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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Is Gluten-Free Right For Me?

Is Gluten-Free Right For Me?
Gluten-free this, gluten-free that -- the ads are full of claims to be gluten free. The truth is that most people don't even know what gluten is or why they should avoid it. They just conclude it must be a good idea to eliminate gluten from their diet.

The facts about gluten

Gluten comes from the Latin word for glue, and is works like glue in holding foods together. Gluten is a protein composite found in wheat, barley, rye and other grains, that gives elasticity to dough. Gluten also helps grains rise and gives it a chewy texture.

For the most part, gluten does not harm the body when consumed. But about one percent of Americans have a condition called celiac disease which is caused by an abnormal immune response to gluten. They cannot digest gluten, and this can lead to damage to the lining of the small intestine and can prevent important nutrients from being absorbed. Symptoms include abdominal pain and diarrhea. For these, a gluten-free diet is extremely important.

Is gluten safe for people without celiac disease?

Celiac disease affects about 1 percent of Americans, yet due to advertising  hype, about a third of Americans are now eliminating gluten from their diets. For those with celiac disease or sensitivity to gluten, avoid it may be a good idea, but for others, it could lead to nutritional deficiencies.

The drawbacks of avoiding gluten

Gluten is a protein found in many whole grains such as wheat, and whole grains are good for you, containing vitamins and minerals, such as B vitamins and iron, and fiber. Whole grain foods help lower risk of heart disease, type-2 diabetes, and some forms of cancer. According to Peter H.R. Green, MD, director of the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University, "And any time you eliminate whole categories of food you’ve been used to eating, you run the risk of nutritional deficiencies." This includes B vitamins, calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium, and fiber.

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