Last updated on May 8th, 2023 at 08:07 pm
Understanding the foods we consume is important because many of us have been misled by promising marketing campaigns related to health-related complications and waistline woes. Don’t be deceived by the appearance of food. For instance, a pizza may look delicious and healthy but is often packed with refined flour, salt, and fat. On the other hand, a salad may seem boring but contains ingredients that provide fundamental nutrients. Gluten is an ingredient found in many of the foods we eat regularly. Over the years, there has been a lot of talk surrounding gluten, how it impacts the body, and a lot of the gluten myths. So, let’s dig in to learn more about fiction vs. facts about gluten.
What Is Gluten?
The Latin word for ‘glue’ gluten is the substance that provides the elasticity and chewiness that we love in bread and pastries. This controversial protein is typically found in wheat, barley, rye, and other foods such as pasta, pizza dough, and ice cream. It is a binder, giving these foods a “stretchy” appearance.
With the rise of health-conscious consumers on the market today, manufacturers are producing all kinds of “gluten-free” foods and labeling them clearly so that we know what we are buying. The fact is, though, there is NO scientific evidence indicating that these foods are always healthier.
Over the past few decades, gluten has gotten a bad reputation with many gluten myths, often associated with problems like obesity, diabetes, and celiac disease. But do we need to avoid it?
Here are the top 3 Gluten Myths and the corresponding facts about this controversial protein that you need to know:
1. It Drains Energy
Does gluten deplete our energy? This is one of the gluten myths we hear. Unfortunately, we don’t know for sure. While it might deplete energy levels for some people, this could be related to its impact on the gut and if the person has an ongoing or undiagnosed intolerance.
However, it’s unlikely that gluten is slowing you down. You might have more energy if you quit eating white bread and replace it with fruits and vegetables, but it’s a good diet, not the lack of gluten, that gives you a lift.
Gluten is a complex protein, meaning it is not entirely absorbed by the body and takes about 2-3 hours to metabolize. This can cause energy depletion and fatigue. Because of this, if we want to maintain energy levels throughout the day, it’s better to focus on foods that contain nutritious fats and proteins, such as avocados, eggs, meat, fish, etc.
2. It Is Harmful
This is one of the gluten myths. According to a Harvard study, gluten provides no essential nutrients. However, it isn’t any more harmful to your health than peanut butter. It’s just a protein found in some foods that some individuals struggle to digest.
Many people are sensitive to this protein because of auto-immunities such as celiac disease or other allergies. Eating gluten triggers an immune response in these people, leading to inflammation, pain, and discomfort. However, it can be harmful if you are intolerant.
Also, in a 2017 study of over 100,000 people who did not have celiac disease, researchers discovered NO link between long-term dietary consumption of gluten and the risk of heart disease. It may also work as a prebiotic, feeding our bodies’ “healthy” bacteria.
3. Avoiding This Protein Helps In Weight loss
To date, research surrounding gluten’s effect on weight loss has failed to show any connection between the two. A German study found no significant difference between people who ate gluten-rich products and those who did not eat these products regarding weight loss. So this might not be your best choice if you’re looking for a diet to help you lose weight.
So, why are non-celiacs voluntarily moving to a gluten-free diet? Most people go on diets for weight loss and general health, but does avoiding this protein help you reach these goals?
It doesn’t. A gluten-free diet does not lead to weight loss. Moreover, this diet can sometimes cause weight gain in celiacs. This kind of diet will certainly make a celiac gain weight if they lose weight due to poor intestinal digestion and absorption. Gluten-free foods and an unbalanced diet can also cause weight gain in those who do not have celiac disease.
Gluten-free does not imply “healthy.” Many of these items are higher in calories, sugar, and fat. A lack of flavor or components might make these dishes nutritionally inferior.
If you lose weight after eliminating gluten from your diet, it’s almost certainly because you’re eating more nutritious, whole foods.
Who Should Avoid Gluten?
Three types of people should avoid this protein:
1. Those With Celiac Disease Or Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS)
Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition in which the body overreacts to gluten, which can damage the lining of the small intestine and interfere with nutrient absorption. These diseases, including non-celiac gluten sensitivity, can only be treated by avoiding this protein.
2. Those Diagnosed With Other Autoimmune Disorders Like Type 1 Diabetes (T1D) And Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
Researchers estimate that 19.7% of persons with T1D have celiac disease, which can exacerbate diabetes symptoms. Also, some studies conclude that MS patients may be more prone to celiac disease and intolerance.
3. Those Whose Doctor Has Advised Doing So Because They Have Injuries Or Illnesses That Cause Malabsorption Of Nutrients From Food.
Malabsorption is the inability to absorb nutrients such as vitamins, carbohydrates, proteins, or minerals. An intestinal injury may induce malabsorption disorders from infection, such as Bacterial Gastroenteritis, inflammations such as Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative colitis, trauma, antibiotic overuse, or even surgery.
Lactose intolerance may be the most well-known malabsorption syndrome.
Side Effects Of A Gluten-Free Diet
Contrary to popular belief, a gluten-free diet isn’t all healthy. Some of the reasons why include:
1. Lack Of Key Vitamins And Nutrients
Gluten-containing foods provide a wide range of vitamins and nutrients. It isn’t easy to consume these vitamins and nutrients when you avoid this protein because many foods aren’t fortified.
2. Weight Gain
As discussed above, a gluten-free diet can cause weight gain, which shows how inefficient it is. Many of these meals have substantial sugar, calorie, and fat content vs. more healthy foods.
3. Lack Of Fiber
Consuming adequate amounts of fiber is easier when you eat gluten-containing meals. Wheat bread is one of the easiest methods of acquiring the appropriate amount of fiber in your diet. Celiacs must seek fortified grains and high-fiber foods to meet the exact requirements.
4. Risk Of Type 2 Diabetes
Gluten-containing foods offer fiber, vitamins, and minerals that help prevent Type 2 diabetes. Choosing these foods helps you eat a balanced diet and enhance your overall health.
Who Can Consume This Protein?
If you don’t have celiac disease or sensitivity, or if consuming gluten doesn’t cause you any problems, then there’s no need to avoid it unless your doctor tells you otherwise, such as if you have heart disease, obesity, or diabetes. Those with no medical concerns enjoy gluten as part of a balanced diet.
The foods we eat and the quantities we eat significantly impact our overall health. Countless foods have been studied for their effects on the human body to understand better what foods help us thrive vs. those that cause us to struggle. Now that you know how gluten can impact your health, you can make better decisions about your health.
Rick Kaselj MS, is a leading kinesiologist and injury specialist as well as co-creator of the best-selling Unlock Your Hip Flexors program. Rick creates exercise programs that help people heal injuries and eliminate pain, so they can go back to living a full, active, healthy life.