Wow, I hear about this all of the time. Gluten is bad for you. Is it? I could certainly hop on the old information superhighway and find statistical evidence to support or disprove the idea. I know statisticians can cook the books, but maybe this one is worth looking into. There is undeniably a thing called celiac disease that is a digestive and autoimmune disorder certainly aggravated or caused by the introduction of gluten into a diet. Simply put, one cannot eat wheat, rye, barley or oats, all of which contain gluten proteins.
Here is what happens. You eat the gluten and your immune system sees it as a bogey sending antibodies to your intestine to attack. The intestinal lining takes a full barrage of gunfire and the villi (hair-like structures that absorb the nutrients) are damaged to the point that absorption is difficult. In extreme cases you can become malnourished now matter how much you eat.
Celiac disease can be diagnosed by your doctor, but even if it is ruled out there is such a thing as non-celiac gluten sensitivity. This is the grey area. There is no true way to diagnose this other than trial and error. If removing gluten completely from your diet makes you feel better, then I guess you have gluten intolerance rather than a full-blown disease.
According to WebMD there are about 300 possible symptoms for Celiac disease. I’ll bet you’ve got more than one of them. These can range from iron deficiencies, depression, bone and joint pain to dermatitis herpetiformis and seizures. Coupled with stress the effects can worsen. Often times bloating is a symptom. Some may have the disease but show no symptoms, but Celiac will still take its toll and lead to malnutrition and liver disease.
Gluten free: it’s not just for Celiacs anymore
So why don’t we all just avoid gluten and lead a happy dietary life? If you fall into the estimated one percent of the population that actually has Celiac disease then you must avoid gluten. For those not intolerant to gluten avoiding it is a bad idea.
It isn’t the gluten you should worry about. If you are contemplating a gluten-free diet because your cool neighbor is doing it, proceed with caution. The gluten isn’t the nutritionally redeeming part of the food. But to avoid gluten is to avoid whole grains that are rich in fiber, iron and B vitamins.
We need whole grains in our diet, and one should not live on quinoa alone if he doesn’t have to. Think of those that have to abstain from cakes and cookies and pizza dough made with wheat flour. I’m sure they would love a big plate of semolina pasta. Sure, not all forms of gluten are good for us, but some of them are. Watch out for the fad factor of any diet. If I want to play piano like Ray Charles, I will not start by closing my eyes.
The journey begins
So let’s say we are going gluten free. It will be a tough road. You have to completely rethink your shopping list and your restaurant habits. At first glance it seems easy. Stay away from anything wheat, barley or oats. It isn’t that simple. There are pitfalls around every corner.
You would think potatoes are fine. Cooked at home they are. In a restaurant you have many variables so you have to ask. A gluten purist would not want French fries cooked in the same oil as breaded chicken. Potato chips should be okay, but some seasonings are piggybacked onto wheat flour. The same goes for any other vegetable chip. Mashed potatoes are naturally gluten free if you make them from scratch. Beware of the ones in the microwavable tubs and the instant versions. Read the labels.
Want to know how to upset someone with Celiac disease? Borrow their peanut butter. It’s a serious disease, and they don’t take kindly to double dipping. That’s cross contamination once you touch the bread.
Why would chicken broth not be gluten free? I am not sure, but some broths are not. Weird I know, but once again, get used to reading every label. If you make your own, you are safe.
There isn’t anything wrong with a cup of coffee. The only time you have to be careful is when you come across artificially flavored coffee. Look for 100 percent coffee on the ingredients.
We know gravys, most salad dressings, sauces, and non-fruit based products thicker than water have usually been tightened up with a little gluten. The weirdest one is ketchup. Yes, there are certain brands of ketchup that are not gluten free.
Fat free products may contain gluten while the normal version may not. Be on the lookout for this mistake.
Weigh the risks, make the decision
Many blindly accept that the words “gluten free” are synonymous with a healthy lifestyle. This simply isn’t true. The absence of gluten will not give the average eater that bikini body this spring. It’s a struggle to maintain proper nutrition when going without, and many celiacs suffer from deficiencies. Those that do have to work with their doctors to find the right vitamins to supplement their diets and some vitamins contain, you guessed it, gluten.
When going gluten free you may go through withdrawals. Many claim it is like a drug that your body craves. Think of the commitment it would take to say you will never eat another donut as long as you live. The thought of that gives me anxiety. A lot of us would consider a donut a drug.
We still don’t have all the answers. Is this disease and related intolerances a fad or are people more easily diagnosed? Is the rise in celiac due to how we process foods in the modern world? Maybe it is. If you have to dine this way there are menu options for you. Be careful shopping. Read the labels. But only take this path if you need to.
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.
It looks like you are opening this page from the Facebook App. This article needs to be opened in the browser.
iOS: Tap the three dots in the top right, then tap on "Open in Safari".
Android: Tap the Settings icon (it looks like three horizontal lines), then tap App Settings, then toggle the "Open links externally" setting to On (it should turn from gray to blue).