The Gluten Free Debate

While at work, I was inspired for my next post with this conversation:

–“I eat a bowl of Chex every morning. It’s gluten free, it says it on the box”.
Me: Is there a particular reason you choose this?
–“Well, isn’t gluten free good for you?”

Hmmm…..

What is Gluten , exactly?

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. It essentially acts as a binding agent to keep the food’s structure intact and gives dough that nice chewy texture in baking. Gluten is found in some obvious items like bread, and some not so obvious such as beer and food coloring.

So why the recent craze towards gluten free items?
Walk into any grocery store and you will see everything from gluten free pancakes to gluten free crackers, soup, and cookies. The food industry has snatched up this money making opportunity to exploit a very real disease (Celiac’s disease, in which the body produces a very serious autoimmune reaction to gluten, resulting in serious damage to the intestinal tract when consumed) and leading the public to believe food is automatically healthier with the label “gluten free”. As if somehow, cheesecake becomes less fattening and the calories in cookies don’t count as long as those magical words are included on the packaging.

So what is Celiac’s disease?

Celiac’s disease occurs in approximately 1 in 133 Americans. It is diagnosed via antibody tests and\or endoscopic biopsy. It is NOT the same as a wheat allergy, as sometimes these two terms are interchanged incorrectly. A gluten free diet is a necessity for those with this diagnosis as consumption of gluten will cause irreversible damage to the intestinal tract.

But what about Gluten sensitivity?

Gluten sensitivity is a fairly new concept, a “diagnosis” which many Americans are making on their own and toting as the reason for going gluten free. Gluten sensitivity is a condition for which not much confirmed research is available. Also, there are no specific and confirmed tests to accurately diagnose the presence of a gluten sensitivity as there are for Celiac’s disease. Many Americans do state an improvement in symptoms when eliminating gluten (many symptoms of which mimic those of Celiac’s disease including GI discomfort). It is difficult to determine if this is because of a true gluten insensitivity or simply due to the placebo affect – aka, you feel better because you expect to feel better.

Regardless, I am a full advocate of listening to your body and following what it tells you. If limiting or eliminating gluten improves your sense of well-being, who am I to tell you otherwise?

But, I do need to reiterate: gluten free items have EXACTLY the same calories, protein and fat as their gluten containing counterparts. Please do not choose these gluten free items in an effort to lose weight! It will not lower your blood pressure, cure any disease, or control your blood sugar.
Going gluten free will only prove beneficial to you if you have been 1.) diagnosed with Celiac’s disease via an antibody test and\or endoscopic biopsy or 2.) believe you are suffering from gluten sensitivity and experience relief from the discomfort when eliminating gluten.

Any questions? Have you gone gluten free? If so, why?

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