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Gluten fact vs fiction: Do you really need to avoid it?

The whole controversy about whether people should stop eating wheat seems to arise out of our increasing obsession with what goes into the mouth and how it affects our body in general rather than just the health of our gut. Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, barley, and rye. These three grains contain two gluten proteins: gliadin and glutenin.

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When flour made from wheat is mixed with water, it forms a sticky substance called gluten. Gluten gives dough its elasticity and traps the gasses formed by yeast during fermentation (from sugar) used to leaven bread or make cakes. It is a common ingredient in other foods such as pasta, cereal, and other baked goods.

Gluten has been blamed for a range of health complications, including chronic pain, brain fog, food allergies, weight gain, and imbalance inflammation. Unsurprisingly, gluten-free products are more popular than ever these days as people are beginning to realize the benefits that gluten-free foods have to offer them. While the truth about gluten may not be as bad as some people think it is, you mustn't go gluten-free just because someone told you to do so.


The key is to switch from a typical American diet to one that is rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, low-fat dairy, and unprocessed whole grains. It's also easy to introduce a gluten-free diet into your life by eating foods like gluten-free pasta, rice elbow noodles, noodles made out of amaranth and teff flour, taro root flour, quinoa flour, and buckwheat flour. Some people experience health problems when they go on a strict gluten-free diet.

Let’s deconstruct some of the facts and myths related to the consumption of gluten.

1. Just because gluten is bad for some people, it does not mean it is bad for everyone

While some people have problems with gluten, it does not mean that the protein is bad for everyone. People who have celiac disease cannot tolerate gluten, and experience health problems. However, many people have no reaction to gluten except for feeling full or bloated or have digestive problems that are not related to gluten sensitivities. It's best not to avoid consuming anything just because other people react poorly, instead it's important to educate yourself on what your body can handle so you don't overwork your system with foods that may cause unwanted side effects.

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2. Unless one is diagnosed with gluten sensitivity or intolerance, the body can process Gluten

Several people seem to believe that they are sensitive to gluten by just symptoms of bloating, cramping, diarrhea, and constipation even if they don't have celiac disease, but in fact, this is not true. Only a small portion of the population has gluten sensitivity or celiac disease. People with a wheat allergy experience similar symptom, however, the only difference is that the symptoms are caused by a reaction to wheat proteins, not to gluten. Many people are sensitive to wheat gluten. In fact, some people don't react when eating other foods like barley, rye, or corn but still react to wheat in their diet. It was once believed that it was essential for humans to consume grains, and it was only in the 1950s that scientists found out that gluten did not cause the harmful effects they had previously thought, and that bread was toxic. But since then, there has been a lot of research on celiac disease, and new clues have come up daily, giving doctors more understanding of how this condition is caused and different treatment plans.

3. Gluten sensitivity does not lead to undesirable weight gain

Gluten sensitivity has numerous symptoms, but undesirable weight gain does not constitute one of them. Research has shown that for people with gluten sensitivity, weight gain can even be reduced. If you are gluten sensitive and experience weight gain, it may be due to other dietary or life factors. For example, thinking about food more than usual could lead to a caloric increase in your diet that would result in weight gain. On the positive side though, those who are gluten intolerant can still eat many types of foods without worrying about experiencing celiac disease symptoms. Gluten-free versions of traditional favorites like pizza and pasta are available at most grocers now to, which is great for anyone who doesn't want to give up their favorite foods. Therefore, the only possible explanation concerns the association of gluten with fast foods that contain too much processed sugar and happen to include wheat as an ingredient.

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4. A Gluten-Free Diet does not guarantee weight loss

Although gluten-free foods are often promoted as a weight-loss tool, according to experts, it is not that easy to lose weight. The results are variable. In one study on a group of women with premen­strual syndrome (PMS), those who cut out gluten had no better results than those who did not. However, another study on 52 obese people (the average age was 48) found that they followed a diet rich in fruits and vegetables lost an average of 7lbs in one month while those following a low-carbohydrate diet (a ketogenic diet) lost an average of 14lbs in the same period.

5. An effective diagnosis of gluten sensitivity requires one to consume it

For a true diagnosis of gluten sensitivity, one is required to continue eating gluten since gluten-containing foods have other compounds that can cause similar symptoms. For this reason, those with gluten sensitivity should not follow a "gluten-free diet." Gluten is an important component of many food products, and it provides functional benefits that can't be found in other food proteins. A gluten-free diet prohibits individuals from ingesting foods that have wheat, rye, and barley in their ingredients list. This can be challenging because having too little gluten may also cause symptoms. Many people that are diagnosed with wheat allergy find themselves following a "gluten-free" diet without ever receiving the true diagnosis, which can lead to ineffective results for the condition. Unfortunately, the diagnosis depends on ruling out one celiac disease and wheat allergy.

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