Wednesday, March 21, 2012
To Gluten or Not to Gluten
If you haven't noticed, gluten free foods are taking over the shelves of grocery stores as well as restaurant menus. BUT WHY? and What IS gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in the grains: Wheat, Rye, Barley, Spelt, Kamut, Farro, Semolina, Bulgur, and Durum. Oats that have been transported in trucks that carried these grains have been contaminated, and should also be considered as "gluten containing." Oats also contain a compound similar to gluten, so for some very sensitive people, even gluten free oats are not an appropriate choice. Gluten is what gives bread and pizza dough it's elasticity. When a person cooks pasta, the residue left in the pan and colander is starch and gluten.
At one time, people with Celiac Disease (CD) would have had a difficult time navigating the menus at most restaurants thanks to the hidden flour found in many dishes such as sauces, gravies, salad dressing, pre-packaged foods and cross contamination. CD is an autoimmune disease where the body views gluten as a threat and attacks the intestinal villi where gluten is absorbed. This typically leads to GI distress of varying degrees depending upon the person. For some though, it leads to a rash called Dermatitis Hepetiformis. The only treatment is a gluten free diet. While the medical community has known about CD for a long time, the concept of Gluten Sensitivity (GS) is new and upcoming. GS is where people's bodies react negatively to gluten, but they do not have CD.
The fact of the matter is, humans were never meant to eat the amount of gluten that we do. Wheat in the US is specifically grown so that it contains at least 50% more gluten than it did 50yrs ago. This makes for lighter, fluffier baked goods. Gluten is also used as a food additive and stabilizer in just about every processed food product. When Julia Child wrote 'The Art of French Cooking' she already knew that American flours contained more Gluten than French flours. Thus she had to formulate the recipes taking into account these differences. The increase in gluten consumption has not been benign though. In her book "The Gluten Connection", Shari Lieberman PhD, CNS, FACN discusses how this increase is wreaking havoc on our health. Today some nutritionists and doctors recognize this and instead of promoting more medications to cover up symptoms, they are recommending gluten free diets. People who may benefit from a gluten free lifestyle include those with: Eczema/Psoriasis, Asthma, ADD/ADHD, Autism, IBS, Ulcerative Colitis, Crohn's Disease, Osteoporosis, Chronic Fatigue, Fibromyalgia, Multiple Sclerosis, Lupus, and just about any other autoimmune disease.
Unfortunately society has caught the GF craze and people now use it as weight loss/health fad diet. I think a lot of this was sparked when Elizabeth H. from The View wrote her book The G-Free Diet. If you are in the process of cutting out gluten for health reasons fear not! You are not missing out on food. As mentioned before you can still have a little toast with peanut butter for breakfast thanks to GF companies like UDI's. However, filling your cabinet with GF products is not the route to take. Replacing a regular cookie with a GF cookie, means you are still eating a cookie. Just like any person trying to improve their health, you should fill your pantry with real food: Meat, Veggies, Fruit, Rice, Quinoa, Sweet Potatoes, Nuts, Butter, Olive Oil, Spices, coffee, and tea. Buyer beware though, gluten lurks in unexpected places. Foods such as soy sauce, BBQ sauce, ice cream, salad dressings, frozen veggies with butter and cheese sauce, and flavored yogurt. To truly go GF you will have to become a Nutrition Label Detective. Labels now post allergen information denoting if a product contains wheat, but not gluten.
If you want to go GF for any number of reasons, it's best to meet with a Dietitian or Nutritionist to make sure you do it right. It's best to try going GF for at least 3 weeks, but 3-6 months is best. If you do not completely eliminate gluten, you will not be able to feel the difference.