Food for Thought: The Gluten Myth

By Guest

Have you noticed how many people are avoiding gluten these days? Superstars and professional athletes are praising the benefits of a gluten-free diet, writing books, and making videos about it. No wonder it’s such a popular subject for discussion but it is one that seems to cause a lot of confusion.

A gluten-free diet is essential for people with Celiac Disease (an auto-immune reaction to gluten), Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity, and Gluten Intolerance. It is not necessary for most other people to avoid all grains that contain gluten.

What is gluten?
It is a protein composite found in individual grains, but it is not found in every grain. It is the protein that gives elasticity to the dough that most breads and baked goods are made of. It acts like glue that holds the foods together, hence the name gluten. Gluten is present in wheat, barley, rye, and triticale (a hybrid grain that is a cross between wheat and rye). To add to the confusion, there are several varieties of wheat such as whole wheat, white flour, spelt, kamut, durum wheat, semolina, graham flour, farina, wheat bran, and wheat germ. 

If you are confused about the difference between gluten, wheat, and grains in general, you are certainly not alone. People, who test sensitive to wheat often ask, “If I have to avoid wheat, does that mean I should avoid all other grains containing gluten and follow a Gluten-Free Diet?” The answer to that is “No.” You can eat other glutinous grains that you are not sensitive to.

If you are not sensitive to all glutinous grains, go ahead and enjoy them in moderation. Keep in mind, though, that whole grains are healthier than refined and processed grains.

Wheat-free baked zucchini recipe

What might I be missing if I don't eat gluten?

Whole grains are a healthy and important part of our diet. Don’t fall into the misguided belief that all grains are bad for everyone. Unless you have a medical condition that requires avoiding all grains, a variety of whole grains is a necessary component of a healthy diet. If you eat a meal that includes whole grains, for example, brown rice or millet, you will reap the benefits of many nutrients including B vitamins, vitamin E, minerals (calcium, magnesium, potassium), fiber, trace minerals (chromium, iodine, iron, zinc, selenium), phytochemicals (lycopene, flavonoids, isoflavones), and essential fatty acids (EFAs) that are present in whole grains.

Where is gluten found?

Some of the most common foods that may contain gluten are bread, cereal, pasta, crackers, pita, muffins, cookies, pizza, cake, beer, couscous, and tortillas. Are some of your favorite foods on that list?

If you truly must avoid gluten, be aware that it is often hidden in foods where you would not expect it. Some of these culprits are soup, soy sauce, bouillon cubes, candies, licorice, couscous, lunch meats, hot dogs, vegetarian ‘meats,' food additives and preservatives, malt vinegar, and modified food starch. Gluten is often found in self-basting turkeys, seasoned mixes, sauces, and many packaged and prepared foods. Gluten may even be found in medications and vitamin supplements. Always check labels and ingredient lists and remember that ingredients in packaged foods change frequently. If you must avoid all gluten be diligent about reading food ingredient labels each time you shop.

Just because a product is labeled wheat-free does not necessarily mean it is gluten-free. Although it may not contain wheat, it may well consist of barley, rye or some other glutinous grain or by-product.

Read about 10 places gluten may be hiding

Will I feel better if I avoid gluten?

Often I am asked by clients do they have to avoid all grains if they are going to follow a gluten-free diet. Fortunately, this is not the case since there are healthy grains that are naturally gluten-free such as rice, oats, buckwheat (also called kasha or soba), millet, teff, amaranth, and non-GMO corn. 

It’s true that many people feel better when they avoid all gluten, but they may feel just as well if they eliminated only wheat. Although the grains kamut and spelt are in the wheat family, many can enjoy those grains even if sensitive to whole wheat and white flour.

Avoiding gluten or certain grains such as wheat can often be helpful in eliminating unexplained health issues, especially digestive problems like bloating, flatulence, constipation, and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Other health issues often related to this type of food sensitivity are headaches and migraine, fatigue, poor focus and concentration, mood swings, aches and pains in the body, arthritis, eczema and other skin disorders such as hives, dry skin, and itchiness.

If you have specific dietary restrictions, adapt to them with a spirit of adventure and a willingness to let go of old habits. It will take time and patience so don’t push yourself to make all the changes overnight. You will have to plan ahead for those times when there is nothing on the menu that fits in with your guidelines. And remember, when looking for a quick snack, gluten-free junk food is still junk food.

Tips for eating gluten-free while traveling 

Marlene Deres is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist specializing in detecting food sensitivities and intolerances. She has been in practice in York Region for more than 20 years. You can reach Marlene at (416) 721-3150, by email [email protected] or on her website

By Guest| March 20, 2017
Categories:  Eat

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