REBECCA VANDER VEER – Guest Columnist
You may be feeling confused in the wake of the recent gluten-free craze or wondering what all the fuss is about. What is gluten, anyway?
Gluten is a protein. It is found in grains like wheat, barley and rye. It is also used as a thickener in some processed foods, toiletries and cosmetics. Gluten is one of the substances that helps dough rise and makes bread chewy.
The gluten-free craze started with books like Dr. William Davis’ “Wheat Belly.” Gluten has essentially been demonized and has often been blamed for many common disorders, like diabetes, obesity and cancer.
For most people, gluten is not such a bad thing. A small percentage of the population does not digest gluten normally. However, for the vast majority of people, gluten is a normal component of certain foods with no negative effect on digestion.
Though many people advocate the elimination of gluten in order to lose weight, a gluten-free diet does not equal weight loss. Many processed, gluten-free foods are actually high-calorie due to high fat or refined sugar content, which can prevent weight loss.
Cutting gluten out of the diet is a major change, and such changes can lead to other behavior modifications, like increased physical activity. A recent decision to make a change in their diets can inspire people to think twice before going for a second helping.
Others find that eliminating gluten from their diets makes them feel healthier, but that is not necessarily a result of cutting out gluten. It may happen because those that cut out gluten have also increased their intake of nutrient-dense foods and decreased intake of processed foods. Simply increasing physical activity and consuming fewer processed foods may accomplish what these individuals intended to do in the first place.
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, no published research has shown that gluten-free diets promote weight loss. In fact, some research has suggested that in healthy populations, gluten is beneficial for cardiovascular and immune health.
Gluten-free diets will eventually be forgotten and replaced with a new fad. Americans frequently latch on to the latest diet trend without thinking twice about it.
Before you do the same, do your research. Talk to a dietitian and evaluate multiple options. Don’t blindly trust someone who makes a claim, even if he or she does wear a white coat.