets can be harmful to most people. The only way to overcome this is to educate and to learn the facts. Since ‘gluten-free diets’ have now become a fad and a craze, it is important to learn the truth. Probably the easiest way to do this would be to ask common questions or statements and give the truth by answering them.

Most foods contain gluten, right?

The opposite is actually true. Unprocessed meat, poultry, eggs, dairy, vegetables, and fruits are all gluten-free. That means that they contain no gluten. Sugar, stevia and other sweeteners don’t contain gluten, either. In fact, corn, rice, and most kinds of oats don’t contain gluten. Beans don’t contain it, nor do amaranth, millet or quinoa.

As put very simply by WebMD, gluten is a protein found only in wheat, rye, barley and a few cultivars of oats. If food doesn’t contain wheat, rye or barley, it doesn’t contain gluten.

The problem is that many prepared foods, most conventional pasta, most breads, and most crackers contain these grains; particularly wheat. Many prepared products may have gluten added in various forms, such as wheat germ. However, more and more products are starting to use cornstarch and similar substances in place of gluten.

Most people are allergic to gluten

This is a false statement. Less than 1% of Americans are allergic to gluten, which is called Celiac Disease. About that many more people have difficulty in digesting gluten, but even counting those who have some level of gluten intolerance, the huge majority of people have no problem digesting wheat.

If I don’t have celiac disease and my body can digest wheat, it would still be good for me to eat a gluten-free diet, right?

This is definitely false. Gluten isn’t helpful for a healthy diet, but the grains that contain gluten decidedly are. In fact, they are essential for good health.

The WebMD source puts it this way:

 “They’re rich in an array of vitamins and minerals, such as B vitamins and iron, as well as fiber. 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.”

That is indeed the problem with eliminating any major food item from the diet. If the right supplements aren’t taken, the person has an excellent chance of suffering from malnutrition. Wheat contains B vitamins, iron, calcium, magnesium, and zinc, so if these are removed from the diet of the person who avoids wheat and they must be replaced to avoid health issues.

For the just under 1% of people who actually have celiac disease, gluten should be avoided completely and supplements should be taken. However, for everyone else, it is normally sufficient to lower the amount of gluten that is consumed. This is often surprisingly easy, by changing to whole grain breads rather than eating white bread and other bread that is made with bleached flour. Oat and whole grain flour can also be used for other cooking purposes in the home.

Most doctors recommend gluten-free diets

This is a decidedly false statement. Few reputable recommend people who don’t have celiac’s disease and who aren’t gluten intolerant recommend that their patients refrain from consuming gluten. Doctors often do suggest a decrease in the amount of carbohydrates, in order to have a healthier balance between protein and carbs, but this has nothing to do with gluten. Gluten products are simply high in carbohydrates, usually.

Gluten-free alternatives are also often far worse than gluten. This is because what is commonly used in “gluten-free” products to replace the gluten are various kinds of sugar, hydrogenated oil, other oil that is exceptionally high in Omega-6 fatty acids, and excessive preservatives. Incidentally, Omega-6 fatty acids promote inflamation and block the absorption of Omega-3 fatty acids, which is a good substance.

Foods labeled Gluten-Free are healthier than other foods

Again, this is a false statement. Some foods that are labeled as gluten-free aren’t truly gluten-free, for one thing. For another, many of them are high in cholesterol, sodium, and/or saturated fat.

A far wiser course of action to control the amount of gluten that is consumed is to avoid prepared and packaged foods and to make meals from scratch, as much as possible. Whole grain flour, rice flour, or oat flour should replace white flour, too. In fact, even fortified white flour is unhealthy, since the healthy part of the flour has been removed.

Other than that, you can use pasta that is made with whole grains or vegetables, to help cut the amount of gluten you are eating.

Many of my recipes are gluten-free, primarily because so many people want to eat a gluten-free diet. However, people who don’t have celiac disease should carefully consider just lowering their gluten intake rather than cutting it entirely. They should also increase their natural intake of the vitamins and minerals that the gluten products would normally contain.

What do you think?

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Written by Rex Trulove

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19 Comments

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    • I think you are on the right track there because it sounds like you are attempting to cut down on the excess rather than avoiding them completely. That is the problem with many fad diets; people tried to avoid certain things entirely, which can easily through their body off. A balanced diet the goal I strive for.

      • Well the diet I am looking for limits carbs down to 20 grams or less a day (I have heard of some actually doing zero carbs) but yes…I don’t think I have a gluten problem just a carb problem! I agree balance is best; unless there are certain circumstances.

    • Just remember that the substances used in “gluten-free” foods are usually far worse for you than gluten is. My suggestion would be to not avoid gluten entirely, but to eat it sparingly and wisely, such as in the form of whole grains.

    • Thank you very much. There are instances when people should limit their gluten, but the numbers are staggering. As many as 27% of Americans claim to be gluten intolerant or allergic to it. However, only 1% of the population really is.

  1. As a diabetic, I am on a gluten-reduced diet. The reason for that is the impact of gluten on the processing of sugar by the body.

    The good side of your article is the reality of oversubscription in the diet space. That is where people get into trouble.

    Great piece Rex as always.

    • Thank you. Among my friends who is diabetic is a medical doctor and, as you said, he limits his gluten. He absolutely doesn’t have a gluten-free diet. In fact, when he eats it, the gluten usually comes from whole grains.

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