New food trends are constantly popping up on social media and online magazines. One food trend that persists is gluten-free options. In fact, 1 in 5 Americans include gluten-free choices in their diet, but what even is gluten?
Gluten is a protein that forms when wheat flour mixes with water. It contains two important proteins for baking, called gliadin and glutenin. These provide structure and stretchiness to doughs and batters. Gluten can also be found in barley and rhye.
Why do people avoid it?
Gluten has a bad reputation causing many Americans to opt for gluten-free foods. While some people avoid it out of fear, others follow a gluten-free diet due to health conditions. The main condition is Celiac Disease.
In Celiac disease, the gliadin in gluten causes an inflammatory response. This can lead to a variety of nutrient deficiencies, including vitamin A, calcium, and iron. It also causes symptoms such as bloating, cramping, an itchy rash, fatigue, and many more.
Celiac disease affects 1% of the population, and another form of gluten sensitivity impacts 6%. This condition is called non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS). And, it's another reason someone might avoid gluten-containing foods. While NCGS isn’t well understood, the symptoms are similar to those found with Celiac disease.
If you believe you may have celiac disease or NCGS, please see a dietitian for more information.
Should you eat gluten?
Avoiding gluten is vital to those with Celiac disease and NCGS, but what about the rest of us?
Research found that gluten-free breads has less protein and twice as much fat as standard bread. They also have more saturated fat, which may have a negative impact on cardiovascular health.
Other research explored the nutrition of those avoiding gluten. These studies showed lower intakes of important nutrients in a gluten-free diet. These nutrients include the following: energy, carbs, vitamin B12, vitamin D, sodium, calcium, folate, iron, and vitamin e.
This indicates that a gluten-free diet could lead to many nutrient deficiencies. And, it may not be as healthy as we thought it was.