The truth about gluten

What is gluten-free? Should you be worried about gluten in bread and flour?

Why all the sudden craze about gluten? First, what is Gluten?

Gluten is a mixture of proteins primarily taken from wheat. This combination provides consistency and/or flavor to foods such as bread and pizza. It is also a common additive to vegetarian dishes to increase the protein level of meals that would otherwise be highly comprised of carbohydrates.

Are there any known allergies and/or diseases that can be contributed to gluten? Then again, if we analyze the specifics, we may find that gluten will be as harmless as water to us, or will we? It is a fact, ingestion of too much water will cause death. So, should we immediately cease the consumption of water and any and all water based products? Clearly as humans, we can not survive without water. What about gluten?

Gluten: An evil component of our food and dietary system in the United States, or a substance yanked out of the droll of ambiguity to become a product to fear; one that will sell books and divert your hard earned cash to other new products such as ‘gluten-free’ and the like?

Let’s take a look at gluten and it’s relation to celiac disease (a.k.a. gluten intolerance.)

Celiac disease can be fatal. Celiac disease prevents gluten digestion. It is critical that those with celiac disease only eat foods that do not contain gluten to prevent illness. Treatment for celiac disease is to be strict and have a complete gluten-free diet for life. Consuming gluten-free means not eating any products that contain wheat, barley, rye (and possibly oats) or any of their derivatives. Clearly your doctor can give you a full list of products to avoid.

Celiac Disease is understood to be genetic or inherited, an autoimmune disorder. And, even though genetics are identified as the culprit for an individual, many times immediate family (ie, parents and children) have been tested and identified as not having the disease. Studies are still underway and the gene mutation that causes the disease is still not fully comprehended.

The good news regarding celiac disease is that testing for it is relatively easy. It involves the screening of your blood for antigliadin (AGA) and endomysium antibodies (EmA). Typically a biopsy of the lining of the small intestines is done for a formal diagnosis.

There are two primary criteria that I look for when I question any claim by anything on television or by friends or family:

  1. What do the journals of medicine that have been published with studies and scientific testing performed, and affirmed, have to say about the subject?
  2. And, What is the truth?

Gluten has been identified as a cause of irritable bowl syndrome (IBS) in some people that do not have diagnosed celiac disease but still have a sensitivity to wheat. It’s clear that if you are having any doubt to whether you have celiac disease or any sensitivity to wheat that you go to your doctor and get tested. This way there is no doubt as to a prevailing condition and you can then begin to eliminate foods, as may be needed, and likely recommended by your doctor.

My suggestion: Do not self diagnose, as we Americans love to do. Get tested, get your doctors best answer, then continue on your path of food elimination or the next logical course for you. We are each unique and something that works for someone else may very well not work for you, but may actually worsen the condition. Therefore, do not self-diagnose, do not self-medicate, and do not allow your friends or family to do it for you. Approach the beast with a saber and not a fork. Follow a course that will efficiently and inexpensively bring you to a positive result rather than one that is inefficient and costly.

The percentage of people that actually get celiac disease has been estimated at 2% of the population. So for the scores of people that I hear talking about being allergic to gluten or that everyone is intolerant to gluten, I’m sorry but I don’t see the facts to support those claims. The facts state that gluten is not an allergen, but rather that it is a disease. Also, the facts prove that with only 2% of the population suffering from the primary dilemma of celiac disease, that most of the claims are either a sensitivity to gluten or simply it is the mindset of believing that they are sensitive to gluten. It does seem like whatever is hip or in style, all of a sudden there are scores of people on-board to join the media hoopla and excitement of the sensationalized fad of the moment.

Since whole wheat artisan bread direct from a bakery oven, and with good natural butter applied to the top of it, makes my pallet yearn, I for one will not be jumping on the gluten-free only diet craze of late. Instead, I will consume my yummy healthy high-carbohydrate and energy yielding nutritional source known as bread; one of the only food items known to have been around since the beginning of time.

Of course if you have Irritable Bowl Syndrome (IBS), then you might be part of the percentage of population that does have an identifiable food sensitivity or a disease such as celiac. Just remember everyone wants your buck. If creating a new disease or syndrome is possible for a new set of “conditions” believe me, it will be created. And, once acknowledged by the U.S. Government as a valid condition or disease, you can bet that myriads of books, and home remedies will be at the forefront taking down your credit card number to help fix your newly identified condition. A billion dollars a year can make a lot of people do funny things, don’t you think?!

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has almost completed it’s definition of gluten and gluten-free along with much of their gluten-free labeling requirements. Some of the foods that they give as examples as naturally “gluten-free” are the following:

  • “milk; nonfat dry milk
  • 100 percent fruit or vegetable juices
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables that are not coated with a wax or resin that contains gluten
  • A variety of single ingredient foods: butter; eggs; lentils; peanuts; seeds like flax; tree nuts like almonds; non-gluten containing grains like corn; fresh fish like cod; fresh shellfish like clams; honey; and water.”

Then there are also professionally published resources to give you information and tools to continue in your quest for better health. I came across a few well written and published pieces recently, and they are:

  • The G Free Diet from Elisabeth Hasselbeck, (T.V. show The VIEW) a great story of survival and taking on her disease head-on, a gluten-free only resource.
  • And author Jenny Fox, The Svelte Gourmet. This is a remarkable compilation of healthy nutritionally sound recipes for creating your menu as your needs present themselves. Offered are both gluten-free and regular recipes for your feeding frenzy. See also this article evaluating The Svelte Gourmet in diets and weight loss; one of eight in a series.

Be informed, be critical, make yourself be intelligent. Begin with science and then weigh out the truth and add common sense into your judgment protocol. Then, and only then, will you be a boy scout and have covered all of your bases. Be gluten or gluten-free, whatever the case is for you, may you continue forward in good and better health!


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Leslie Pryor
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Dwayne Ivey
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Leslie Pryor
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Posted on Aug 3, 2010