Gluten has been a popular buzzword for the past few years. While some skeptics view this gluten-free movement as a fad, it is anything but for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. But, even for those of us who do not have an intolerance for gluten, there are benefits to eating less of it. Just be careful when eliminating it from your diet entirely, if you don’t have to do so. We’ll explain.
What is gluten?
You know that chewy elasticity you feel when biting into a nice, warm piece of bread? Yep, you guessed it: gluten. Gluten is a protein that is typically found in grains like rye, barley, and wheat. It is also an essential ingredient in most baked goods and pizza dough. As you can imagine, the proliferation of this ingredient makes it difficult to avoid as it can appear in the most unexpected of places. Some are more obvious, like pastas and most breakfast foods. It can also be found in soy sauce, processed and pre-seasoned meats, meat substitutes, cheesecake filling, and salad dressings. Oh, the humanity! (Get the full list at celiac.org.)
Celiac disease and gluten intolerance
Allergy or not, gluten is the one food protein that is completely indigestible by the human body. The lining of the small intestine helps the body absorb nutrients from food and in healthy people this process goes off without a hitch. For people with a gluten disease or allergy, these indestructible gluten molecules irritate the lining of the small intestine and even activate the immune system to attack the feelers that line the small intestine, called villi. Over time, continued gluten intake can cause some serious, painful damage to the small intestine. According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, eating gluten causes those with celiac disease to become malnourished over time due to the body’s inability to absorb nutrients properly. For those with gluten intolerance and sensitivity, the effects occur in varying degrees, but eating gluten is still not a pleasurable experience like it is for the rest of us.
Benefits to being gluten-free (even when you don’t have to be)
Gluten can be found in a lot of processed foods, which are notorious for their lack of nutritional value. With added calories, carbohydrates, and preservatives, processed foods promote fat storage, spikes in glucose and cholesterol, and lower energy levels. By reducing the amount of gluten in your diet, you can replace those foods that are laden with empty calories and opt for healthier choices. It should be noted here that replacing gluten-filled foods with products labeled as gluten-free isn’t necessarily healthier for you either. Many gluten-free food items are higher in calories, fat, and carbohydrates, which lead to weight gain. The most ideal option for your body is to reduce gluten while adding wholesome, unprocessed foods to your diet. Methods like clean eating, which we discuss in our blog The Benefits of Eating Clean, pack your diet with a maximum number of vitamins and minerals, not to mention fuel for your body! So, skip that breakfast muffin and lunch time slice of pizza. You didn’t need it anyway. Check out our Eat This posts for easy, wholesome suggestions to add to your diet.