You see “gluten-free” everywhere you go: on restaurant menus, cakes and breads, flour and baking mixes. But do you really need to avoid gluten?
What is Gluten?
Gluten is a type of protein. It’s found in wheat, rye and barley, so is in a lot of bread products; it’s what gives our bread that chewy texture. Bread without gluten has an almost gummy texture. While the current “gluten-free” craze has people believing that gluten is something we should avoid, it’s actually a protein that our bodies need.
Gluten makes bread rise, helps it keep its shape, and gives it its absorbency (which is why you can soak up gravies or broth with your bread.
So far, it doesn’t sound like something dangerous; in fact, there are many problems that can come from avoiding gluten in your diet.
Deficiencies from a Gluten-Free Diet
Like many substitute diets, if done incorrectly, you can end up with nutritional deficiencies. In the case of a gluten-free diet, essential nutrients such as calcium, thiamin, riboflavin, folate, iron and fiber do not meet the recommended daily amounts.
Obviously, this isn’t exclusive to gluten-free diets. Any alternative diet, such as vegetarianism or veganism, can cause nutritional deficiencies unless you’re careful to find substitutions for the nutrients lost from the excluded foods.
Should we Avoid Gluten?
A recent study illustrated that gluten increases a person’s risk of death from heart disease and cancer. BUT this increased risk was in people with gluten sensitivity, or that had celiac disease. If you don’t have either, there isn’t any reason to avoid the consumption of gluten.
If this is true, then why are so many people avoiding it by eating a gluten-free diet? As far as I can tell, the experts state that you COULD have either a gluten sensitivity or celiac disease, therefore you should avoid eating gluten.
Signs of Gluten Sensitivity
A paper published by the New England Journal of Medicine advises that several diseases have the root cause as eating gluten:
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Canker sores
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Other Autoimmune Diseases
The list continues…but you get the idea. We have finally hit upon why so many people are eating a gluten-free diet. But should you eliminate gluten from your diet?
A Simple Test for Gluten Sensitivity
There is a very simple test to see if you are sensitive to gluten and need to eliminate it from your diet. This is a great way to show how it affects your body.
For a time period of between two and four weeks, eliminate gluten from your diet; don’t eat ANY bread products, and read the labels of everything to make sure they don’t contain gluten.
At the end of the trial, add gluten products back into your diet, and see how you feel. If the re-introduction of gluten creates any sickness, feeling bad or otherwise “off” physical symptoms, you are sensitive to gluten and should eliminate it from your diet.
Surprise, surprise! The FDA allows companies to lie about gluten labeling…nothing new there, they haven’t exactly endorsed honesty with anything else, right? Gluten is on the FDA’s list of “Generally Recognized As Safe” ingredients, meaning food manufacturers aren’t required to list gluten as an ingredient.
This makes avoiding gluten even more difficult, obviously. One thing you should know is that foods labeled as “gluten-free” are not 100% without gluten. The reason for this is simple: it just isn’t possible to remove all of the proteins from wheat and the other grain sources of gluten.
So, the decision is up to you: avoid gluten or not? Try the test as described above, see how you react to gluten. Then make your decision.