Have you seen the “Jimmy Kimmel Live” video of people who are following gluten free diets explaining what gluten is? If you haven’t seen it, or want to watch it again (and again), here is the link. It’s definitely worth watching for a good laugh. Sadly, it’s also true that many people don’t quite know what gluten is, or what the real benefits are of following a gluten free diet. Based on conversations we hear on a daily basis, we’d say it’s not just the people in this video who aren’t quite up on the real deal with gluten. Here are the facts about gluten that you should know.
What is gluten? Gluten is a composite of two proteins (gliadin and glutenin) found in wheat, rye, and barley. When those grains are turned into flour and used in baking, gluten helps to give dough elasticity (so the resulting baked good isn’t crumbly) and better rise. Gluten is also used in some cosmetics, skincare products, and medications, typically as a binder. Fun fact, the name gluten comes from the Latin word for glue — so gluten in medications or cosmetics is typically there to stick stuff together.
What gluten is NOT. It is not “carbs”, although this is a common misconception. The amount of carbohydrate in a food has nothing to do with whether it contains gluten or not. Potatoes, corn, and quinoa are just a few high carbohydrate foods that are naturally gluten free. Gluten is also not “bread”, as there are breads that are gluten free, as well as foods that contain gluten that are not bread. In addition, many people think that gluten is synonymous with unhealthy foods. In reality, it has nothing to do with the healthfulness of a product. For instance, a veggie-packed bulgur wheat salad contains gluten and a box of gluten free cookies does not, but the cookies are not deemed more healthful just because they are gluten-free.
Should you go gluten free? Not until you speak with a doctor. If you have symptoms (link to http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/celiac_ez/#symptoms) that indicate you may have celiac disease, visit a doctor before cutting out gluten. If you cut gluten out before your doctor tests you for celiac disease, your results may show a false negative; meaning you might have celiac disease, but the results indicate you do not. Some people are sensitive to gluten but do not have celiac disease (a condition called non celiac gluten sensitivity) and your doctor will want to rule out celiac disease before offering up treatment options.
Are there any dangers to going gluten free? The health halo effects have certainly affected gluten free products, meaning that desserts are deemed “healthy” by many people if they have the gluten free label. Any time you cut a group of foods out of your diet, you put yourself at risk for a deficiency in nutrients unless you find nutritious replacements. So, if you’re considering going gluten free, replace gluten containing foods like whole wheat bread, with equally as nutritious gluten free options like quinoa, amaranth, potatoes, sweet potatoes, etc. It’s also worth mentioning that gluten-free doesn’t reflect on the nutrition of the product AT ALL. So don’t assume those gluten free packaged foods are also low in calories and sugar. Using fewer packaged foods is a great idea whether you’re eating gluten or not!
Be honest….did you know what gluten was before the Jimmy Kimmel video came out? Have you ever considered going gluten free?