For the past few years, many of you have probably been hearing about the “craze” on gluten. With gluten-free aisles in the grocery stores, gluten-free options offered in restaurants, and gluten-free diets and recipes popping up everywhere you go, it is clear that a new market in the food industry has opened up. The term gluten-free has been advertised for not just the diseases it affects, but for becoming the new healthier way to eat for everyone. Here at Life University, health and wellness are our passion, which is why I thought it was important to understand why gluten has piqued the interest of the public. You might be wondering, “Who exactly benefits from gluten-free diets?” or “Will gluten-free diets really make us healthier?” But first, let’s begin with the question, “What is gluten”?
If you like to eat breads, pastas, cereals or chocolate chip cookies; then it is very likely you have consumed gluten. It is present in wheat, rye, and barley. Gluten is a protein made up of gliadin and glutenin, which combine with starch in a variety of grains. Glutenin is the main protein in wheat flour and Gliadin is the component that allows bread to rise and keep shape. Gluten is the key factor in giving dough its elasticity and giving bread its chewiness. But for some people, this protein can be harmful.
People who benefit from gluten-free diets are those with celiac disease, gluten intolerance or who are allergic to wheat. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder where once the body detects gluten, it attacks it. During this process, the lining of the small intestines becomes damaged, so avoiding gluten completely is necessary for their health. Those with gluten intolerance can experience symptoms like stomach cramps or digestive problems, and people who are allergic to wheat can experience inflammation that can cause stomach problems, rashes or hives. Eliminating gluten from the diet can clear up these symptoms for people who cannot digest this protein properly. For most of us, gluten can be digested without any problems.
For people without these conditions, going gluten-free will not necessarily make you “healthier.” Gluten itself may not offer any special nutritional benefits but foods containing gluten do, like whole grains. Eating whole grains are important, since you gain a variety of vitamins, minerals and fiber; and, if you eliminate whole grains from the diet, it is possible you can become deficient in B-vitamins, iron and fiber. Because this protein is found in starch, consuming a diet that is high in carbohydrates and low in fruits and vegetables can be unhealthy; especially, if a majority of your diet comes from refined grains, like white bread, snack foods, cereals, or crackers. Gluten can also be found in many foods that contain preservatives and artificial flavorings, so eliminating processed foods from the diet can be beneficial. Just like foods that contain gluten can be unhealthy, foods not containing gluten can also be unhealthy. Some gluten-free foods are also high in calories, sugars, fats, and have fewer vitamins and minerals.
Eating gluten-free foods can be either beneficial or non-beneficial for you, depending on what you choose to eat. It is always important to know what is in your food, to eat things in moderation and overall, a balanced diet that contains whole grains, fruits and vegetables is what will make you healthier.