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The Gluten Free Lie

July 2. 2019

Scrolling through Meijer or other superfood markets, I see on the shelves products proclaiming their freedom from gluten:  bread, pasta, cracker's, cookies, cereal, beer. & more.  Gluten free is what low carb was years ago.  The "in" diet discussed on talk shows, bestsellers, food eaten by celebrities.

But unlike other dietary demons such as bad carbs or bad fat, gluten is not inherently harmful for everyone.  Only a small percentage of the population can't properly digest this protein, which occurs naturally in wheat, rye, and barley and is a natural substance that gives certain foods their structure.

The hype around gluten free has generated a lot of misinformation, including a couple of big lies.  One is that eliminating gluten from your diet will help you lose weight.  Another is that going gluten free is healthier.

Neither of these claims has been proven. But this hasn't slowed the growth of gluten-free products. Gluten affects some people adversely, notably those with celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that afflicts about 1 percent of the population. With this disease, the body treats gluten as a poison. When gluten is eaten, a person with celiac will experience abnormal inflammation in the body, leading to intestinal damage. If left untreated, this may lead to malnutrition, as the body is not ale to properly absorb nutrients from food.

Diagnosing celiac disease or a gluten or wheat intolerance should be performed by a knowledgeable physician. A simple blood test is available to screen for celiac disease. It identifies certain antibodies in the blood. These antibodies are produced by the immune system because it views gluten (the proteins found in wheat, rye, and barley) as a threat.

Some people have less severe gluten allergies or sensitivities - maybe 7 or 8 percent of the U.S. population. Even so, about 30 percent of the adults are either trying to avoid gluten or ease back on it. That means that a lot of people avoiding gluten-free food really don't need to. This wouldn't be a problem except that many whole foods containing gluten are packed with nutritional benefits. Any many gluten-free foods are full of processed junk.

When someone with celiac loses weight after ditching gluten, it's likely because they stopped eating all those processed foods they used to eat (refined breads, pastas, crackers) that happen to be loaded with gluten, but that doesn't make gluten the culprit. I you get thinner on a gluten-free diet, it's most likely because you're cutting back on many fattening and processed high-calorie foods such as pizza, crackers, and breads. This is a good thing. But it's not the gluten that's holding you back - it's the processed foods.

Many gluten-free products can be higher in calories than gluten-containing foods. This happens when food manufacturers replace the missing gluten with extra fat and sugar.

Gluten free can have extra additives:

1. Tapioca Starch: One of the main ingredients used to replace wheat flour. It is very high in carbohydrates but hardly contains any fiber, fat, protein, vitamins, or minerals, and basically just supplies empty calories that can spike blood sugar higher and faster than refined sugar.

2. Rice Starch, Rice Flour, & Brown Rice Syrup: Rice is very common in gluten-free diets, but it's contaminated with arsenic, which is a poison and a potent human carcinogen. Arsenic is also classified as a group 1 carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

3. Corn and Soy: Corn and soy ingredients (corn meal, corn starch, corn syrup, soybean oil, and soy lecithin) are found in a lot of gluten-free pastas, crackers, and cookies. When you see anything made from conventional corn or soy on a label, it's a pretty sage bet that it is genetically modified because of the vast majority of these crops in the U.S. are GMO. Roundup-ready GMO crops are sprayed with herbicide glyphosate, which has been shown to accumulate in the crops. This can destroy healthy gut bacteria. I don't want this sprayed on my food. Do you?

4. Added Sugar: Gluten-free foods use sugar to replace the flavors lost when grains are removed. It's impossible to find a gluten-free product without added refined sugar. Also beware of "cane sugar", it is likely sugar from GMO sugar beets.

5. Xanthan Gum: When the gluten is removed from baked goods, food companies often add the additive xanthan gum for texture and softness. This hasn't been shown to be a dangerous ingredient to consume, but be aware that it's often derived from GMO corn and triggers allergies or gastrointestinal issues in certain people.


If you have celiac or feel better on a gluten-free diet, what's the best way to ensure it's as healthy as possible? Don't buy processed gluten-free replacement foods that can sabotage your health. Instead of buying gluten-free breads and crackers filled with additives and sugar, fill your diet with healthy whole foods that are naturally gluten-free (vegetables, fruits, beans, seeds, lentils, nuts) to nourish your body. These foods constitute a very healthy way to eat.

Here are some recommendations:

1. Get to know ancient grains. Cultivated for thousand of years, ancient grains represent some of the oldest grains consumed by humans. They include quinoa, amaranth, millet, teff, and sorghum. These delicious grains offer great benefits, such as preventing cancer, heart disease, and high blood pressure.

2. Instead of using a gluten-free tortilla, make a wrap out of collard greens or I love to use coconut wraps.

3. Choose pastas that are made from lentils or beans. I love the Ganza noodles made from chickpeas! Or make your own "noodles" out of spaghetti squash, or zucchini using a spiralizer.

4. Substitute quinoa for rice when making stir-fries and other dishes that are typically served over rice. This will help minimize your exposure to arsenic.

5. Use baking recipes that primarily call for flours with healthy nutrients such as coconut flour, almond meal, buckwheat flour, or quinoa flour, chickpea flour, teff flour, or sorghum flour.

6. If you can't bake your own bread, seek out store bought breads that are made primarily from nutrient-rich ancient grains or buckwheat (and rely less on rice or tapioca flours).

7. Make your pizza crusts from cauliflower. Cauliflower blends up with goat cheese and eggs into a great dough for pizza that's packed with nutrients. Cauliflower can also be blended in a food processor.

8. For snacks choose bars that are made with organic seeds, nuts, and dried fruit.

9. Eat more produce! Fruit, veggies, beans, and salad greens are all naturally gluten-free, so don't be afraid to try new ones every week until you find your favorites!

The gluten-free fad will soon fade, just like every other diet fad. But hopefully what lasts is the larger trend toward eating natural, whole foods such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, and sources of lean protein. This type of eating will keep you healthy and energetic for a lifetime!