Going gluten free without reason


Grace Vance

Hy-vee accommodates shoppers with gluten free foods in health market. Photo by Grace Vance
Hy-vee accommodates shoppers with gluten free foods in health market. Photo by Grace Vance
[dropcap style=”simple”]  A[/dropcap]s the rise of people going gluten free increases, it is hard to tell if it is because of a growing amount of people diagnosed with celiac disease or consumers jumping on the bandwagon of the trendy gluten free diet.
According to market research from Mintel, out of the people who make up the $4.2 billion market for gluten free foods, it is estimated that more than half don’t have celiac disease and do not need gluten free foods. Instead, those people purchase gluten free products because they mistakenly believe they are sensitive to gluten, seem to feel better when eating it, or think it will help them achieve weight loss goals.
According to Mayo Clinic, celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that, when gluten is eaten, causes the immune system to attack the villi that line the small intestine. Because villi increase the intestine’s surface area, they aid the body in absorbing nutrients. This reaction to gluten can cause other serious medical problems if not diagnosed. The common protein, gluten, is found in many wheat based foods, like bread, pasta and some cereals. But it is not specifically contained in only wheat, it is also in rye, barley and various grain crossbreeds like triticale.
Companies also place it as a filler in many processed foods. Gluten refers to wheat endosperm, a type of tissue in seeds that is ground to make flour. It helps create the elasticity of dough, and affects the chewiness of baked wheat products. Gluten is made of two different proteins, gliadin and glutenin.
Out of the 1.8 million Americans that have celiac disease, about 1.4 million people are aware they have the condition according to Mayo Clinic. Furthermore, an estimated 1.6 million people in the U.S. are on the gluten free diet regardless of whether they have been diagnosed with celiac disease.
According to a survey from the NPD Group, 30 percent of adults are interested in removing or avoiding gluten in their diets. Could this be due to people having the illusion that cutting gluten from their diet will help them the same way it does for someone with celiac? Before the growing popularity of the diet, gluten free packaged products were only relegated to health food stores. Now people can find everything from gluten free pancake mix to crackers in most mainstream grocery stores. Maybe the fact that gluten free products could be found in health food stores only was what made people perceive it was healthier for everyone. Even though it is good that gluten free packaged foods are more widely available, there is still a way to eat unhealthy on the “gf” diet, as someone could any other diet. Rather than consuming only pre-packaged and processed foods, is better to eat foods that are naturally gluten free such as brown rice, amaranth, buckwheat, and quinoa.
Since so many foods now come in gluten free versions, it might be easy to mistake them as a healthier alternative. The average person without celiac disease will not get any additional health benefits from gluten free foods, according to jillianmichaels.com. Gluten is found in many whole grain foods that have vitamins, minerals, and fiber which are all an essential part of a healthy diet. The right balance of healthy carbohydrates, such as whole grain products, is the best way to avoid diabetes and control blood sugar levels. Cutting gluten out of a diet without real reason behind it means you would be losing all the nutritional benefits found in food with gluten. These products labeled “gf” might even be less healthy, and pricier in comparison to products containing gluten. When comparing the costs of 56 ordinary grocery items, a Canadian study found that on average, the gluten free products were 242 percent more expensive than items with gluten.
Some people simply want to lose weight and think a gluten free diet will help them. Weight loss is one of the symptoms of celiac disease, according to WebMD, along with digestive problems, seizures, iron deficiency anemia, joint or bone pain, and diarrhea. The way doctors diagnose celiac disease is through testing the patient’s blood for gluten antibodies, according to an article from Mayo Clinic. The only known treatment for celiac is a completely gluten free diet once someone has a diagnosis. One myth about a gluten free diet, according to abcnews.com, is that it will help someone slim down.
Gluten is not what makes people fat; calories are, and if you consume more calories than you use in a day, the left over will be stored as fat. Certain gluten free foods have added sugar and calories to make them more appetizing to make up for the absence of gluten. Also, some gluten free breads can have 30 more calories than bread containing gluten. If those who need to go gluten free read nutrition labels carefully though, it can help them make better food choices and eventually lose weight.
The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness states about 18 million Americans have non celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) This is six times the amount of Americans who have celiac disease. NCGS is when a body produces an abnormal immune response when it breaks down gluten, according to livescience.com. People with this condition also suffer from symptoms similar to those of celiac disease, like fatigue, joint pain, and diarrhea, but do not appear to have damaged intestines. But unlike celiac disease, mild to moderate gluten sensitivity might not show up in blood tests, leaving people wondering if they are gluten sensitive or not, according to mylifestages.org.  In the case of a gluten intolerance, doctors will usually recommend a gluten free diet, but instead of getting a proper diagnosis, many of these people have self-diagnosed themselves as gluten sensitive, and have gone “gf” by choice.
Although going gluten free is a waste of money and a loss of nutrition for the majority of the population, the popularity of the diet has also helped those with celiac disease. Before the booming trend of the diet, it was impossible to find gluten free foods at any common grocery store. Now, as consumers demand more “gf” products, the more the market produces to meet that demand. Since then, there is a wider variety, and more availability of gluten free foods people can choose from.
With the cause still unknown, celiac disease affects about one in 100 people, according to Mayo Clinic. During the Green Revolution in the 1950’s and 60s, breeders introduced new varieties of wheat that increased farmer’s grain yields, according to theglutenminded.com.  Agronomist Norman Borlaug started the development of the dwarf wheat, which grew a higher-yield variety of wheat, and produced more grain on less land. During this time, new farming technologies were getting produced such as the expansion of irrigation infrastructure and synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Although this revolution of increased food supply helped over a billion people from starvation, the genetic changes made in wheat may have contributed to the increase of gluten intolerance and celiac disease. Also, higher-yield varieties contain less zinc, magnesium, copper, iron and selenium than ancient wheat, which results in modern wheat being less nutritious.
Through the majority of cultivating grains in the past, people soaked, sprouted, and fermented fresh whole grains prior to cooking, according to theglutenminded.com. This process breaks down some of the gluten, resulting in a food easier to digest. Today, people consume mostly refined flours that have been prepared using quick-rise yeasts, which leads to people eating a stronger amount of gluten than before. An article from npr.org states that of the varieties of wheat that came from the Green Revolution, 90 percent now make up all the wheat farmers grow globally. According to mylifestages.org, American wheat grain has been altered to make crops that are more drought resistant, robust, and made to bake easier and look more appetizing. With these changes made to wheat crop, our bodies might not have adapted yet. Furthermore, the American people are consuming more wheat than before.
Many of the problems related to the gluten free diet is caused by people not being educated about celiac disease. If people knew that the diet could not yield the same results for the average person as it does someone with celiac, then maybe people might not turn to the diet as a way to get healthier. Health officials need to advise the public about what celiac disease is, and how it is treated, and why the gluten free diet was originally targeted only for people with the disease.
If people use the gluten free diet as a fad diet to get healthier or lose weight without knowing what their body can and cannot truly ingest, then people could be doing the opposite of their intentions and end up damaging their bodies. Those on a fad diet should stop purchasing gluten free foods, as it is only leading them into a nutrient deficient diet that is unhealthy and unbalanced.
 By Grace Vance
Should people without celiac disease follow the gluten free diet?