Who Should Be Eating Gluten Free?
Gluten-free products have hit the mainstream in the past year and I personally think there is a lot of confusion over what this means and who should be eating these foods and how much of them should be eaten.
First, we need to know what gluten is. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, spelt, semolina, durum, barley, rye and triticale. Gluten intolerance or allergy comes about when the body cannot break down and process the protein.
For people who has a gluten intolerance this is an annoyance as it can cause one to feel sluggish, tired, bloated, gassy, or to have diarrhea or constipation. But for those who have been diagnosed with Celiac Disease they need to understand this means they have a true allergy to gluten and need to refrain from eating it in any form for the rest of their life.
The good news for people diagnosed with Celiac Disease is that there is a cure - remove all gluten from the diet. This allows the small intestine to heal and most people find they feel better within a few months. But feeling better doesn't mean you are then safe to resume eating gluten containing products.
Celiac Disease is an auto-immune disease. Meaning that your body sees gluten as a foreign substance that must be attacked and gotten rid of. And that attack takes place in your small intestine where the gluten particles cause the small hair-like villi to die. These villi increase the surface area of the small intestine assisting in the absorption of nutrients as well as helping the food you have eaten to pass through your small intestine to the large intestine. When gluten is ingested and the villi are flattened or killed food particles can then leak out of the small intestine into your blood stream or the food in the small intestine undigested and not moving along. This can eventually cause very serious problems.
If you have Celiac Disease learning to eat a healthy gluten-free diet is of extreme importance. A natural foods nutrition consultant or a natural chef can be very helpful in teaching you what foods not to eat and what foods to eat.
For those of us, like me, who have a gluten intolerance we will generally feel better by removing foods that contain gluten from our diet. However, removing traditional bread, crackers, pasta, and baked goods and replacing these items with gluten-free options is not recommended as many gluten-free ingredients such as potato starch, corn starch, rice flour, etc. are virtually devoid of nutrition and simply provide empty calories.
A better option is to remove the glutenous foods and replace them with whole grains such as quinoa, amaranth, millet, and brown rice and eat only one such grain every few days. Or better yet, fill your kitchen and refrigerator with healthier options such as legumes, lentils, leafy vegetables, crunchy vegetables (think broccoli, bell peppers, cauliflower), a variety of fruits, root veggies such as parsnips, turnips, and celery root, as well as winter squash such as acorn, butternut, or spaghetti.
And if you don't have Celiac Disease or a gluten intolerance don't make the mistake of thinking that eating gluten free food products is a healthier choice or way of eating. As I said previously, many gluten-free flour alternatives are not necessarily healthy promoting. You'll do better to cut back on white foods including bread, cookies, cakes, chips, etc. and include the healthier food options mentioned above.
Nutrition Consultant Student