Gluten-free? - Gluten-free isn't for Everyone



No, I don't follow a gluten-free diet. I like my bread chewy, not crumbly and chalky. I follow this logic: some people are allergic to peanuts, but that doesn't mean everyone should avoid peanuts. The same goes for gluten.

As A-list celebrities adopt a gluten-free diet, not necessarily because they suffer from gluten intolerance or celiac disease, but because they "think" that the diet is healthier, a gluten-free diet trend has emerged. Now gluten is seen as an enemy.

What is gluten? When I first heard the word gluten (I was served gluten-free cake which tasted awful), I thought it meant "butter" free.  When I did find out what gluten was, I knew that I would not sacrifice my love for bread, cakes, and pastries for any gluten-free product.

GLUTEN is a general term for the proteins found in wheat, rye, spelt and barley with wheat being the most commonly consumed. The 2 main proteins in gluten are glutein and gliadin. Between the 2, gliadin is the protein responsible for the negative health effects.

Gluten-free sign.
Image credit: Pixabay
When flour is mixed with water, the gluten proteins form a sticky network that has a glue-like consistency. This glue-like property makes the dough elastic and gives the bread the ability to rise when baked. It also provides the chewy, satisfying texture of bread. Interestingly, the name GLU-TEN is derived from the glue-like property of wet dough.

Why is gluten BAD for SOME people?
Gluten has been getting a bad reputation. Most people can tolerate gluten (I'm one of them) just fine and is safe for everyone except those with celiac/coeliac disease, gluten sensitivity, and wheat allergies.

Celiac disease is the most severe form of gluten intolerance affecting about 1% of the population. It is a serious autoimmune disorder that can occur in genetically predisposed people wherein there is an abnormal immune response to gluten that leads to the damage of the lining of the small intestine causing nutrient deficiencies, anemia, osteoporosis, digestive issues, and depression For children, it may cause poor weight gain or weight loss, fatigue, weak bones, stomachaches, bloating, skin rashes and mouth sores and vomiting once gluten is ingested. If these symptoms persist, consult your physician right away.

There are people who test negative for celiac disease but, still react negatively to gluten. This is called non-celiac gluten sensitivity. The diagnosis is made when celiac disease and allergies have been ruled out. Usual symptoms include diarrhea, stomach pain, bloating, fatigue, and depression. The worldwide prevalence rate is also small, about 0.6-13% have  NCGS. For about 0.5-9% of the world population, wheat allergies are the cause of the digestive symptoms. FODMAPs (Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols), which is a collection of short-chain carbohydrates and sugar alcohols, also create digestive symptoms similar to conditions associated with gluten intolerance. Gluten is a high FODMAP food.

How can a gluten-free diet be harmful? 
I would like to establish the fact that the gluten-free diet is RECOMMENDED for those who have been diagnosed with celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, and wheat allergies. For people with celiac disease, a strict no gluten diet should be followed as even trace amounts of gluten is toxic. Some doctors also recommend patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome go on a gluten-free diet for they believe that a low FODMAP diet is helpful.

The gluten-free diet fad has caused celiac disease awareness and has made it possible that food products be labeled if gluten-containing, even if in minute amounts.

For the rest of us who do not need a medically needed dietary restriction, eating gluten-free can be unhealthy. There is no evidence that following a gluten-free diet has significant benefits to the general population. Whole grains-including the gluten grains, wheat, rye and barley-are health promoting, linked to reducing the risk of coronary heart disease and cancer. Also, there is some evidence that a gluten-free diet may adversely affect gut health in those without celiac disease, NCGS or wheat allergy. One study found that a month on a gluten-free diet may hurt our gut and immune function, potentially setting those on a gluten-free diet up for an overgrowth of harmful bacteria in their intestines. The reason being is that the very components that the gluten sensitive have problems with, may act as prebiotics and feed our good bacteria. Another study linked gluten to natural killer cell activity; that increasing gluten also increased the activity of the natural killer cells to fight against cancer and viral infections. Research suggests (Mayo Clinic) that a diet high in gluten may be beneficial in lowering triglycerides.
Bread made with wheat flour.
Image credit: Pixabay

Another concern is that processed "gluten-free" products have substituted gluten with additives, sugar and saturated fat which is more detrimental to health. If your diet consists of foods that are inherently gluten-free, like fruits, vegetables, gluten-free whole grains like rice, lean protein, healthy fats, then gluten-free can be a healthy diet. But if gluten-containing products are replaced with highly processed gluten-free food then you run the risk of obesity. According to Mayo Clinic, a gluten-free diet may also lead to lower levels of iron, calcium, fiber, folate, thiamin, riboflavin and niacin.

Yes, gluten is very controversial...some still argue that it is possible to get all nutrients with a gluten-free diet and a good example is most of Asia, where the main staple is rice. BUT, according to business news, Asia is also a big importer of flour (wheat) so, if I may add, Asia is not entirely gluten-free.

Which foods are high in gluten?
Wheat, Spelt, Rye, Barley, Bread, Pasta, Cereals, Beer, Cakes, Cookies, and Pastries ( unless specified as gluten-free)
Check food labels for processed food. Those with modified food starch/hydrolyzed vegetable protein contain gluten.

Which foods are gluten-free?
Gluten-free Grains
Corn, Rice, Quinoa, Flax, Millet, Sorghum, Tapioca, Buckwheat, Arrowroot, Amaranth, and Oats ( although gluten-free, may be  contaminated)

Gluten-free Foods
Meat, Fish, and Seafood, Eggs, Dairy Products, Fruits, Vegetables, Legumes, Nuts, Tubers, Fats (Oils and Butter)

I would like to take the chance to talk about serving sizes or food proportions. In all honesty, it may not be what we eat but how much we eat that hurts us. Rice, which is the staple food of Filipinos, is gluten-free. Should be healthy. But too much rice can cause diabetes and Filipinos love their unlimited rice. Eat everything in moderation and in right proportions. Just because it is gluten-free doesn't mean you can eat so much of it.

Always remember...junk food is still junk food whether it's gluten-free or not. And to always eat a well-balanced meal with the right proportion sizes. Also, exercise, drink plenty of water, and get enough sleep. Simple ways to stay healthy.

*credit to sources:
"Gluten-free Diet: Benefits and Risk" www.livescience.com
"How a Gluten-free Diet Can Be Harmful" by Michael Greger MD (www.nutritionfacts.org)
"What is Gluten and Why is it Bad for Some People?" www.medicalnewstoday.com
"Gluten-free Diet" www.mayoclinichealthtsystem.org














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