Everywhere I go, someone is talking about gluten: the gluten-free muffins they made, how they’ve gone gluten-free and lost weight, or how they want to go gluten-free because they think it’s the answer to whatever ails them. Avoiding gluten seems to be the latest food fad - but do you need to avoid it to be healthy?
Gluten is the protein that helps give bread the texture and mouth-feel we’ve come to expect. It is found naturally in wheat, rye, barley and related grains. Extracted from grains, it is convenient, versatile, and cheap to use in everything from thickening and stabilizing agents to meat substitutes.
But other than its massive prevalence within our food system, there is nothing special about it. Unless you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, your body digests it just as it does other proteins.
People often say they feel better when they cut out gluten. This is not surprising. By cutting out gluten, most people cut out a lot of processed foods from their diet and eat more basic, whole foods that are nutrient-dense. For most people, it isn’t the absence of gluten that’s caused the change in how they feel; they have changed their whole diet. Instead of grabbing a fast food burger for lunch, they bring a salad with grilled chicken breast from home. Instead of buying a huge scone for breakfast they pick up a piece of fruit and a yogurt.
This current gluten phobia has gone beyond eliminating the less healthy foods from our diet. Healthy foods that contain gluten are also eliminated. Whole grain breads and cereals are full of energy, high in fibre, B vitamins, potassium, etc., and studies have proven them to be part of a healthy, well balanced eating pattern.
If you believe gluten is making you feel unwell, see your doctor. As I mentioned above, there are people who need to avoid gluten-containing foods for their good health. For the rest of us, instead of focusing our energy on eliminating gluten, let’s focus on making great choices throughout our diet. To me, healthy eating is about the big picture.
The Art of Healthy Eating