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Is Going Gluten-Free Wise?
We've all seen the ads for "gluten-free" products, and we've read article after article on how gluten can be dangerous for your health. But what the heck is gluten, and how is it dangerous for you? Is it really necessary to go for gluten-free products, or is that just more hype used to sell costlier "gluten-free" foodstuffs?
Gluten is actually a protein, and it's found in barley, wheat, and rye. Gluten is what makes our food so delicious, as it's the starch that holds our pizza together, makes bread a bit spongy and soft when we bite into it, and makes that stew so thick and rich. For the average person, gluten isn't really all that bad. However, for those with celiac disease - a digestive problem similar to IBS - it can be one of the worst things in the world.
The reason for this is that your immune system treats it as an invader - attacking it the way it attacks viruses and bacteria. Even a crumb of gluten in your body will cause your immune system to pounce, and they'll attack the invading particle to get rid of it. The problem is, that gluten is in your small intestines, along with all of the other food you've eaten. When the immune system attacks, it ends up causing collateral damage to your intestines. The result: digestive problems and a deficiency of nutrients. This celiac disease is believed to affect 1 in 10,000 people - possibly 1 in 133 Americans.
Non-celiac sensitivity is another form of gluten intolerance, but it's like more like lactose intolerance than anything else. It just doesn't sit well in your intestines and stomach, and the result is bloating, gas, diarrhea, and stomach cramps. It is believed to affect upwards of 20 million Americans.
Overdosing on Gluten-Free Products
Now, when you see hundreds of products that are made without gluten, the reality is that the health community is just a bit paranoid. If the average health nut reads an article saying that gluten is bad, well then, by Jove, gluten is bad. Let's go out and buy all of the gluten-free products around just so we can avoid having digestive problems!
That's just a load of nonsense, as most people aren't allergic or sensitive to gluten. If you can eat a slice of pizza or a sandwich without having any stomach or intestinal problems, it means you're probably not sensitive to gluten or gluten-intolerant.
The truth is that only those with gluten intolerances should actually take steps to go gluten-free. Just like the lactose-intolerant should avoid lactose, avoiding gluten will help to avoid health issues that could harm your body in the long run. You want to prevent your immune system from attacking itself, so stay away from gluten if you are sensitive.
(Handy Self Test: Not sure if you're intolerant? Eat a piece of regular bread, and nothing else. If your stomach has problems, you're sensitive to gluten. If not, you've got nothing to worry about!)
Did you know that gluten-free products can actually be worse for your health if you're not gluten-intolerant? Gluten is what binds your bread, crackers, cookies, and pizzas together, so removing it from your food forces the manufacturers of gluten-free products to look for the binding agents elsewhere. They end up using a lot more sugar and fat to hold your foods together, meaning more calories. Those trying to lose weight the healthy way aren't going to get any slimmer just by eating gluten-free.
In fact, the vitamins that you get from regular foods will often be missing from gluten-free foods. You may end up doing your body a disservice, and all because you fell for the marketing hype of "gluten-free eating". Unless you're intolerant or sensitive to gluten, it's not worth your concern.