May 21, 2015

Is Gluten Bad for You?

This is a collaborative post written in partnership with Catherine Lavinia.

I wrote yesterday about how I’m starting to consider a more dramatic change in my diet/fitness routine, and a lot of commenters seemed to be in the same boat. Everyone is trying to live healthier; let’s be honest, who hasn’t tried dieting? Often it starts when we head to a high school reunion or bump into an ex, where we impulsively start looking for the nearest gym and the best diet. Healthy food and sports become our mantra, and we start learning all about the nature of food, nutritional facts, food processing and its impact on our well-being.

But once you’re exposed to this hidden world of nutrition, you start to see food in a new light. Things that were once your favorites may now be foods you fear. The ins and outs of nutrition can be overwhelming – should you be counting calories? Making sure everything fits your macros? And with all the latest hype, you may wonder if your morning bagel or muffin are some of those foods you should demonize. “Oh my gosh, it contains gluten!” The popularity of “healthy” gluten-free food specialty products is skyrocketing… but what is so bad about gluten that makes sales of such products increase?

So first of all, a lot of people (including many of those actively avoiding gluten) don’t even know what gluten is. Check out this hilarious Jimmy Kimmel video:

Gluten isn’t a monster; it’s a macromolecule (protein) formed by two molecules, glutenin and gliadin. The main sources of gluten are wheat, rye and barley. Thanks to it, dough is elastic and bread has a chewy texture. However, for people suffering the autoimmune disorder Celiac disease, those yummy benefits might not be worth it. If a Celiac’s sufferer eats gluten, they might experience abdominal pain, anemia, diarrhea, fatigue and even skin rash. No fun! The only way out for gluten-sensitive people is to avoid gluten.

I will note that even for non-Celiac’s suffers, you may be surprised to learn that according to some studies, gluten may be addictive. (And this isn’t scientific, but I know that when I eat bread and pasta I want even more, Cookie Monster-style.) We’ve all heard about sugar addiction, but some research has found that there can be similarly addictive properties of gluten that make people crave wheat. Food for thought!

Me getting ready to demolish an entire (flatbread) pizza and wish there was still more. Now we see why I had to write the post I did yesterday about not being in shape!

But addictive properties aside, gluten isn’t bad for you unless you suffer from the inability to process it. There are many people who adopt gluten-free diets even when they don’t have any kind of intolerance, but in fact this diet won’t be any healthier for you. Just as with the fat-free Snackwells craze of the 90s, there are tons of heavily processed products coming on the market that purport to be (and are) gluten-free, but aren’t any healthier than their glutenous counterparts. (In fact, substituting nut flour for wheat flour will result in a higher calorie count!) Total gluten elimination is not recommended for anyone but the most severe gluten intolerances, and pretending otherwise is needlessly putting yourself on an elimination diet.

Put simply, there are no grounds to exclude gluten from your diet unless you suffer from Celiac disease or non-Celiac gluten intolerance. Don’t jump on the gluten-free bandwagon unless you have a medical reason to! For most people, a balanced diet is the healthiest diet – and that includes wheat and other glutenous foods.

Disclaimer: This post was collaboratively written, and the main content was provided as part of the sponsorship; however, my reaction is my own opinion 🙂


12 thoughts on “Is Gluten Bad for You?”

  1. I love this so much. I know there are people with true intolerance to gluten and celiac disease, but I am so over people jumping on the GF bandwagon. I love bread. My co-worker even always gives me her bread from her salad. I love bread samples. I love the bread basket. Actually, I am glad they’ve all gone GF. More for me 🙂

  2. My MIL is gluten free due to an intolerance. I have to be careful of any food that I make for her but it really isn’t that difficult if you stick to unprocessed foods. Gluten is present in a lot of things that you wouldn’t suspect. It can be a lot healthier going GF because you eliminate a lot of the things added to meats, fruits, and vegetables that make them less healthy. That being said, anyone can easily just eliminate some processed foods and it would clean up their diet a bit without going gluten free.

    I love bread also. And now you have me thinking about pizza. 🙂

    1. TOTALLY agree that going gluten-free can mean you eat more whole foods, which is better! I just get frustrated that a lot of people take it as an excuse to eat MORE heavily processed foods that are formulated to be gluten-free.

  3. Dealing with a Crohn’s disease diagnosis in the past year one of the things that came up was, gluten. I do have a marker for celiac but going gluten free for 3 months did not improve my crohn’s one iota in fact my flare was getting worse. I can never understand why an individual would choose to go GF for no reason. I think it is part of the wanting a quick fix and it is trendy now. Our bodies are complex and I am STILL trying to figure out how my diet effects my crohn’s (I literally have written everything I have eaten down daily since 2011).
    I am constantly asked by morons (excuse my language but seriously nothing irks me more than non medical personnel giving me medical “advice”) why I am not GF bc it will “cure” me. It is not a cure for those that don’t need it.
    But I do know I was the happiest person ever to realize that gluten and me can continue in our very happy relationship!

    1. Completely agree with you that it’s become the trendy choice rather than being used when it’s actually necessary.

      On the subject of Crohn’s, I will say that I sometimes pass on solution-type articles to friends that have it… not because I think that one piece of advice WILL DEFINITELY WORK AND OMG YOU HAVE TO TRY IT, but because it seems like it is a disease where different things work for different people, and perhaps hearing a variety of solutions may lead someone to the right one. Does that make sense? Am I inadvertently offending my friends when I pass on those types of articles? Let me know!

  4. I get so annoyed when people say they are eliminating gluten and therefore are eliminated carbs. Gluten is not a carb! and carbs aren’t bad for you either. Bah. Ok… going to end the rant before I get going – but no gluten is not bad for you so long as you can tolerate it.

  5. Pasta has been a staple in our platter, perhaps, it’s addictive. I think that’s the culprit why I was having nausea or abdominal pain whenever I eat too much gluten-foods. So, I defy myself from eating gluten products (which really break my heart) just to ease the pain before it gets worse. Indeed, gluten is not bad when you’re not suffering from any medical conditions.

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