What’s the deal with Gluten?

If there was ever a time when people were consumed with ideas about nutrition, now is that time.  People are so concerned with their nutrition that the information overload has become quite intense in the internet age. I’ve seen more confusion the older I get. A topic that has become increasingly intriguing to me recently is the current obsession with gluten.

I decided to dig a little deeper and to interview expert Anthony Paradis (Tennessee Tech University) who is a registered dietitian  to get more insight into what gluten is and why there are misconceptions about  what it is, why it’s such a hot topic in our nutrition-obsessed culture, and whether I should be getting the white sauce when I order pork fried rice or not.

Q: What is Gluten?

Anthony: Gluten is a structural protein found in grain products. It helps to give a good texture to baked or cooked grain products. It can be found in BROW foods: barley, rye, oats, and wheat.

Q: What is the purpose of gluten?

Anthony: Plants use the protein for structure and metabolic purposes. In a culinary sense, it adds to the desired texture of a product.

Q: How useful has gluten been?

Anthony: It contributes to texture. Just try a piece of gluten free bread vs the real stuff and you’ll experience the difference.

Q:   Is it reasonable to use gluten?

Anthony: Yes.

Q: Why do you think gluten has such a negative reputation?

Anthony: It’s a symptom of a bigger problem. People want to point at 1 thing in the diet and demonize it rather than look at lifestyle changes which are hard and often complicated. About 1% of the population has celiac disease which means they have very adverse reactions to gluten. For the rest of people who “kinda feel better when they cut out the glutens” probably are experiencing a placebo effect or a reduction in high FODMAP (fermentable oligo, di, monosaccharides and polyols) foods, or just don’t as much empty calorie shit food when they eliminated gluten.

Q: What do you think is most important that people keep in mind in regards to what gluten is?

Anthony: If you don’t have celiac disease, you probably need to look at your lifestyle if you feel your health is lacking because of a dietary component. Trial a low FODMAP diet and see if that helps. Or try an elimination diet with blind testing reintroductions of certain foods (example after an elimination trial, have your friend or spouse give you a food product with a gluten product mixed in, or a placebo in it. Don’t let them tell you which one is which).

Q: Do you think the potential negative effects of gluten have been overstated at any point and how so?

Anthony: Yes, as stated above. Most people don’t have celiac disease.

Q: What information or skepticism that has stemmed from the gluten hysteria do you think is most useful?

Anthony: Skepticism is always useful. Start off any endeavor by doubting and then finding objective and scientific evidence to build up a truth.

Q: Has anything positive come from all of this gluten free trending?

Anthony: Yes, people with celiac disease now can enjoy many more gluten free products on the shelves.

Gluten free diets can often be less healthy and more expensive!

To conclude -I have found a new appreciation for gluten intolerance and what celiac disease really is. About a year ago I was talking with a long term client about her symptoms and when they arose, and she mentioned that she had felt good after eating a certain brand of gluten-free chips.  It occurred to me that she probably had something like a gluten intolerance or celiac disease, so I brought it to her attention. I advised her she should go get it checked out by her doctor to make sure she knew what was going on, and told her she may want to consider some type of re-introduction method after talking to a dietitian if they agreed with that idea.

Dealing with a situation that can affect the immune system the way that celiac disease does can really cause chaos in people’s lives and I realize this more now than ever after seeing how careful people have to be when choosing what they eat, where they order it from, and how their food is made. I do think a lot of people are often quick to assume that they’re suffering from something they don’t fully understand. I’ve seen this commonly over the years, people with a number of reasons to apply a number of conditions to themselves without any formal diagnosis or understanding of the fundamental science of what they’re even speculating.

I hope  this can help some people in some way to understand what gluten is and what it isn’t. I know I have learned some news things in this interview and I see it as a useful resource I can build off of. Until next time, keep on learning as much as possible and remain honest in your research!