Gluten: myths vs. reality
Gluten is derived from the word ‘glue’ and is a protein that is found in foods that contain or have been processed from wheat or similar grains.
If you have even baked and kneaded dough, you’ve released gluten. Throughout that process, gluten is released as it’s the component that allows the bread to rise properly. It’s also what gives the food we make its unique texture.
In addition to being found in food, it is also found in some other everyday home products such as make-up and skin creams because it helps facial tissues and muscles keep their elasticity and flexibility.
Gluten is found in many dietary supplements throughout the world and as with most herbal supplements, there is a great deal of confusion and contradiction surrounding whether or not they are helpful for your body. Basically, do they cause more harm than good? A pivotal mistake that many consumers fall victim to is that savvy marketers advertise supplements as ‘all natural’ thus leading those who buy them to believe that ‘all natural’ equates to ‘100% safe.’ While in many cases this may be the products may in fact be all natural, it will behoove those who are interested in adding a dietary supplement to their daily regime to get the facts first, as some of these ingredients can pose health risks and harm – even the natural ingredients.
Gluten as a Food Supplement
Gluten is essential for cooking and baking and in many cases and does offer numerous benefits. Aside from inducing rising in bread products, it is also used to flavor recipes, as a thickening agent for soups and gravies, as well as being taken as a supplement for additional protein.
While most people are extremely tolerant of gluten, small populations are gluten intolerant and should implement and remain on gluten-free diets. As much as five to ten percent of the population is not tolerant of gluten and is diagnosed with celiac disease. For these people, gluten supplements are not recommended. This can pose challenges as gluten is found in many food sources, and even gluten-free products are not necessarily entirely free of gluten; they simply incorporate less than governmental standards cite as being harmful.
While some gluten supplements are sold on the market, these are few and far between. The main reason for this is that gluten is found naturally in so many foods that it simply doesn’t make sense to add this supplement to your diet. Additionally, recent raves are surrounding gluten-free diets; celebrities everywhere insist that their gluten-free diets increase energy, help shed pounds and curb stomach bloating.
But before you run out in search of gluten-free products, there are things to consider. The first is that actual gluten free products are difficult to find and they are costly as well. Second, there is no scientific evidence or studies that conclude that a gluten free diet will help you lose weight, increase energy or combat bloating. What is more likely is that the food restrictions that go along with gluten free are just that: restrictive. Therefore, you may eat less but it is from lack of options, not will power. Sticking with a gluten free diet is also more likely to cause binge eating, as people can generally only remain on restrictive diets for so long, until their body craves essential food groups that are not allowed on gluten free diets.
Additionally, many doctors have found that restricting gluten can actually cause weight gain, headaches, and deficiency of nutrients.
Why Gluten is good for you
Gluten when eaten in correct amounts offers the body many benefits. It is a great source of essential vitamins and minerals such as fiber, iron, vitamin B and calcium. All of the vitamins and minerals are needed in order for our bodies to function properly and for us to sustain energy needed throughout the day. Furthermore, a diet that is rich in whole grains can contribute to lower cholesterol and decrease the risk of some cancers.
Foods that Contain Gluten
Gluten is found in many bread products that contain wheat, rye and barley. Many foods such as cookies, gravies, pastas, cereals and even beer often have at least minimal traces of gluten within them. It is also found in products made from flour such as baked goods, tortillas and oats.
Gluten: Good or Evil?
A quick Internet search will find thousands of articles that claim gluten is horrific for the body and will also list many reasons why it should be avoided at all costs. Some claim that WGA (a protein component in gluten) can cause intestinal issues and may even cause cancer. However, more scientific research and studies conclude that digesting gluten in reasonable amounts is not dangerous and in fact is essential in a well balanced diet.
Following a gluten free diet will accomplish one thing: it will eliminate most of the foods that someone can eat and thus will cause a huge deficit in vitamins and minerals that are great for the body. It is a misconception that gluten will cause weight gain. The truth is gluten is often found in starchy foods like pastas and desserts and yes, if those are consumed in large amounts, coupled with a sedentary lifestyle, weight gain and bloating is likely. If however, these same foods are eaten in moderation and some of the calories are worked off, gluten is unlikely to cause weight gain on its own or pose significant health risks.
Of course, this is only true if you are not intolerant of gluten, in which case a gluten free diet is the only option. Essentially, like most things in this world – moderation is key.