It became the biggest food trend of the last year – going gluten-free. But with only 1% of the population needing to abstain from gluten, how did it become a $6-billion-dollar industry? Because a whole lot of people believed the hype – that a G-free diet would be everything from a magic weight-loss solution to the cure for all their ills. So, let’s separate some fact from fiction when it comes to the protein we all want to avoid like the plague.
What products contain gluten? Of course anything wheat-based – like bread, pasta, pancakes, cookies and crackers. But you can also find gluten in other foods you may not have thought of – like salad dressings, ketchup, turkey sausage and soup mixes. That’s because it’s used to add flavor and texture to foods. And some experts think that’s why Celiac disease – the autoimmune disorder that makes gluten toxic – has quadrupled in the last half century. Because we’re exposed to it more than we realize and that can send a body into overload.
So, how do you know if you need to eat gluten-free? You need to ask your doctor. A lot of people go off wheat products and say they feel better – but they may not realize they’re still consuming gluten in other foods. So, they may simply feel better eating fewer starches. Doctors have started to believe there IS such a thing as “gluten sensitivity” – in which you get headaches, bloating and fatigue after consuming it. But there’s no hard science to back it up. And when researchers tested volunteers, who claimed to be gluten-sensitive, for biomarkers of wheat intolerance, not one single volunteer tested positive. So, if you want to know for sure, get a blood test at your next check-up.
Going G-free will not automatically make you skinny. A lot of people actually gain weight! That’s because gluten is the ingredient that makes foods chewy and yummy – so when manufacturers remove it, they have to add other things to make up for it – and a lot of times, they add fat. For example, you can have 50 regular wheat pretzel sticks for 100 calories. But if you choose the gluten-free pretzel sticks, you can only have 35 for those same 100 calories – and they have 6 times the fat!
You’ll get less fiber. And fiber is necessary for losing weight. Plus, you’ll also miss out on vitamin B and iron. So, if you really want to lose weight by hopping on the gluten-free bandwagon, increase the amount of fruits, vegetables, nuts and beans you eat – and leave the gluten-free foods for the people who really need them.
If you're still trying to figure out whether gluten-free is right for you, you might want to talk to your doctor.