You could easily say that a “gluten-free” diet has become a trendy thing to do, but is it really a diet that people should follow? Is it something that should be adopted by everyone? Should you really spend ten dollars for a little loaf of gluten free bread? And what even is gluten, and why is it so “bad”?
Many people that are on a gluten-free diet don’t even know what gluten is, and why it is supposedly bad for you. This Jimmy Kimmel video sums up most people’s idea of what gluten is…
Unfortunately, this video is quite accurate of the general knowledge gluten. Most people don’t understand why they are not eating it, and this can be dangerous for people to cut something out of their diet without full research and understanding.
So what is gluten, and is it really necessary to eliminate it from your diet?
Gluten is a protein that is found in some grains (primarily wheat) which provides stretch and binding in the product the grain is in. Unfortunately, gluten can often get added to almost anything to provide texture and consistency so it can be difficult to identify what contains gluten.
Now that you know what gluten is, should you give it up?
The main reason people should eliminate gluten from their diet is not because it is “bad” or unhealthy but because of how their body reacts to it. Many people have a sensitivity or intolerance to gluten, which can result in many different ailments (digestive problems, fatigue, hormone imbalances, migraines, poor skin health, inflammation, mood swings). If you are having any sort of health problem, like the ones I mentioned, then you may have a problem digesting gluten. There are lots of people that once they eliminate gluten from their diet, feel much better and realize that their bodies perform much better without gluten. There are a few different tests that you can get done to see if your body is sensitive to gluten, or you can just completely eliminate it for a few months, then introduce it back into your diet to see how your body reacts.
Is a gluten-free diet healthier?
There are so many gluten-free products that are marketed as being healthy, or better for you. While the actual product may possibly contain “good for you” ingredients, it isn’t the “gluten-free” aspect that makes it healthy. For some people, gluten-free products may digest better and help them feel better but for most people gluten doesn’t have a large impact on their overall health. Many gluten-free products are assumed to be healthy, resulting in people overeating them. So just because a product is gluten-free it doesn’t mean that you can eat limitless amounts of it. A gluten-free cookie is still a cookie.
Gluten-free products often times contain ingredients that are more nutritious than a product containing gluten. Most of these products replace gluten with healthy ingredients. For example, the gluten may be replaced with flax, or chia seeds causing the product to have added health benefits. But at the same time, a gluten-free product may contain ingredients that are just as unhealthy as the glutenous version. That is why it is very important to look at the ingredients!
How do you know if a gluten-free product is actually free of gluten?
Companies that market a product as gluten-free must actually be completely free of gluten. These products are carefully regulated to ensure that it doesn’t contain gluten. There are some products that are naturally gluten-free, but through processing gluten is introduced. Oats are a great example of this. Naturally, oats are gluten-free but because of the processing, gluten is introduced and the oats become glutenous. This is when buying oats that are packaged saying they are gluten-free is necessary if you’re following a gluten-free diet.
Final thoughts on gluten…
For most people gluten does not have a large impact on their overall health. But for some people, avoiding gluten may be helpful. If you’re considering giving up gluten, do some research and make sure that you fully understand what it is and how if effects you. When it comes to buying gluten-free be aware of marketing ploys that may take advantage of the “gluten-free trend” to make a product seem healthier when it really may not be. Always check the ingredient list before believing anything you may see on the front of a product.
I personally avoid gluten because I am slightly sensitive to it, and I feel my best when I avoid it. But for some people this may not be true. Like most all things, it varies for each person. Just remember that gluten itself is not unhealthy, it is a person’s digestion of gluten that may be the cause of a person’s bad overall health.
But also, like any “diet” if you’re making a conscious effort to read labels, think before you eat, and be cautious of the food you’re putting in your body that is all that really matters. Fruits and vegetables are all gluten-free, so if following a gluten-free diet means you’re eating more fruits and vegetables then keep it up!
**Celiac disease is quite different than an intolerance or sensitivity to gluten and can be very serious. It is a completely different subject, so if you think that you may have celiac disease, definitely go talk to your doctor!