Gluten has been on my mind lately, and I wasn’t too sure why until I remembered the TV show I watched last week. Parenthood. Do you watch it? Great show! But I digress…In the last episode of Parenthood there was a lot of talk about gluten free lunches for the kids. It was once believed that gluten may have played a role in hyperactivity/ADD/autism etc. in children. However, recent research suggests that this is not true (and may I say thank you to the writers of Parenthood for perpetuating that myth, not!)
So what exactly is gluten? Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. Yes, it is a protein; people have told me they avoid gluten because it is a “carb.” Nope, not a carb! Wheat products, which are mostly carbohydrates, do also contain small amounts of protein. Oatmeal does not contain gluten, neither does rice (white or brown), potatoes, or corn. It is still possible to consume plenty of carbs while following a gluten free diet. You may notice that oatmeal is sometimes labeled “gluten free” in the store. While oats are not made from wheat and do not naturally contain gluten they are usually processed in the same factory as wheat so they may be contaminated with gluten, unless specifically labeled “gluten free.”
On to the controversy. In America (especially Los Angeles), there has been an epidemic of gluten sensitivity or gluten allergies, as some people like to call it. The majority of these allergies are self-diagnosed. There is, however, a true autoimmune disease called celiac disease where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage of the small intestine. For someone with celiac disease, it is very important to eat gluten free for his or her short and long term health. The diagnosis for celiac disease is based on a simple blood test. If that is positive, it is confirmed with an intestinal biopsy (not as scary as it sounds).
Non-celiac gluten sensitivity. A scientist who did an experiment where he gave people meals with gluten and asked them to record their symptoms coined this term. The study subjects had a lot of symptoms after eating the meals with gluten. These symptoms ranged from diarrhea, constipation, headaches, fatigue, abdominal pain, malaise, and the list goes on and on. If you know anything about scientific methodology you know that this is not a good study design! Just recently this same researcher performed another study, where he gave people gluten free meals without them knowing. Guess what? The subjects reported the exact same symptoms as they had when they were given meals with gluten. If you are interested in learning more about this, click here.
I believe you should eat whatever makes you feel best. However, if you are going gluten free just to be trendy or because you think it will help with your constipation, you should think again. Here are some reasons not to go gluten free:
1. Whole wheat products are healthy and are a good source of fiber
2. It can create a problem for people who actually do have celiac because people think that eating gluten free is a casual thing, not a serious health issue
3. When a product which is not naturally gluten free (chips, cereal, bread) is made to be gluten free it is usually striped of fiber and has a lot of additives added to it in order for it to be palatable
4. Last but not least, gluten tastes good. Bread, pizza, cereal, do you really want to avoid these foods? (sorry to my friends with celiac disease)
I know you have probably already seen this clip on Jimmy Kimmel. But this video demonstrates my point so nicely. Check it out!