Gluten-Free: Fact or Fiction | Health News – AZFamily

PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5)—Food and its nutrients fuel the body. It’s chemistry, and it’s complicated. Gluten is actually one of the first food components I remember learning about in my chemistry of foods class in college, and it is an important component in our diet.

Gluten is a complex protein native to wheat and other cereal grains such as rye, malt, and brewer’s yeast, and it has been present in our diet for tens of thousands of years. It also provides structure to our baked goods. But, it’s also something we can be allergic to or intolerant of. RDNs are involved in the management of patients with celiac disease, and helping them adapt to a gluten-free lifestyle.

It is estimated that about 1% of the population has celiac disease, an inherited autoimmune disease that causes damage to the small intestine when gluten is eaten. About 0.4% of the population has a wheat allergy.

Gluten sensitivity on the other hand, is a collection of symptoms such as diarrhea, bloating, abdominal pain, constipation and fatigue common among many patients. These conditions can be alleviated by avoiding gluten and both should be diagnosed, treated and followed by a physician.

Gluten naturally occurs in wheat, a huge food staple in our diet. Wheat is a major source of B vitamins and fiber as well. When it is eliminated it creates a vacuum for these nutrients and can have serious health implications. Gluten is also widely used as texturizer in processed foods and may show up in ingredients and foods you may not realize have gluten such as chicken broth, soy sauce, salad dressings, and ice cream. As I said, it gets complicated!

There are many naturally gluten free foods but with wheat as a staple in the American diet knowing what to eat may be a maze of “which foods are right for me?” Fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, potatoes, yams, quinoa, rice and arrowroot are some examples of foods that naturally don’t have gluten, but they naturally are packed with nutrition and should be the foundation of any “gluten-free” diet. Yet, they may not always provide all you need nutritionally.

I recommend a consultation with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist to guide you through the pitfalls of labeling and the misinformation around the topic of gluten and helping you develop a plan that fits you and your specific health concerns.

My biggest concern is that the “gluten-free” diet is becoming a fad diet. The food industry is competitive and from what I have seen throughout my career, any new “health claim” is an opportunity for growth in the market. We are drawn to health claims, we see it somehow as education, but it is not. It’s a way to sell a product and there is a plethora to choose from. However, it might not be what’s right for your health.

Keep in mind, if it initially comes out of a package or a box, it is a processed food. It still has the same refined sugars, and oils (they don’t have gluten in them anyway), preservatives, additives and colorings that are being linked to poor health outcomes and weight gain. But, buyer beware. Just because it has a health claim of “gluten free” on the box doesn’t mean that it is good for you.

SOURCE: Katz, David MD, “The Truth About Food”, 2018, chapter 4, pg. 432-439.

Celiac Disease. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

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