What's the Deal with Gluten?
Posted in Nourishment for the Mind » Learn on Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What’s Gluten?

(And Why Is It Free?)

I found this Tribune article from Julie Deardorff

 

 

Its enough to make you wonder:  Should I leap onto the gluten-free bandwagon?

 

Cutting a little gluten out of your diet probably won’t hurt, especially because it often means eating fewer processed foods.  But you’ll likely see benefits only if you have a wheat allergy, gluten sensitivity or celiac disease, said Dr. Alessio Fasano, medical director of the University of Maryland’s center for Celiac Research.

Otherwise, “the diet only has a ‘placebo effect’ at best” because gluten is naturally difficult for humans to digest, Frasano said.  Any fullness or bloating you might feel after a pasta dinner, for example, is a result of the slow emptying of the stomach due to poor digestion of gluten rather than a bad reaction to it, Fasano said, adding that marketers are pushing people to eat gluten-free for no reason and turning the diet into a South Beach-like fad.

Avoiding gluten isn’t just difficult and inconvenient; it’s expensive.  Gluten-free versions of products such as bread and crackers are often three times the cost of regular products, according to a study conducted by the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University.

Still, the diet is often touted as a healthy one because followers tend to diligently read labels, eat naturally gluten-free foods such as fruits and vegetables and avoid processed, shelf-stable foods.  Despite its popularity, wheat gluten is not an essential nutrient.

Some GFers, like Brook Braun, 32, have seen health improvements.  When Braun started eliminating gluten two years ago, she found it alleviating some symptoms of her Crohn’s disease, including joint pain.  “I also lost weight when I went gluten-free, sleep better, have less anxiety and clearer skin,” said Braun, of Arlington, Va., who is now off her Crohn’s medication.

And when Pech took her son Blake off gluten to help treat his behavioral problems, he transformed from a whiny troublemaker to a confident, straight-A student, she said.

“If someone really wants to eat gluten-free and they feel better, it’s possible to have a balanced diet without it,” said Dr. Christine Gerbstadt, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association of Sarasota, Fla.  She suggests trying an elimination diet and slowly adding gluten back in.

But if it’s weight loss you’re after, don’t go overboard buying gluten-free brownies, cookies or baked goods, Gerbstadt warned.  While nice treats, “those are all still highly processed refined flour.”

 

Intolerance Levels

 

Gluten intolerance is a generic, umbrella term that means your body has an adverse reaction to gluten; it includes celiac, wheat allergies and gluten sensitivity.  You can’t test for “intolerance,” but you can diagnose the other conditions.

 

·       Celiac disease:  An immune system reaction that causes inflammation in the small intestines when a person eats any food containing gluten, a protein found in wheat.  How to test for it: A blood test followed by an endoscopy to check damage to the small intestine.  Do not go on a gluten-free diet before getting the biopsy, as it can change the results.

·       Wheat allergy:  An allergic reaction to gluten.  Symptons:  Hives, difficulty breathing, nausea or a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis.  How to test for it:  Doctors use a variety of tools, including a food diary, an elimination diet, a skin test or a blood test, or a food challenge, which involves eating capsules of the food under supervision.

·       Gluten sensitivity:  An immune system reaction to gluten.  How to test for it:  There isn’t yet a test for gluten sensitivity.  If you’ve tested negative for both wheat allergy an celiac disease but still react to gluten, you may have gluten sensitivity.

 

Alternatives

 

Think you can’t live without wheat?  Try these three gluten-free “grains.”

 

·       Quinoa:  Technically a seed, but it’s often called “supergrain” because it’s rich source of iron and has more protein and other nutrients than wheat, barley, or corn.

·       Buckwheat:  Another versatile seed, buckwheat is actually wheat-free and rich in magnesium and manganese.  Use it as a side dish r for making waffles, pancakes and pasta.

·       Millet:  The tiny yellow grain is a good source of fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals.  Use it in place of rice.

 

Hidden Gluten

 

Breads, cakes, and pastas are obvious sources of gluten.  But the protein is also hidden in some brands of these common processed foods.  Look for the words “artificial colors,” “modified food starch,” “malt,” “natural flavoring,” and “brewer’s yeast” to identify potential gluten.

 

·       Deli meats, including sausages, hot dogs, and salami, may contain gluten fillers

·       Marinades, gravy, soy-sauces, vinegars, salad dressing may contain gluten thickeners, stabilizers, and emulsifiers

·       Canned soups (and medications) often contain modified wheat starch

·       Beer and whisky are distilled from wheat and other grains

·       Deep-fried or frozen French fries and chicken nuggets may have gluten in the batter or share a deep-fryer with gluten foods.

 

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