Hello friends. I feel like it’s been a long time since I’ve rambled on to you guys. That’ll change today as we explore gluten, and all of the nutrition myths out there.
How were your holidays? I hope you enjoyed some downtime with your loved ones! While traveling over the holidays, I couldn’t help but overhear people in supermarkets and take-out restaurants looking for gluten-free options. While I can’t assume they don’t have celiac disease, the majority of people fall prey to the gluten-free marketing tactics and/or may not necessarily have an understanding of gluten and its role in foods.
What do people think about gluten?
Actually, 63% of Americans believe that a gluten-free diet is equivalent to improved physical and mental health. Plus, there’s also the fact that products can contain up to 20 ppm (parts per million) of gluten and still be labeled “gluten free,” meaning there may still be miniscule amounts in these products.
Gluten and gluten-friendly alternatives were important topics that came up often throughout my dietetic internship working in foodservice and worksite wellness with Nike. Like many places today, Nike offers several “gluten-free” substitutes, which can provide a huge piece of mind for those who are sensitive to gluten. I think it’s great that places are offering gluten alternatives, but consumers shouldn’t necessarily make gluten-free their diet default.
What is gluten?
Gluten is actually a protein. It’s found in various grains, and sometimes other ingredients as an additive. Many whole grains that contain gluten also offer various vitamins and minerals, iron and fiber, therefore making it an important accomplice for bulking the diet, encouraging normal digestion, and helping us feel fuller.
Some companies now use “gluten free” as a marketing coy to increase the price of their products and make their product seem more nutritious than it may truly be. Potatoes, hummus, avocados, meat, dairy that show claims to be gluten free – guess what – they are inherently gluten-free and don’t need a fancy label that helps mark their price up.
Gluten is the new villain in today’s nutrition fads, just like fat used to be in the 90’s.
There is so much false information out there. Let’s dispel some myths.
Will gluten make us fat? No. You’re also not going to necessarily lose weight by going gluten-free. If you do, it’s likely from other diet and/or lifestyle changes.
Does gluten-free mean all-natural and organic ingredients? No.
Should we avoid gluten? We shouldn’t avoid gluten unless we have a medical reason to do so. Because elimination of entire food groups can lead to many nutrient deficiencies, dietitians don’t normally resort to elimination diets unless they are absolutely necessary. For the majority of us, gluten is actually a healthy part of our diet and lifestyles. While gluten is normally found in and associated with carbohydrate products, it is not the same as carbohydrates, and many healthy carbohydrates do NOT contain gluten.
What has gluten? wheat, rye, bulgar, triticale, farro, kamut, spelt, and sometimes oats (due to cross-contamination), beer products, soups, soy sauce and other sauces, food coloring, ketchup, some cosmetic products.
What doesn’t have gluten? Fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, quinoa, potatoes, sweet potatoes, fish, dairy, legumes, rice, corn, soy, buckwheat (this one is tricky), and fats including buts/seeds, flax, chia, oils, coconut, avocado.
How do you know if you should avoid gluten?
While some people may be sensitive to gluten, only 1% of the population actually has Celiac Disease, which is an autoimmune response to the ingestion of gluten, causing damage to one’s intestine and leading to malabsorption of nutrients, anemia, and/or even unexplained weight loss. Some people may not have Celiac’s, but may experience sensitivity to gluten-containing foods, leading to painful abdominal or bloated feelings. These individuals may feel better with limited or no amounts of gluten in their diets as well.
What else should you know?
- Wheat-free does not always mean gluten-free (but gluten-free does mean wheat-free).
- Providing gluten-free options and substitutions is absolutely necessary for some people, while it may seem attractive and enticing to others. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s healthier than other options.
- Gluten-free does NOT equal healthy. Many gluten-free products have less protein, and more fat, sodium, added sugars and even calories than gluten-containing products. Label reading and comparison is important.
It is relatively easy to substitute recipes for non-gluten containing flours and ingredients today, thanks to companies like Bob’s Red Mill.
While I do sometimes cook and bake with ingredients that are naturally gluten-free (like these pancakes), I have never experienced any negative side effects from gluten and I do include it in my daily diet. I realize this may not be the most comfortable or ideal diet for everyone, and I am in no way bashing gluten-free diets. Moreso, I want to provide some information and knowledge that may be helpful to some of you. If you have removed or are thinking about removing gluten from your diet, I strongly suggest talking to a Registered Dietitian who can ensure that you don’t become deficient in nutrients such as B-vitamins, calcium, iron, zinc, and magnesium, among others.
Gluten or no gluten?
Do you purchase any gluten free products?