Healthy Habits: Gluten: Friend and Enemy
Cereal grains like wheat, barley and rye contain two proteins, glutenin and gliadin. When mixed with water they form a network of fine strands called gluten. Gluten is very important to bread and pasta making because it allows dough to be more elastic, keep its shape and stretches without tearing. Because wheat and other cereal grains are used in so many processed foods, gluten is naturally and frequently present.
The presence of even the smallest amount of gluten can have serious side effects for individuals who have an autoimmune disorder called Celiac disease. When gluten presents in the body of someone with Celiac, their immune system attacks their intestines. Eliminating 100 percent of gluten from the diet is the only way to prevent continuous exposure and long-term health consequences for these individuals. Cross-contact from gluten containing ingredients to gluten free products can pose a serious threat.
Prior to 2013, those suffering with Celiac disease could not be confident in the foods they were purchasing because there was no standard definition for Gluten Free. In 2013, the FDA standardized the term for use on food labels. This claim can be used for foods that are inherently gluten free (i.e.: water, fruits, vegetables, eggs) or do not use grains that contain gluten (i.e.: corn, rice, soy). The removal of gluten from cereal grains is possible, but in order to make the Gluten Free claim, the food product must have less than 20 parts per million.
Common Items Containing Gluten:
Beer, brown rice syrup, modified food starch, medicines, sauces, rice mixes, gravies, bouillon cubes, soups, soy sauce, seasoned snack foods, lunch meats, French fries, malt, and many more.
While those suffering from Celiac disease can now purchase products with more confidence, growing confusion among those who don’t suffer from Celiac disease continues. Terms like gluten sensitivity and gluten intolerance continue to be highly debated, discussed and researched. Many have begun a gluten free diet for no other reason than they believe it to be healthier. This is an unfortunate misconception.
For the last several years, products made without gluten have increased on store shelves. The majority of these products are as highly processed as their gluten-containing counterpart with no additional nutritional benefit. Food companies look for a competitive edge when developing new products and using the latest trends to increase revenue. Using a Gluten Free claim as a marketing tactic is no exception.
Eating naturally gluten free foods will always be a healthy choice. These foods are minimally processed and have nutritional benefits that promote health. These include fruits, vegetables, legumes, eggs, fresh cuts of meat, milk, and water.
Eating gluten containing foods can be a part of a healthy diet for individuals who don’t suffer from a wheat allergy or Celiac disease. Breads, pastas, and whole grains provide us with carbohydrates, protein, fiber and nutrients the body can use to maintain health.
This week’s Healthy Habit: Don’t make decisions about healthy eating based soley on trendy fads and nutrition label claims.