Debunking Gluten-Free Myths

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What is Gluten Exactly?

Gluten is a general name for proteins found in wheat, which assist with dough elasticity, making dough pliable. Essentially, it is the glue that holds the product together. Eliminating gluten from products involves using other starches such as corn and potato starch and using alternative gluten-free grains like amaranth.

Who is the Gluten-Free Diet For?

For those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, going gluten-free is a must. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder characterized by damage to the lining of the small intestine, which prevents the absorption of nutrients from food. Gluten from wheat, barley, rye, and oats causes the damage. Those with celiac disease suffer from painful gas, diarrhea, bloating, stomach pain, weight loss, skin inflammation, malabsorption, and eventual malnutrition. The only “cure” for celiac disease is a lifelong avoidance of gluten in the diet. Those with gluten sensitivities find that eating gluten gives them diarrhea or constipation and leaves them feeling gassy, bloated, puffy, tired, and generally out of sorts. These people have sensitivity to gluten and eliminating gluten from the diet often relieves these symptoms.

Will Going Gluten-Free Help Me Lose Weight?

Because of some misinformation in the media and the diet garnering celebrity popularity, many people without celiac disease or gluten sensitivity are adopting a gluten-free diet. The misconception is that this diet helps you lose weight, however there is absolutely no evidence that this diet promotes weight loss, and in fact, can do quite the opposite and make one gain weight. Often, gluten-free products contain much more sugar or fat added to the product to increase palatability, and thus, contain higher calories. It is also best to be wary; the starches used to replace gluten are almost always higher on the glycemic index and convert quicker into glucose than wheat flours on the whole. Still, some claim to lose weight on the diet. One reason is that perhaps instead of consuming wheat gluten, someone may switch to a grain like quinoa, which is a whole grain that is rich in fiber, low on the glycemic index, and rife with nutrients. Or perhaps one is paying more attention to food labels and portion sizes. Keep in mind that switching over to a gluten-free diet adds more fruits and vegetables and less processed food in the diet. If you are not allergic to gluten, adding more fiber, fruits, and vegetables is always a good way to lose weight; and avoiding the high glycemic index starches found in gluten-free foods will most likely do you more good than harm.

What Are the Risks of a Gluten-Free Diet?

As with any elimination diet, there are always risks of nutritional deficiencies. When grains are eliminated, you may become deficient in iron, calcium, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin and folate, nutrients generally added to enriched grain products. People who adopt gluten-free diets are also at risk of not getting enough fiber in the diet. Fiber is essential for blood sugar control, assists with keeping cholesterol low, prevents constipation, and helps to control weight, so getting enough fiber in the diet is important. Gluten-free diets can also lead to a decrease in beneficial gut microflora, which can lead to a compromised immune system and possible weight gain. Additionally, gluten-free diets can be quite expensive, as the food industry is now happily cashing in on this popular food trend.

If You Don’t Have It, You Probably Don’t Need It

Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity are not easy conditions to manage. It can be very difficult to discern and eliminate all forms of gluten in the diet and can be a very time-consuming and expensive task. If you do not have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, but want a clean and healthy diet and to lose weight, the best option for you is to try organic fruits, vegetables and products, get plenty of fiber, and try to eliminate processed foods, salt, and sugar from the diet. You will be healthier, lose weight, and feel more energized. And you will probably save yourself a few dollars in the meantime, too.

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