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Gluten Free Diets….Really Any Good for You?

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With so many celebrities talking about it….Gwyneth Paltrow, Jenny McArthy, Ryan Gosling and other…it’s nearly impossible not to hear how great a gluten free diet is for your health. And stay away from the NY Times best-selling books list in the last year with books like “Against All Grain” and “The Wheat Belly Diet”. Such titles and celebrity spokes people are certainly giving the impression that gluten is a villain.

What is gluten anyway? It is a plant based protein found in wheat, barley and rye. It is essentially the “glue” that holds the substance together and gives it its shape.
There are around 18 million people in the US, studies purport, who suffer from a fancy thing known as NCGS or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. What is that? Well, it is a disorder in which people who presumably eat gluten suffer from bloating, gas, indigestion, diarrhea, nausea and the like. Recent research is questioning the viability of this diagnosis as indications are present that the symptoms and bloating are due to other carbohydrate consumption. This condition (NCGS) is opposed to true celiac disease which affects approximately 1% of Americans or 1 in 133 people. In such people who truly suffer from celiac disease, absolute avoidance of gluten is essential to living not only comfortably but to avoid other complications which can arise such as MS, other neurologic disorders, infertility, osteoporosis and others. The sensitivity to gluten in such folks causes an immune response which attacks the lining of the colon and then affects nutrient absorption, leading to these myriad disorders.
Oddly, more than 30 million Americans who are not suffers of celiac disease are now eating gluten free or appreciably reducing their gluten consumption. Interestingly, there is no evidence in the research which indicates a gluten free diet is advantageous for anyone other than those with celiac disease. In point of fact, there are nutritional experts who believe gluten and wheat avoidance can be detrimental to one’s health. According to the Mayo Clinic, a gluten-free diet may lead to lower levels of iron, calcium, fiber, folate, thiamin, riboflavin and niacin. Gluten itself is neither detrimental nor essential to health…but the nutrients and fibers in the substances in which it is found are, indeed, essential.

But in light of such discussions and books from popular but ill-informed celebrities and talk show hosts, the nation’s populace takes notice. And the grocers aren’t far behind as demand will equate supply in the grocery stores. Last year, gluten free product sales were up nearly 17% to amount of 23.3 Billion dollars. So the circle of misinformation is further supported by grocery businesses simply meeting a demand!   Further, many processed gluten-free products can be higher in fat, sugar and calories than their gluten-free alternatives. As some people have gotten to the point the read “gluten free” on the label and somehow suppose it is then a health food!

There remains much discussion on this subject and it will continue into the future. And anyone thinking the “gluten free” train will come to a stop any time soon isn’t watching social trends. Gluten itself is not a nutritional villain…but as with anything else, moderation is key. If you suffer from bloating, diarrhea, or upset with eating grains…see a doctor or gastroenterologist, a doctor who specializes in digestive issues. If not…could you please pass the whole wheat rolls?

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