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Gluten-free foods: the healthiest for everyone?

21 Apr

A sign that says Gluten Free
Above: a sign that says “Gluten Free.”

Gluten-free foods are becoming increasingly popular around the college campus that I currently call home, reflecting, I believe, a similar trend at the national level. In fact, it is so popular that I begin to view it as the next fad food for very health conscious college students. We not only need to eat healthier desserts in the form of frozen treats called Tasti-D-Lites (it has become a phenomenon since it moved onto campus a few weeks ago; so many students can be spotted eating these frozen treats), but we now also need to eat the “healthiest” grains. However wheat, like frozen yogurts, no longer makes the top of the list anymore. In the search for the healthiest of everything, gluten-free foods and Tasti-D-Lites come out on top.

But do we really understand what a gluten-free diet means for health when we designated the newly installed gluten-free food section in our Great Hall cafeteria as our favorite place to find healthy food? Did we misunderstand the purpose of eating a gluten-free diet? These questions are addressed in a Health.com article titled “Will a gluten-free diet improve your health?”

The simple answer to the title question in Carina Storrs’ article mentioned above is: not really if you do not have celiac disease and you are not gluten-intolerant. In fact, eliminating gluten-containing foods might require you to supplement your diet with other foods and/or vitamin pills to complete a balanced and healthy diet. This is because gluten-free foods often lack iron and some important vitamins such as vitamin B and D, and because fortification of gluten-free foods is also not as common, people with a gluten-free diet need to find other sources of these essential nutrients. Furthermore, many currently available gluten-free foods are manufactured with excessive sugar and fat so they could mimic the taste and texture of food containing gluten, and therefore they could be very unhealthy.

Gluten is a protein found in some grains such as wheat, barley and rye. These grains are often made into bread, pasta, and numerous other grain-derived products. When consumed by people affected by celiac disease, gluten erodes their intestinal walls, leading to mal-absorption. So for these people, a gluten-free diet would definitely improve their health. Those who do not have celiac disease could also feel gastrointestinal discomfort upon gluten consumption if they are gluten intolerant or sensitive. Some symptoms include bloating, gas, diarrhea, and stomachache. For people who suffer from either celiac disease or gluten intolerance, completely forgoing every product made with gluten is the only treatment for their symptoms, therefore eating gluten-free food could benefit their health and well being.

Gluten-free food originated to provide more food options and to treat celiac disease and gluten-intolerance. However, today many health conscious people also eat gluten-free foods because they believe that a gluten-free diet is healthier. Unfortunately, for those not afflicted with either celiac disease or gluten-intolerance, gluten-free foods are not at all healthier than gluten-containing foods. Storrs put this fact clearly when she wrote:

“Even though celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Gwyneth Paltrow have reportedly cut out gluten to ‘detox,’ there’s nothing inherently healthier about a gluten-free diet.” – Carina Storrs

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Posted by on April 21, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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