Just as fat was derided in the 1990s (saturated fat still is, depending which “authority” you speak to), and certain carbs were then rejected more recently ― today’s scornful attention seems to be directed towards gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. To be proclaimed “gluten-free” seems to be the new nutritional seal of approval.
Not that there isn’t a place for “gluten-free” foods, but that place usually resides with people who have celiac disease ― an autoimmune condition in which gluten can cause potentially severe intestinal damage, or people who have gluten sensitivity. If celiac disease is suspected there is a blood test to check for antibodies associated with this ailment. In the event that this blood test is positive, a tissue biopsy of the small intestine is taken by endoscopy. Otherwise, gluten sensitivity or celiac disease can also be mistaken for other conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome.
Yet according to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, only an estimated 1 in 133 Americans, or about 1% of the population, has celiac disease ― although gluten- sensitivity may affect 6% to 7% of that same population overall.
Nevertheless, the majority of consumers that follow a gluten-free diet are certain that it will improve their physical or mental health and gluten has been blamed for everything from joint pain to weight gain to forgetfulness. For these precarious reasons, approximately a third of consumers look for gluten-free products or try to avoid anything resembling gluten in others. They claim that with these products they have better digestion and gastrointestinal function, increased energy………that it lowers cholesterol and their immune system benefits. They also claim that going gluten-free even leads to healthful weight loss.
But there is limited research to support any of these sentiments and by and large, with the exception of those who have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, there is no clear medical reason to eliminate foods with important nutritional value such as rye, barley and wheat from your diet. In fact gluten might be good for you, as there is some evidence that it has beneficial effects on both triglycerides and maintaining a healthful blood pressure.
Gluten-free foods can be quite bland, so while eliminating glutens from certain foods manufacturers add other ingredients, many of which only increase the calories, fat and sodium into your diet ― for which you pay approximately twice the price. Keep in mind as well, that a recent European Journal of Clinical Nutrition study found that around 5% of foods certified gluten-free didn’t even meet FDA standards for being truly gluten-free.
Although approximately a quarter of the population perceives that gluten-free foods have more minerals and vitamins, some dietitians warn that the opposite is true ― that if you go completely gluten-free without nutritional guidance that you can develop nutritional deficiencies quickly. For example, whereas many gluten-free foods lack supplemental folic acid and iron ― products with wheat have them as additives. Moreover rice or rice flour is often substituted for the wheat, barley and rye in gluten-free foods and if the outer hull of the rice is removed this can lead to a deficiency in Vitamin B1, the progenitor for the disease Beri-Beri (Thiamine deficiency). As if this was not enough, a little known fact is that many of the kinds of rice or rice powder which replace gluten have been found to contain various degrees of arsenic in them. This is not to say that you cannot obtain gluten-free products without rice, but the majority of them have rice.
Gluten-free foods actually seem to have a tendency to increase calories and the very risk of being overweight or obese that a third of their purchasers believe they are going to lose weight with. There is no evidence that stopping gluten gets rid of a belly – so if there is weight loss with a gluten-free diet, its most likely due to added motivation on the part of those pursuing such a diet, cutting starchy foods, or perhaps eating less and substituting fruits and vegetables for gluten containing products.
So, in conclusion, there is much to think about before joining what is currently the largest and hottest trend in the food world ― going gluten-free.