The Gluten Debate

The Gluten Debate

Everybody’s going gluten-free these days. It’s practically the new black. Some people are doing it for very serious health reasons (I know people with celiac disease who will get violently ill if they touch a cracker and then eat something else before washing their hands. No joke!). But some people are doing it for fluffier health reasons, and some people are doing it because everyone else is doing it.

What is gluten?

Gluten is basically wheat protein, although it’s also found in related grains like barley and rye. Gluten is what makes bread chewy and helps it to rise (along with yeast).

Why might one avoid gluten?

On a basic level, foods containing gluten just aren’t terribly healthy. Think bread, crackers, cereal, cookies, and other processed wheat-based foods. Don’t get me wrong: bread is no family-bag-of-Doritos-sized threat to your health, but it’s less nutritionally dense than, oh, I don’t know, KALE.

Eliminating gluten from your diet forces you to replace those gluten-heavy, often processed foods with healthier options. In other words, you’re replacing packaged cakes, pastas, cereals, and deep-fried things with fruits, vegetables, nut butters, quinoa, and hummus. Sounds pretty positive to me.

Gluten is also an allergen for many people, and has been shown to be difficult for the average human to digest, leading to inflammation and the potential for something gross called “leaky gut syndrome,” which is exactly what it sounds like.

Is going gluten-free just a fad?

Does your average Joe (no celiac disease, no wheat allergies) really need to go gluten-free? Some doctors say no: here’s an article that disagrees with the swift jump into gluten-free land.  Then again, when Olypmic athletes are going gluten-free and winning medals at the same time, I can see why you’d want to try it.

It’s hard to find consensus on the Internet, but I think most people would agree that it’s important to listen to your body. Does eating a lot of wheat make you feel cramped and bloated? Consider cutting back. Can you down a baguette topped with marinated seitan and feel ready to climb Mount Everest? You probably don’t need to tear all gluten from your cupboards just yet.

The most rational advice I found on gluten-free diets for the average Joe came from Krista Austin, PhD, who stated, “The main reason it’s called an ‘anti-inflammatory’ diet is because it usually forces you to eliminate many processed foods… Bottom line: we eat cleaner, more naturally-found foods and thus inflammation goes down.” (From runningcompetitor.com)

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post: we’ll show you some easy ways to eliminate some (but not all) of the gluten from your current diet.

photo attribute: Michaela Kobyakov

 

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