You’ll no doubt notice after a quick trip around the grocery store that almost everything you pick up has a ‘Gluten Free’ label on it. Crackers, cereals, pizzas and restaurant menus all now regularly have gluten-free products. Why? What is gluten and why do people not want it?
What Is Gluten?
A scientific definition – “gluten is a general name for the proteins found in wheat (durum, emmer, spelt, farina, faro, khorasan wheat and einkorn), rye, barley and triticale. Gluten helps foods maintain their shape, acting as a glue that holds food together. Gluten can be found in many types of foods, even ones that would not be expected” (celiac.org).
An easier way to understand this is what is referred to as the big three – wheat, rye and barley. Foods containing wheat include: breads, cereals, baked goods, pasta, sauces, roux and salad dressings. You commonly find rye in rye bread (pumpernickel), rye beer and cereals. Barley is in malt, soups, beer, malt vinegar and food coloring. A new grain is now being classified as similar to wheat, called triticale. It can be found in breads, pasta and cereals.
Got It – But Why Are People Going Gluten Free?
The uproar in the gluten-free lifestyle has stemmed from the discovery of Celiac Disease. Celiac Disease is a disease where the small intestine is hypersensitive to gluten. This hypersensitivity leads to difficulty in digesting foods. Celiac Disease is a genetic autoimmune disorder. What this means is that when the body eats the big three (refer above), the body triggers an immune response that attacks the small intestine. This leads to damage on the villi. The villi are small fingerlike projections that line the small intestine that aids in nutrient absorption. Once the villi are damaged, nutrients cannot be absorbed. When a person affected with Celiac Disease consumes gluten, the consequences can be detrimental, often putting them out of commission for a few days. The symptoms include gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea and/or vomiting.
So How Common is Celiac Disease?
According to celiac.org, it is estimated to affect 1 in 100 people worldwide. Scientists believe that 2.5 million Americans are undiagnosed and are at risk for long-term health complications. Along with this stat, it is believed that a gluten-free diet may improve gastrointestinal problems, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). It may also improve rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. The gluten proteins have low nutritional value due to the “big 3” not being an essential portion of the human diet. Therefore, cutting gluten out of the diet has not shown any detrimental side effects. Doctors have warned however that without the consumption of certain foods, such as cereals, patients may be lacking the required amounts of iron and B vitamins. Psuedo-cereals such as quinoa, amaranth and buckwheat can be substituted for the “big 3”.
Although Celiac Disease is a real complication for many people, there is also a gluten scare among others. With the above stat, many are fearful that they may have the disease, undiagnosed. But is gluten-free just a marketing scheme? The fad diets over the past few years such as the Adkins diet and the Ketogenic diet requires the depletion of carbohydrates in ones diet. The gluten-free diet makes it easier to rid of carbohydrates within ones diet. A possible answer for the gluten-free diet may be the non-carbohydrate diet to achieve weight loss. Some athletes, such as myself, find it difficult to perform high intensity workouts without the energy produced by carbohydrates. As for lifting, general mass is produced with carbohydrates, which is needed in the daily diet.
So Why Do People Do It?
Possible answers for the gluten-free diet may be Celiac Disease, weight loss due to a diet of the absence of carbohydrates, or the scare of being sensitive to gluten.
Benefits of Gluten Free?
There is a mixed response to this question. If you’re looking for weight loss, then there may be benefits. You may lose more weight, easier, if you eat gluten-free or carbohydrate free. That’s why the popularity of carbohydrate free diets have rose. However, eating gluten-free products don’t really do any good if you’re not sensitive to gluten. Also, when gluten is taken out of a product, what is it replaced with? Some ingredient labels will list, but how about in restaurants? Does the uncertainty of the ingredients outweigh the possible gluten sensitivity?
Take Home Message
With all of the possibilities listed above, this may be the reason people chose to go with a gluten-free diet. As for benefits, it may be vary from person to person. For people suffering with gluten sensitivity, it has extreme benefits. As for people who are non-gluten sensitive, the benefits may be non-existent.