Over a third of Americans reported that they are trying to cut back on gluten in 2013. And it’s pretty sad how many of these people actually have no clue what gluten is. Jimmy Kimmel sheds some light on this… But I’m going to break it down for you plain and simple: Gluten 101.
What is gluten?
Gluten is a general name for proteins found in wheat, rye, barley, and triticale (aka wheat-related grains). It helps food maintain its shape and often gives food a chewy texture.
Where is gluten?
Most people think of bread when they hear gluten. This is correct, but it goes so much further than that. Gluten isn’t in everything, but it is hidden in a lot more foods than you think – typically foods that have been processed. This includes breads, baked goods, pastas, cereals, soups, crackers, sauces, salad dressings, beer, and lots of other products including non-food items. For a more extensive, but not exclusive list of items go here.
Is gluten bad for everyone?
The short answer to this question is no. But some will beg to differ. The reason that many will lose weight on a gluten-free diet is because they’re eliminating a plethora of foods from their diet. Think about it. If you stop eating cookies, cakes, muffins, crackers, bread, and pasta, you’re probably going to cut a lot of calories. Not to mention sugar and fat. This isn’t rocket science, people. Gluten is not the devil, contrary to what some folks may tell you.
However, 1% of Americans have Celiac Disease. This autoimmune disorder is caused by an abnormal response to gluten, which damages the lining of the small intestines. So in this case, gluten is most definitely bad for those who have been diagnosed with Celiac Disease. These patients must avoid gluten in their diets entirely.
Could gluten affect me if I don’t have Celiac Disease?
Yes. However, there is a large overlap of symptoms among people with Celiac Disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), so it can be tricky to pinpoint if gluten is the culprit. Some people report a foggy mind, depression, ADHD-like behavior, abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, headaches, bone or joint pain, and chronic fatigue as a result of eating gluten. These symptoms are very real, and if this sounds like you, it is important to get tested for Celiac Disease before eliminating gluten from your diet. This is the only way to ensure accurate test results. For more information visit the Celiac Disease Foundation or the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness.
So what’s the bottom line?
1. If you want to lose weight, the avoidance of gluten is not magical. The avoidance of high-calorie, low-nutrient foods is the key. A paleo diet is likely a better fit for you because it emphasizes the consumption of lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, all of which do not naturally contain any gluten.
2. If you do not have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity and you’re trying to decide between regular versus gluten-free products at the grocery store, DO NOT waste your money on the products labeled “gluten-free.” The gluten-free brownie mix has z e r o advantages over the standard Betty Crocker brownie mix (except for the fact that I happen to be mildly obsessed with Glutino brownies because they’re fudgy and moist and delicious…but still full of sugar, nonetheless).
3. If you have Celiac Disease you need to avoid gluten. But I hope you are already aware of this.
4. If you know you don’t have Celiac Disease, but think you may be suffering from gluten sensitivity, it may be worthwhile to look into IBS and/or the low FODMAP diet, in addition to a gluten-free diet.
I am gluten-sensitive, myself, and have been following a gluten-free diet for two years. I’m no expert, but would be happy to answer any questions or concerns you may have.