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Choosing to be gluten free

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Everywhere you look nowadays you see the words “gluten-free”. From hamburger buns to pizza crust, in supermarkets and in restaurants, it’s the new buzzword and practically everyone is using it. However, ask the average person on the street what “gluten-free” means and most don’t really know. So what does it mean and, more importantly, is it healthier?

What is gluten?

Gluten is a protein that is present in many common foods, such as breads, pastries, cereals, and various desserts. It can also be in soups, sauces, salad dressings and beer. Gluten has a gooey texture, similar to glue, and is responsible for the fluffy quality of baked goods. It is what helps bind dough and gives it the desired texture by adding moisture. Because of its glue-like nature, it holds foods together, maintaining the shape of the food. Gluten is the protein found in wheat, barley, rye and a newer grain known as triticale.

So what’s wrong with gluten?

For those with celiac disease gluten is a real problem and consumption should definitely be eliminated or at least restricted since it can damage the lining of the small intestine and prohibit nutrients from being absorbed. However, experts estimate that less than 1% of Americans have celiac disease. For the rest of the population it tends to be more subjective. There are people who experience gluten sensitivity and simply feel better with less gluten.

Then going gluten-free is a good idea?

Since gluten itself has no special nutritional benefits eliminating it from your diet isn’t going to cause you to miss out on vital nutrients. The other side of the coin is that you also have to eliminate many whole grains, which are beneficial to overall health. Fortunately you can get around this since amaranth, millet, and quinoa naturally contain no gluten.

Does “gluten-free” equal “healthy”?

Just because a food is labeled “gluten-free” does NOT mean that food is necessarily healthy. Similar to “fat-free” and “all-natural”, products labeled “gluten-free” does not mean it’s not high in sugar. It does not mean “preservative-free” and for those looking to drop a few pounds, it definitely does not mean “low-calorie”. So yes, gluten-free foods can be healthy. The only way to be sure is to practice your due diligence and read the list of ingredients before making your choice.

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