You’ve probably heard the phrase “gluten-free” thrown around more and more over the last couple of years. It’s certainly a buzzword that’s even caught the attention of many national restaurant chains and food manufacturers. At this point, “gluten” probably doesn’t sound like something anyone would want to eat, but what exactly is it?
Gluten is a protein substance found in grains. Like the term “glue” suggests, it’s responsible for the elasticity found in dough. People with certain sensitivities to gluten, such as celiac disease, should avoid this sticky stuff.
Most people probably haven’t even heard of celiac disease. Only 1% of Americans have it, and even then only a small percentage of that number is diagnosed because symptoms can be non-existent. The disease is a genetic autoimmune disorder that can damage the small intestine. It’s not really fatal on its own, but it can cause serious discomfort in the form of diarrhea, rash, bone pain, and anemia, and later lead to diabetes and multiple sclerosis.
But what about the rest of us who don’t have a sensitivity to this wheat particle? Is gluten making us fat or causing us health problems? In short, no. Gluten won’t cause us any harm. But eliminating foods that contain gluten could lead to better eating habits. This would lead to a diet consisting of lean meats, fruits and vegetables, and some dairy. You’d eliminate a lot of culprits, such as starchy white breads and pastas, that don’t help fight the battle of the bulge. The biggest alteration one would have to make is to stay away from wheat, barley, and rye.
Be sure to remember that decreasing gluten the wrong way can also lead to many nutritional deficiencies. Grains are full of vitamins such as iron, fiber, calcium, niacin, etc. If you eliminate your sources of these, be sure to supplement them in some way that’s healthy.
If you have a light or extreme intolerance to gluten, eliminating it from your diet can increase your quality of life. If you want to try gluten-free by choice, view it as a type of diet that takes careful planning and mindfulness.
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