Saturday, November 13, 2010

Gluten – the New Trans Fat?

Looking to lose weight? Improve digestive health? Feel better? Then you better get gluten out of your diet, according to popular fad diets and the media buzz surrounding this protein. Those in search of one single ingredient or food to shake their finger at have found gluten willingly sitting in time-out for the past few years. But, is gluten really that bad? Or simply misunderstood?

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. It provides elasticity to dough giving bread its characteristic spongy texture. You’ll notice that gluten free products often taste different, due to the different grains used to create them and the altered texture of the final product. Though gluten has a very beneficial role in the development of food products, it can wreck havoc for consumers with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.

If you do not have celiac or gluten sensitivity, there is no research-based reason for you to remove gluten from your diet. Will doing so help you lose weight – possibly. But, that isn’t because of the gluten but instead due to the fact that you’ve removed a ton of foods (and therefore calories) from your diet! Will you be less bloated without gluten? If you cut carbohydrates (gluten is found primarily in carbohydrate-rich foods), you may notice that you are carrying less water since carbohydrates store 3-4 times their weight in water. Will you miraculously feel better? Doubtful. Unless you have celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, a wheat allergy or you are experiencing a placebo effect.

The signs and symptoms of celiac disease vary tremendously among individuals both in severity and types of symptoms they experience which include: diarrhea, abdominal pain, bloating, irritability, depression, anemia, stomach upset, joint pain, itchy skin rashes (dermatitis herpetiformis), weight loss, mouth sores and neuropathy. But, this disease isn’t so straightforward since many people go undiagnosed for years! If you think you have celiac disease, first, you must keep eating foods that contain gluten (so that the disease can be detected). Initially, your physician will probably order a blood test (TTG or EMA). If this test is positive, then you should ask for bioposies of the duodenal bulb. IF the intitial test is negative but your symptoms are consistent with celiac, push for the biopsy! Or, you could do genetic testing for DQ2 and DQ8 at

Now, what about gluten sensitivity? “The only way to "determine" whether you are gluten sensitive/intolerant is to compare how you feel when eating gluten with how you feel after being on a gluten-free diet. The time it takes to start feeling better after being on a gluten-free diet varies. However, symptoms should gradually subside after 3-4 weeks on a strictly gluten-free diet, although it could take longer. Right now, there is no reliable blood test to determine gluten sensitivity,” says Rachel Begun, MS, RD. For more information on gluten sensitivity, see Rachel’s blog.:

For great podcasts about gluten, click here.
And, for a fantastic overview of gluten in foods, click here.

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