Gluten-Free Diet: Truth or Trend?

By: Michele Wolfson

Anyone who peruses products down the grocery aisle will vouch that items are labeled as "gluten-free" now more than ever before. Celiac disease and gluten allergies are more commonly discussed presently than even a few years ago. We have come a long way in bringing awareness to Celiac, which is an autoimmune disease that affects 1 out of 133 Americans. There are good reasons for a gluten-free diet, but is the bandwagon appropriate for everyone?

The craze for cutting wheat out of the American diet truly began in 2002 when the Atkins Diet deemed bread as evil and carbophobia was rampant in a nation where grain was considered to be a main stable at the dinner table for centuries. Suddenly, it was encouraged to consume copious amounts of red meat and bread and pasta became villains in the fight against maintaining a trim waistline.

Within months, supermarket shelves were restocked and restaurant menus were rewritten to reflect the new nutritional wisdom. Now that the Atkins mania is on the decline and beef consumption is trending downwards, restaurant menus are currently promoting their gluten-free items. Food packages proclaim their gluten-free contents. Weight loss programs flaunt the supposed benefits of avoiding gluten. Many individuals are now cutting wheat out of their diet to promote weight loss, but there are also a list of conditions apart from Celiac disease that supposedly are helped by eliminating gluten from the diet.

This diet makes sense to many Americans, but there are some who are skeptical that avoiding gluten has become a trend and are worried that marketing tactics could lead a person to believe that the gluten-free diet is the greatest discovery since sliced bread.

Are we pinning too much culpability on gluten? Like I mentioned earlier, bread and pasta are two beloved staples in the American diet that are hard to avoid. The reason many advocates of the diet believe we as a nation need to stay away from gluten is because the wheat that we consume in this day and age has a lot more gluten than older wheat. The fact that wheat is in almost everything is probably the cause of increased intolerance or sensitivity.

In addition, the vast majority of wheat and grain products available today are not properly prepared. Grains are inherently hard to digest so traditionally people have soaked, fermented, and sprouted them to make them more digestible and to neutralize the anti-nutrients. That practice is not done anymore, so as a result, many health issues have risen.

As a graduate from The Natural Gourmet Institute, a large portion of my culinary curriculum revolved around creating gluten-free dishes and I learned that there are big differences between most pre-packaged gluten-free items versus homemade ones. Many critics attacking the gluten-free diet make the assumption that those who adhere to a gluten-free way of life are automatically eating pre-packaged products that are commonly loaded in sugar and fat-- hence the backlash and claims about the "diet" being unhealthy or low in fiber.

Maintaining a gluten-free diet isn't a cakewalk, but it's recommended that you stick with it for 21 days to see if it really works. If you are looking to lose weight, you might be successful because the diet eliminated cookies, cakes, and other baked goods that are made with wheat flour. However, you have to be smart when choosing replacement options because the gluten-free versions often have the same number of calories. Instead of using wheat flour, potato, rice, soy, amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat, or bean flour must be substituted.

A gluten-free diet may often be suggested for managing conditions like Autism, irritable bowel syndrome, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Many individuals who are advocates for the diet are frustrated because they believe that some doctors refuse to admit that cutting gluten really does reduce a host of health issues.

Before jumping into a diet head first, thoroughly research the pros and cons and always have a sense of awareness when it comes to what your body is telling you is good and bad. Your body is your temple and we often take it for granted.

Photo: roboppy 

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