Gluten-Free Diet: Is it for you?
By Brice Woodard, ABS Team Member
What is gluten? Is it bad for you? Should you eat it? These are common questions you might have. Before deciding whether adopting a gluten-free diet is for you, let's answer some fundamental questions about gluten and get a better understanding of what it is and what it does.
What is Gluten?Gluten is a protein that is created when two molecules, glutenin and gliadin, bind together. It creates a rubbery texture that gives bread a chewy texture. Gluten also traps carbon dioxide that causes bread to rise as it ferments.
Gluten can be found in wheat, rye, barley, and spelt. It also has shown up in everything from soups to salad dressings as well. Even oatmeal, which is gluten-free naturally, is often grown with wheat which adds a trace of gluten.
Is Gluten Bad For Me?
For most people, gluten doesn't cause any issues. There is a small percentage of people, about 1%, that suffer from Celiac's disease. Celiac's disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes your body to treat gluten as a foreign invader leading to attacks that can destroy intestinal lining.
The resulting damage can lead to nutritional deficiencies, anemia, and a variety of digestive issues. The issues don't stop with the digestive system. Symptoms such as depression, skin rashes, and headaches can also manifest from Celiac's disease.
Some people also suffer from a relatively new condition called "non-celiac gluten intolerance." An estimated 10-15% of people have some level of non-celiac gluten intolerance. While this doesn't cause the physical damage that celiac's disease does, it can still present several digestive issues such as bloating, cramping, diarrhea and tiredness. These numbers have not been confirmed yet by studies, and the validity of the disease is still a hot topic among experts.
Should I go Gluten-Free?Gluten-free diets are the new craze. If you have Celiac's disease, not adopting a gluten-free diet can have disastrous effects. With non-celiac gluten intolerance, temporarily removing gluten from your diet can give you a good picture of how you feel without gluten.
If you decide adopting a gluten-free diet is the way to go for you, there are few things you need to know to be successful.
1. Avoid the gluten-free substitutes. Gluten-free alternatives such as pizza, cake, and cookies are even less nutritious than their gluten counterparts.
2. Don't skimp on the fruits and vegetables. Make sure you are getting the majority of your carbohydrate intake from fruits and veggies, not gluten-free substitutes. This will prevent any nutritional deficiencies and avoid the weight gain that often accompanies the overindulgence of gluten-free alternatives.
3. Check the labels. Many foods such as soups and salad dressings have gluten in them. Look for ingredients that contain gluten such as rye, barley, wheat, flour, malt, soy sauce, and ground spices.
4. Be specific at restaurants. Most restaurants do offer gluten-free options now, but you still need to ask specifically for them. Many restaurants have specific procedures they need to follow to ensure your food is gluten-free. If you have an allergy, be sure to let them know that as well.