There’s a massive trend going around. Watch out before you catch it!
It’s called the “gluten-free” diet.
Unfortunately, this diet has been catching the attention of health-conscious consumers, thereby becoming mainstream in the United States. I say “unfortunately” because many people cannot define gluten, or identify it in food products, but choose to exclude it anyway.
For those of you who don’t know this term, gluten is the main protein found in items like wheat, rye, barley, and any foods containing those grains.
I wrote about gluten’s magic in my homemade whole wheat pizza post. Gluten consists of 2 compounds called glutenin and gliadin. Glutenin is responsible for the elasticity of bread and doughs, while gliadin allows dough to stretch.
Adopting a gluten-free diet takes a lot of work. The diet is mainly for individuals who suffer from Celiac disease. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder in which the small intestine becomes damaged when any form of gluten is eaten.
Sounds awful, doesn’t it? Wait until you hear my description.
Our small intestine contains tiny, finger-like projections called villi. These villi are responsible for the absorption of nutrients during the digestion of food. When gluten hits those villi in people with Celiac disease, the projections become damaged, and can flatten like pancakes.
Talk about a stomach ache!
Symptoms of Celiac disease include bloating, diarrhea, skin rashes, nutrient deficiencies, growth failure, and fatigue. It can take weeks for a Celiac sufferer to recover from eating even the tiniest speck of gluten. A lactose intolerance can even develop in those with Celiac disease if the small intestine is damaged too much.
Celiac disease should never be self-diagnosed. Screening for the disease usually involves blood tests. The most common test is called the tTG-IgA test. If the tests for the disease come back positive, then a biopsy of the small intestine is completed to make the official diagnosis (1). You must not be on a gluten-free diet for these tests to be conclusive.
People who do not show any signs of Celiac disease may be diagnosed with a gluten sensitivity. These people have an intolerance for gluten, but their villi aren’t damaged when eating it. You might be able to eat some gluten-containing products, but not others. Symptoms vary from person to person.
You should talk to your doctor or dietitian about managing a gluten-free diet only when you have a legitimate medical need for it. Being gluten-free restricts your consumption of many common, nutritious foods. Foods excluded on a gluten free diet are wheat, barley, and rye, as mentioned above, along with spelt, durum, semolina, kamut, couscous, and triticale. Oats can be contaminated with gluten, and are usually not eaten on a gluten-free diet.
People on a gluten-free diet are therefore at risk for deficiencies in B vitamins, calcium, zinc, iron, copper, magnesium, and Vitamin D.
Who needs to be taking supplements for all those nutrients when you can just get them from food? I admire those who follow a truly gluten-free diet. Unless a doctor tells me I can’t have glutenous foods, then I don’t think I could ever give them up. It takes commitment and bravery to end the relationship with gluten. Elimination, my friends, is not the answer unless medically warranted.