Gluten: Bandage or Bandwagon

We all know the person who tries every fad diet, new restaurant or exercise trend. One of the current trends is going gluten free. Is this a diet trend that will be gone in two years – or is there solid science behind the trend. We’ve got the answer.

What is gluten?
Gluten is the protein found in cereal grain’s endosperm and it is used to make flour. Gluten nourishes plant embryos during germination – which impacts the elasticity of dough – which impacts the chewy texture of baked products.
Gluten is found in:
  • Wheat
  • Barley
  • Rye
  • Triticale (a cross between wheat and rye)
Gluten is not present in:
  • Sorghum
  • Millet
  • Brown rice
  • Buckwheat
  • Wild rice
  • Amaranth
  • Quinoa
  • Corn (polenta)
  • Teff (a tiny grain from Ethiopia with a nutty flavor)

Bandage: Who needs to avoid gluten?

Some people, like those with celiac disease, have an abnormal immune response when their bodies are digesting and breaking down gluten. It can damage their intestines and prevent them from absorbing nutrients. There are reportedly 3 million in the U.S. with the disease.

Gluten may also be bad for those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). IBS affects 7-20% of adults in the United States. Gluten for these people can result in bloating, cramping and diarrhea. A few people are allergic to wheat – and not necessarily to the gluten. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, 65% of children with a wheat allergy outgrow it by age 12.

In addition, some people have non-celiac gluten sensitivity. These people may get celiac disease symptoms, such as diarrhea, fatigue and joint pain although their intestines don’t appear to be damaged.

Do you have celiac disease, IBS, a wheat allergy on non-celiac gluten sensitivity? If so, use the bandage and avoid gluten. The rest of us do not apparently need to give it up. 
Bandwagon: Going gluten-free

To avoid gluten, avoid bread, beer, French fries (if they’re coated in flour before frying), pasta, salad dressing, soy sauce and even some soups if they have wheat, barley or rye (unless otherwise marked as “gluten-free”).

The Mayo Clinic reports that about 80% of people on gluten-free diets do not have a celiac disease diagnosis. Instead, when eating gluten free baked goods or other foods, they are instead increasing their uptake of sugar – which has its own dire side effects such as obesity. Gluten-free foods are often nutrient-deficient.

Going gluten free can result in:
  • Weight loss if starches are replaced with healthier options
  • Weight gain if too much “gluten-free” pre-packaged food is consumed
  • Nutrient deficiencies (vitamins B and D, iron, fiber)
  • Cognitive decline due to elevated blood sugar levels
  • Improved digestion by reducing bloating and diarrhea
As you can see, there are positives and negatives to going gluten-free. At least it is easier to do so, due to the recent passing of the gluten-free labeling law by the FDA.  To carry the gluten-free label, it must contain less than 20 parts per million (0.02 grams of gluten per 1 kg of food). This is effectively the lowest amount which can be detected via testing.

The Mayo Clinic recommends keeping gluten in your diet unless you have a gluten tolerance disease such as celiac disease. They reported, “Many processed gluten-free foods are higher in saturated fat and sugar to make products more flavorful. The added sugars and fat can have a negative impact on weight and weight-related conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. Additionally, research suggests a diet high in gluten may be beneficial in lowering triglycerides.”

If you’re still considering giving up gluten, consider replacing it with healthy options such as vegetables and other healthy grains. Remember the early “no saturated fats” message? It was over-simplified and drove people from animal fats to processed flours and sugars.

It’s like switching bacon and eggs for Cap’n Crunch. Don’t switch a slice of wheat bread for a jumbo-sized wild rice muffin. If you don’t need the bandage, don’t jump on the bandwagon.


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