Fat-free, low carb, Paleo and gluten-free diets are just some of the few fad diets that have bombarded grocery stores and news-feed as if they could be the next cure-all. Eating gluten-free has become one of the recent fads; but it is smart to investigate its legitimacy before converting to the hype.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. For people with Celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that affects about one percent of the population, gluten must be avoided because it results in inflammation and damage to their intestines when consumed. Even though this one percent of people with Celiac disease should adhere to a gluten-free diet, whether or not it has potential benefits for other health issues is still under investigation. Studies on gluten free diets for non-Celiac individuals have resulted in mixed findings. Some studies have indicated that a gluten-free diet may result in iron and vitamin B deficiencies, but may have positive effects on cholesterol and body mass index. Some studies have also indicated improvement in dermatitis, irritable bowel syndrome, neurological disorders, rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes with gluten free diets. However, with research still ongoing, other variables should be considered.
It is important to know that just because foods are labeled “Gluten-Free,” it does not mean that they are healthy or healthier than their gluten-containing counterparts. Many gluten-free foods are lower in protein than their gluten-containing equivalents, because gluten is the primary protein of wheat. Gluten-free diets have also been associated with higher fat intake and lower dietary fiber, because many gluten free ingredients for bread-like foods are less fibrous and higher in fat. Because gluten is found in many carbohydrate and fiber-rich foods, some gluten-free consumers tend to eat excessive fat and protein without enough carbohydrates and fiber. So, for those who have Celiac disease or benefit from a gluten free diet and need or want to make the switch, it is advisable to note the changes in gluten-free protein, carbohydrate, fat and fiber intake, since the sources will likely change. Some beneficial gluten free foods I gravitate to include nuts, eggs, oatmeal, almond/coconut flour, fruits and vegetables.
The possibility that gluten-containing foods may contain glyphosate is another reason for what seems to be an increase in non-Celiac gluten intolerance. Glyphosate is the active ingredient in the herbicide Roundup, which is used in the manufacturing of gluten-containing wheat. So, maybe it is not the gluten in wheat, promoting intolerance in non-Celiac people, but rather the glyphosate in wheat. In addition to wheat, glyphosate residue is also found in sugar, corn and soy which comprise much of the Western diet and seem to be linked to several common health issues in the U.S. Research indicates that glyphosate increases inflammation and interferes with digestive health. Damage prompted from this substance has been correlated with common illnesses associated with the Western diet, including gastrointestinal disorders, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, depression, autism, infertility, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. Short-term exposure to glyphosate has not shown much harm to humans, as only about two percent of it is actually metabolized. However, rodent studies have shown that long term effects from consuming glyphosate, significantly increase risk for cancer, and liver and kidney dysfunction. With this, glyphosate may be important to consider when a food intolerance, including that from gluten, is presumed.
Many recent diet trends simply involve eating less highly processed foods. More processing results in higher concentrations of harmful substances, like glyphosate, in foods. For example, the amount of herbicide on a cob of corn would be less than a tablespoon of high fructose corn syrup, made from extracting sugar from many cobs of corn. Many gluten-containing foods, like breads, cereals and frozen meals have been highly processed, so eating less gluten-containing foods may decrease the amounts of highly processed foods consumed. For example, even though gluten-free breads and cereals may be just as processed as their gluten counterparts, they are often more expensive, encouraging people to try less processed, gluten-free carbohydrate sources, like potatoes, coconut flour, oatmeal, fruits and vegetables, which are also higher in fiber thus rendering more health benefits and less likely to promote unhealthy increases in blood sugar. Minimally processed foods include those that are simply pre-prepped, like bagged spinach, cut vegetables and roasted nuts.
A list of least to most-processed foods would be as follows:
Non-processed: whole fruits/vegetables; eggs still in shell, etc.
Minimally processed/prepped for convenience: bagged leafy greens, chopped vegetables, roasted nuts,boiled eggs, etc.
Processed at peak to lock in nutrition: canned tomatoes, frozen fruits/vegetables, canned tuna, etc.
Foods with added ingredients for color, flavor and/or texture (sweeteners, spices, oils, colors and preservatives): salad dressing, yogurt, jarred sauces, cake mixes, etc.
Ready-to eat foods: crackers, granola, deli meat, etc.
Most heavily processed: often pre-made meals like frozen pizza and microwavable dinners
Many gluten-containing foods like breads, crackers, donuts, pizza/pie crusts and cookies have been highly processed, however there are several less processed gluten-free carbohydrates. In conclusion, making the bulk of one’s diet that which contains minimally processed foods and less ingredients likely to contain glyphosate, mostly found in sugar, corn, soy and wheat, seems to be the better option rather than simply avoiding gluten. Also, for most people without Celiac disease, it may not be the gluten that prompts intolerance, as previously believed, but glyphosate or too many heavily processed foods.