To Gluten or Not to Gluten? 5 Myths Busted
Whether you're Celiac, sensitive or simply want to consume less gluten in your diet, get to know a little more about this naturally-occurring protein compound.
"Gluten" refers to a group of hundreds of naturally occurring proteins found in wheat, barley and rye that have a characteristic elasticity to them. It's what makes bread fluffy and pasta sturdy rather than crumbly. Sounds pretty great, huh? Unfortunately, gluten is the culprit for health problems for those with Celiac Disease, an autoimmune disorder that damages the small intestines. It's also something to avoid for those with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), a wheat allergy, or gluten sensitivities, or else risk gastrointestinal distress, fatigue, headache, depression and sometimes rashes. Choosing a gluten-free lifestyle has become trendy over the last few years - regardless of medical diagnosis or advice - and the lines between fact and false information have been blurred through various outlets of sensationalist media. Here following are five myths debunked once and for all!
MYTH #1 Going gluten-free is a healthy choice for everyone.
Unless you have been diagnosed with Celiac Disease or a gluten sensitivity, eliminating gluten from your diet won't necessarily make you "healthier"... nor will it help you lose weight, have more energy, or improve your skin. It's possible (and quite likely!) that someone who eliminates certain gluten-containing foods that frequent their diet, such as cake, cookies, crackers, breads, and refined white flour, and replaces them with more nutrient-dense, fiber-rich whole foods like legumes, fruits, vegetables and (non-gluten containing) whole grains will see positive health effects. However, it's worth noting that replacing those same foods with their gluten-free analog probably won't make much of a difference. Furthermore, altering your diet without the assistance of your physician or dietitian can have deleterious effects on your health, so it's crucial to seek their advice before making any dietary alterations.
MYTH #2 Gluten sensitivity doesn't exist.
Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS) is indeed recognized as a real medical condition... although it's very different from Celiac Disease or a wheat allergy - instead, it's diagnosed by elimination rather than biological markers (as scientists and doctors haven't found any concrete culprits). The condition was recognized fairly recently, and more studies must be done as researchers still haven't figured out what's triggering the wide range of symptoms, which include abdominal pain and digestive issues, fatigue, headaches, anxiety and impaired memory and cognition, and even neurological conditions such as ataxia. Just like someone with Celiac Disease, someone with NCGS must avoid gluten entirely.
MYTH #3 The gluten-free diet is extremely limited.
You don't have to say goodbye to bread, pasta, pizza or grain bowls if you go gluten-free! While rye, barley and wheat in all their forms are off limits, you're still welcome to enjoy a slew of other grains, like rice, millet, corn, teff, quinoa, oats, sorghum, and buckwheat (that last one's tricky, right?!). Modern grocery stores stock up on gluten-free products, like flaxseed crackers, almond flour, brown rice pasta and cauliflower pizza crusts, as well as potatoes, nuts, seeds, beans, and plenty of fresh produce so you'll never go hungry or run out of ingredients to play with. These days, most packaged foods will be clearly labelled as "gluten-free," but it pays off to make a habit of double-checking the ingredients list... just in case!