Two years ago, I did not know what gluten was nor did I pay much attention to the health aisle at the supermarket or a gluten free option at the cafe. These days I do pay attention whether intentional or not, because gluten free food is everywhere and places have revamped their menus to include gf options and you have half a supermarket aisle stacked with gf options. I remember clearly when one of my friends mentioned to me she was going gluten, dairy and sugar free. Nuts I thought. But that was when my awareness was raised about gluten. A few months later, hubby found out he was gluten and yeast intolerant. These days I usually opt to have gf food and by that I mean I have less of wheat and all food containing gluten or what you call processed food, so less pasta, cake and biscuits in general. It’s a lifestyle which encourages less processed food and has its benefits. Do not confuse this with opting for a rationally gluten free diet that includes gluten free brownies or pasta over wholesome, unprocessed food.
What is gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in grains wheat, barley, and rye. It makes dough elastic and helps it rise – when yeast is added to bread dough, it produces carbon dioxide, which becomes trapped in the network of gluten proteins. In some people, eating or drinking anything containing gluten can cause an unpleasant reaction. This is known as non-coeliac gluten sensitivity, gluten sensitivity, or gluten intolerance. Gluten sensitivity can lead to similar celiac symptoms such as stomach cramps, diarrhea, and bloating. But unlike celiac, sensitivity doesn’t damage the intestine. For years, health professionals didn’t believe nonceliac gluten sensitivity existed, but experts are beginning to acknowledge that it may affect as many as 20 million Americans. To people with a chronic digestive disorder called celiac disease, gluten is truly evil: Their bodies regard even a tiny crumb of it as a malicious invader and mount an immune response. Problem is, this immune reaction ends up damaging the small intestine, which causes both great gastrointestinal distress and nutritional deficiencies. If untreated, these responses can then lead to intestinal cancers as well as complications such as infertility and osteoporosis.
Should you go gluten free?
If you are celiac or gluten intolerant, yes.
If you are not, then you need to understand what follows. It is important to understand that gluten-free doesn’t mean fat-free or calorie-free. “Without gluten to bind food together, food manufacturers often use more fat and sugar to make the product more palatable,” says Case. Consider pretzels: A serving of regular pretzels has about 110 calories and just one gram of fat. Swap them for gluten-free pretzels and you could get 140 caloriesand six grams of fat.
Lots of people think that they have some kind of gluten intolerance, or that gluten is evil, because they feel better on a gluten-free diet. But there is little scientific evidence to support this, and it typically comes down to the types of foods that are being consumed. Foods that contain gluten, like bread, pasta, crackers, etc. are often processed and contain sugars. By avoiding such foods and replacing them with nutrient-dense whole foods, it makes sense that you would feel better.
People who eliminate wheat will often turn to gluten-free foods, that are not made with wheat gluten but are instead made with corn starch, potato starch, rice starch, brown rice starch or tapioca starch. Research has found that the only foods that raise blood sugar more than whole wheat are corn starch, rice starch, potato starch, and tapioca starch. These are flagrant, rapidly-digested carbohydrates when they’re in the powdered form as presented in gluten-free foods.
It’s not uncommon for someone to go on a gluten-free diet and find that their diarrhea and cramps are now gone. Only now, they’re diabetic and fat. While those foods don’t trigger the immune phenomena, they trigger the carbohydrate phenomena worse than table sugar. So “gluten-free, multigrain bread” or ‘gluten free brownies’ sounds for all the world like a great thing but it’s actually still something you still want to avoid.
If you are after a healthy/healthier diet (and have no gluten intolerance), a vitamin-enriched and wholegrain foods diet is the way to go. Eat real food instead of ultraprocessed packaged food. Best skip the gluten-free goodies and focus on fruits, vegetables, lean protein, dairy, and gluten free grains like amaranth and quinoa. Having less/no gluten will mean having less of the processed food which is a great way to steer away from processed food. Cutting wheat products also help to reduce appetite, accelerate weight loss, and can help one feel clearer, more energetic and happier in general.
So, next time you reach out for the gluten free product or order those gluten free brownies just because they are ‘gluten free’, ask yourself whether they are the healthier option instead. Let’s be smart consumers.