Friday, June 10, 2011

Gluten Free - the way to be?

Well there's a new diet in town. Many people seem to be jumping on the Gluten free bandwagon and cookbooks, recipes, blogs, etc are popping up all over the place. In fact, 1,182 new gluten free products were introduced to the market in 2008 and remain at a steady increase. Claims have been made for a gluten free diet to help with weight loss, autism, osteoperosis, and others.
However, this isn't your typical help-you-lose-weight kind of diet or a bandwagon that should be pounced upon lightly. In fact, there's no evidence that this diet will help you lose weight. Sometimes the opposite can be true, as gluten free foods sometimes have added fat to help with mouthfeel. To the average person, a gluten free diet offers no advantages and can lead to unwanted results such as weight gain. Not what you want from a diet right?!
A friend of mine went gluten free after being diagnosed with Celiac disease, an autoimmue disease where the small intestine treats gluten as an invader rather than a nutrient, causing damage to the small intestine and blocking absorption of other nutrients. Celiac disease can be hard to diagnose and can appear at anytime during your life. Check out the link above for more symptom/diagnosis information!

What I wanted to do here is just give a brief explanation of the gluten free diet, since it's everywhere in society today. It shouldn't be mistaken with "just another fad diet" but that's what I've heard people say! A little education goes a long way ;)

We've all been taught that whole wheat is good for us and leaps and bounds ahead of processed, enriched white bread (AKA junk) in the nutrition category. So what's up with wheat?

“For celiacs, there’s a battle in your gut between your immune system and the gluten, which it considers an enemy,” says Joseph Murray, M.D., a gastroenterologist and professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. This immunological warfare winds up damaging the small, fingerlike projections called villi that line the gut. Under normal circumstances, the villi expand the surface area of the small intestine and allow it to absorb nutrients. But when doctors biopsy the small intestine of someone with celiac disease, they find that many of the villi have atrophied and flattened. The damage prevents proper absorption of nutrients, causes a variety of problems throughout the body and, left untreated, can even lead to cancers in the intestine.

(Should You Go Gluten Free? By Kristin Ohlson/Aug 2009 - Eating Well Magazine)

Even if a person with Celiac Disease is eating an extremely healthy diet, they can still wind up with health problems associated with nutrient deficiencies, since their small intestines are unable to absorb these nutrients during digestion. These deficiencies often go unnoticed in a person who doesn't realize they have a wheat allergy, since they assume they are getting the nutrients from their diets.

If anything, I hope this makes people realize that trying a diet because they see it everywhere is not always the best idea. Educate before action, especially in regards to your body, as you can end up doing yourself more harm than good by mistake. Self diagnosis of Celiac Disease is impossible, testing requires bloodtesting for the presence of antibodies. Cutting out gluten just to see can make it hard to test for the actual disease. If you stop eating wheat, the antibodies will not be produced by your immue system, so there will be no way to tell if you have the allergy or not. If you suspect you may, continue to eat gluten and see your doctor for testing.

If you'd like more information, history, etc about Celiac Disease and the Gluten Free Diet, check out this article from Eating Well magazine. Very informative and interesting!