I was visiting a long-time friend in another city last weekend, and we were chatting about the general proliferation of gluten-free products on grocery store shelves and the rising number of people announcing that they want to avoid gluten. We agreed that as recently as 5-10 years ago, we didn’t know anyone who was gluten free or who wanted to be. And we didn’t notice the very few products in the health food stores, noting that they weren’t in the supermarkets at all! By comparison, even good old Bisquick, (which I haven’t used in 30 years or more,) now has a gluten-free variety among the pancake products. So what’s the deal with Gluten, and why are so many people avoiding it?
Let’s start at the beginning. Gluten is a protein composite made of gliadin and glutenin stuck together by starch, and is found in several grains, including wheat, which, by the way, is found in many, many food products. Trying to avoid all wheat is a difficult task indeed. Gluten is the substance that makes bread dough stretchy and elastic. Changing the gluten changes the dough—very refined gluten makes chewy bagels, and less refined gluten produces pastry dough. Bakers measure the dough elasticity with a took called a farinograph. For years everybody thought that gluten was good news, and before all the wheat in this country became genetically modified in the 50s, it may well have been good news. It is a source of protein and was sometimes added to food to boost its protein content. (We’re talking way beyond bread products here. Gluten is also used in cosmetics, beer, vitamins, soy sauce, ice cream, ketchup, and many other products.)
The problem with gluten is three-fold. First, some people are allergic to wheat, and all wheat contains gluten. These words refer to grains of other products that almost surely contain gluten: triticum vulgare, tritcale, hordeum vuglare, secale cereal cereal, tritcumspelt, wheat protein, hydrolyzed wheat protein, wheat starch, hydrolyzed wheat starch, bulgur, and wheat germ.
Second, the following items may (or may not) contain some gluten: vegetable protein, modified starch, natural flavor, artificial flavor, caramel color, hydrolyzed plant or vegetable protein, flavorings, seasonings, dextrin, and maltodextrin.
Third, the symptoms of gluten intolerance can be vague, and thus elusive. If you experiencing any of the following symptoms, you may well benefit by reducing gluten in your diet: chronic diarrhea or constipation, infertility, abdominal pain, bloating, fatigue, and headaches.
While it is not the case that gluten-free diets necessarily lead to weight loss, as some people believe, substantially reducing gluten in your diet goes a long way towards weight loss, if you increase healthy, life-giving foods in place of it.
Consider these steps
1. Eat more fruits and vegetables in their natural state. Raw is definitely best, but if you must cook them, don’t deep fry them or add any kind of dough to them. Plants do not contain gluten until the food industry gets them.
2. Back out of as much processed food as you can – anything that comes in a box, bag, can, bottle, etc.
3. Read the labels very carefully on what processed foods you do by, such as ketchup, soups, etc., and be prepared to be astounded. Wheat is everywhere!
4. Get out of the cereal aisle and stay out.
5. Reduce or eliminate your intake of bread, rolls, pizza dough, pies, cakes, etc.
6. If you want to make gluten-free muffins or breads, alternate flours can be used. Almond flour is a popular choice, and there are cookbooks to help you learn about the art of gluten-free baking.
7. Most candy contains gluten, even chocolate, so be careful.
An excellent resource for learning about the history of our wheat/gluten problem and what to do about it is Wheat Belly, by William Davis MD. I recommend it.
I can’t help but add here that one of the many benefits of a diet high in raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds eliminates all the label reading and angst about hidden ingredients in prepared foods. For more information about preparing raw foods that are as creative and tasty as they are nourishing, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and/or visit my site www.janesmith-healthcoaching.com.
Better health and more vibrant living is easier than you may think it is to attain! Move today towards all your health goals!