Friday, September 12, 2014


My buddy gluten seems to have gotten a bad rap.  Recent food trends would have the average joe believing that gluten = bread = this: 
...but this demonization isn't really fair, especially for the 99% of the U.S. population not afflicted with Celiac Disease.

So, for real, what is gluten?  And why do celiacs have to avoid it?
According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye and a host of whole grain foods related to wheat.  
People afflicted with Celiac Disease can't eat gluten as it provokes an autoimmune reaction that attacks the small intestine, impeding the absorption of nutrients in the body.  By eating gluten-free, celiacs prevent damage to their small intestines and related complications like osteoporosis and cancer.  Due to the ubiquity of gluten in many cuisines, gluten-free diets tend to be fairly restrictive. 

For whatever reason, "gluten-free eating" has become a trend of sorts among non-celiacs, as there is a misguided belief that this diet, while very necessary for celiacs, is a smart weight-loss choice for the average person who doesn't have Celiac Disease or wheat allergies.  It isn't.

While gluten itself doesn't have any special benefits nutritionally, many of the foods that contain gluten do.
Foods like pasta and bread (especially in their whole-grain form) contain vitamins, minerals, fiber, & iron, and are part of a healthy, balanced diet.  (And beer, which also contains gluten, is just plain fun.)

The reality is, if you don't have to eliminate gluten, you probably shouldn't.  In fact, people who needlessly eliminate gluten products from their diet run the very real risk of giving themselves nutritional deficiencies.  

I'm guessing there will be many non-celiacs who balk at this, citing personal weight loss as a reason for their gluten-free diet/possible sensitivity to said protein. Three things to keep in mind regarding that:

1."There's nothing magical about eliminating gluten that results in weight loss...Any of us that eliminates or removes cookies and candies from our diets, and replaces them with fruits and vegetables is going to feel better."  So sure, cut out (or at least eat fewer) cookies...because they're bad for you in general.  But don't cut out whole grains in general because doing THAT is bad for you, too.

2. Anecdotal observations are not scientific proof.  Do you think you might have Celiac Disease?  See a doctor, and get the professional help/advice you need.  Because...

3. The only way to be diagnosed with Celiac Disease is with the assistance of a medical professional, such as your gp or a gastroenterologist.

To all the celiacs out there: I'm really sorry about the cards you've been dealt.  Autoimmune disorders are a bear to deal with, and yours in particular makes things like...eating...exceedingly complicated and expensive.  I guess the one upside of the current...trendiness(?)...of your disease is that it has increased the availability of gluten-free foods, at least for the time being.  So I hope non-celiacs who partake in mindless trend-following can be helpful to you in that respect.

And if you don't have Celiac disease/sensitivity/a wheat allergy, you're very unlikely to reap any actual benefits from a gluten-free diet.  So...why would you unnecessarily give up bagels? Or beer? Or cake?
Seriously, people: cake.  CAKE! cake.

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