Monday, October 27, 2014

Everything you ever needed to know about gluten, in a nutshell

Sadly, there's a lot of misconceptions out there about gluten and gluten free diets. It seems we need a bit of education here. In a nutshell, everything you ever needed to know about gluten:

  1. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. 
  2. Gluten sensitivity is not the same thing as wheat allergy.
  3. Most people can safely eat gluten. 
  4. Contrary to popular belief, eating gluten free is a completely healthy way of eating. No one suffers from a gluten free diet (other than mentally craving Cinnabons.) This includes people who can safely eat it. This is according to the Mayo Clinic
  5. Consuming gluten (and even using gluten products on the skin) is a VERY real issue for some people. 
  6. People with Celiac disease cannot safely eat gluten. According to the Mayo Clinic, about 1 in 100 people have Celiac disease (many of whom are undiagnosed). For these people, gluten is very dangerous. If a Celiac continues to eat gluten, it can lead to lymphoma and/or colon cancer. The only treatment for Celiac disease is complete avoidance of any gluten. Even microscopic amounts can make a Celiac very ill. Cross contamination in kitchens is a very serious issue for these people, and many cannot eat out for this reason.
  7. There are people who do not have Celiac disease but do have varying levels of sensitivity to gluten and should avoid gluten in their diets. These people are said to have Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS). Their symptoms range widely and are not limited to gastrointestinal issues; in many cases, gastrointestinal symptoms do not present at all. The amounts of gluten their systems can tolerate also ranges widely. Avoidance of gluten has been clinically shown to improve their symptoms.
  8. There are recent medical studies linking gluten to many common health issues such as thyroid disease, ADHD, and autism. These studies are not conclusive and additional studies are needed. Anecdotal evidence does seem to indicate a connection in many cases, and some doctors are proceeding to prescribe gluten free diets for these people since there is no harm in a gluten free diet. 
  9. People do not lose weight by avoiding gluten in their diets. People lose weight by cutting out empty processed carbs and replacing with healthy whole foods. Simply substituting gluten-filled junk with gluten-free junk is not the answer.  Oh, and eating fewer calories and exercising helps...
  10. Products labeled as "gluten free" in supermarkets are not always 100% free of gluten. The FDA has set a gluten limit of less than 20 parts per million (ppm) for foods that carry the label “gluten-free,” “no gluten,” “free of gluten,” or “without gluten.”  Just another reason for Celiacs and gluten sensitive people to avoid processed foods.
For those who think avoidance of gluten is just a silly fad, please take the time to read these articles by the Mayo Clinic: 

Discussions of medical studies and advances in Celiac Disease:
And finally, when considering medical studies. it is really important to look at the sample size and statistical power used in the study. Here is a talk on this subject, which explains the proper use of statistics in experiments in order to get meaningful results. 

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