Going gluten free seems to be the newest trend. For some it is critical, but for most it is an unnecessary change. Cutting out gluten is one of the most frequent requests I have been getting from clients over the past year and there seems to be some pretty common misconceptions. I feel as though I am constantly explaining what gluten really is, when it is necessary to cut it out and when doing so is just a hassle.
So what exactly is gluten? Gluten is a protein found in foods processed with wheat and other similar grains such as rye, barley and spelt. Gluten is what gives dough its elasticity, which makes it pretty important to the rising and texture of many products. Gluten is also found in many other products such as makeup and hair products where it is commercially added.
Those who have been diagnosed with Celiac Disease or Celiac Sprue, must cut gluten out of their diet because their body (specifically the intestinal tract) reacts to the gluten protein causing an inflammatory response which can alter the body’s ability to absorb nutrients from food. There are several very specific tests that must be done to diagnose Celiac Disease including blood testing and a biopsy, but these tests are only effective if a person has NOT cut gluten out of the diet already.
Others may experience some form of gluten sensitivity, some signs and symptoms are: Migraines, frequent bloating, gas, Irrital Bowel Syndrome, anxiety, chronic fatigue, depression and eczema or acne. If you think you have any of these it is important to talk to your Doctor/Registered Dietitian to find out more.
For anyone else, cutting out gluten is likely unnecessary and actually a pretty challenging thing! Ironically, this article from ABC News recently came across one of my information feeds and I thought it did a good job of summing up a few of the common gluten myths that people believe.
Here is the link to the article: http://abcnews.go.com/Health/gluten-myths-embarrassed/story?id=23645211
So what are the 5 Gluten Myths the article discusses?
1. Gluten makes you fat!
- This is NOT true. The amount and types of calories that you consume are what make you gain weight. If you eat more than your body needs your weight will go up.
2. Gluten is not part of a clean diet.
- This is NOT true. May people’s perceptions of a clean diet are different, but most dietitians would agree that a clean diet is one that is low in overly processed foods (all foods are processed in some way) and high in whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, lean protein sources and whole grains. She makes an excellent point that french fries are gluten free, but probably not what you would consider part of a clean diet.
3. Gluten is bad for you.
- Again this is NOT true (unless you have Celiac Disease). Gluten in and of itself is not specifically nutritious, however many of the foods that contain it (such as whole grains) contain important nutrients such as fiber, B vitamins and Iron.
4. You just personally know that you can’t have gluten.
- Unless you are the minority of the population that has Celiac Disease, or has been diagnosed with sensitivity or allergy by a physician, cutting out gluten will have no benefit on your health. If you think you have Celiac Disease, do not cut out gluten before you consult with your physician.
5. Gluten Causes Cancer.
- This is NOT true. For the majority of the population, consuming gluten does not have any effect on cancer risk. Those who have undiagnosed Celiac Disease, or those who continue to eat gluten after being diagnosed, may have increased risk for intestinal cancer.
So there you have it! Below I have listed a few of my favorite resources for information on Gluten, gluten free diet and Celiac Disease.
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:
National Association for Celiac Awareness:
Shelley Case, RD (Celiac Specialist)
The Gluten Free Dietitian (Website with Dietitians in every state specializing in gluten free diets)
Delete the Wheat