August 8, 2014

Does "All But Gluten" =Healthy?

Guest Blogger Post by Claire Allen!

Recently I was shopping at my local Jewel, and happened to be in the bakery section picking out some fresh hamburger buns for dinner.  In the midst of my perusing, I noticed that the whole fresh bread section was surrounded by the "All But Gluten" processed snacks.  Intrigued, I picked up a box to see what the ingredients actually entailed, and was appalled to see that this "gluten free" food contained over 30+ ingredients, many of which I cannot even pronounce.  As a registered dietitian graduate student, I was truly dumbfounded that anyone would find peace of mind that a processed food would be safe to eat just because it did not contain gluten.

Unless you have been living under a rock these days, "gluten free" appears to be the food phenomenon that is becoming commonplace in peoples' diets.  The problem is, most people have no idea what gluten is.  Gluten is a protein that is found in wheat, barley and rye.  Individuals who suffer from the autoimmune disease, celiac disease, have a true intolerance to this protein.  Consuming gluten triggers an immune response in their small intestine, leading to inflammation that causes intestinal damage, malabsorption of nutrients, and a variety of symptoms including weight loss, bloating and diarrhea.  Diagnosis of celiac disease can be determined via a blood test that screens for tissue transglutaminase antibodies (tTG-IgA), although the most accurate test is a small intestine biopsy.  Celiac disease currently has no cure, but abiding by a gluten-free diet can help manage symptoms and promote intestinal healing for affected people.

Where things start to become gray is on the topic of gluten sensitivity.  Gluten sensitivity is a condition with symptoms similar to those of celiac disease that improve when gluten is eliminated from the diet.   Symptoms include: abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea and chronic fatigue.  A key difference, however, is that individuals with gluten sensitivity do not experience the same small intestinal damage or develop tissue transglutaminase (tTG) antibodies found in celiac disease.   Gluten sensitivity is not an immune or autoimmune disease, and the condition itself is not very well understood.  A diagnosis cannot be determined by a specific test, but rather is confirmed if your symptoms diminish after starting a gluten free diet, followed by a return of symptoms when gluten is reintroduced to your diet.

In the case of gluten sensitivity, if removing gluten from an individual's diet truly makes them feel better and eliminates their GI symptoms, then partaking in a gluten free diet is the best health option.  In many instances, however, individuals are going "gluten free" when they do not exhibit the symptoms of gluten intolerance or sensitivity, nor do they understand what gluten is, or the foods that contain it.  Some people avoid gluten because they think it is "bad" for them, but instead consume foods that contain an abundance of added chemicals, sugars and fat, as in the case with the "All But Gluten" pastries.  A product with the first ingredient 'sugar' followed by omega 6 vegetable oils and a host of preservatives and stabilizers is not a healthful food.  Consuming added preservatives and sugar will likely do more harm to your body than the gluten protein itself, especially if you don't need to avoid this protein for health reasons!

Celiac Disease & Gluten Sensitivity Sources:

Claire Allen is a second year registered dietitian graduate student at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  She has over ten years experience working in business, with expertise in client service and financial operations. Claire is currently in the process of changing career paths to pursue to her true interest: a career in nutrition and dietetics.  She is passionate about educating others about real food, health and nutrition.  Claire's experience in the business sector brings a unique skill set to the field of dietetics that she hopes to build upon as she transitions into her career as a registered dietitian.

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