By Dr. Scott Colasanti
Wheat is getting a lot of bad press these days, and perhaps for good reason. There is a gluten free craze spurred by tabloids of celebrities losing weight after going on gluten free diets. It is hard to find a store these days that doesn’t have a gluten-free section in it. Many people make the assumption that gluten is bad stuff without really even knowing what it is.
So here’s the scoop.
Gluten is a protein derived from wheat and some other grains like barley and rye. One of the unique properties of gluten is its elastic-like properties. This is what makes dough ‘doughy’. Think of the pizza maker tossing the dough up into the air. Imagine tearing off a piece of a fresh cinnamon bun and how the dough stretches. This would not be possible without gluten.
So what is so bad about it?
For a rare few with Celiac disease, a component of gluten attacks the lining of the small intestine wreaking all kinds of havoc on the body. More commonly, many people may be sensitive or intolerant to gluten, and this can create all kinds of health concerns ranging from gastrointestinal problems to psoriasis.
There are several theories as to these reactions to gluten. There are those that feel that grain has only been in our diets for a short period of time historically. Our Palaeolithic ancestors were hunter-gatherers and grains were not part of the diet therefore we (modern man) have not had enough time to evolve in order to develop a tolerance. This theory however is quite controversial and there are staunch advocates and critics out there.
Another theory is that grains have been so genetically manipulated, particularly since the last half of the 20th century, that it barely resembles the ancient grain that it came from. These modifications have been implemented to make wheat more resistant to drought and pests and other harmful farming conditions, and increased yields.
This ‘Frankenstein-wheat’, while it looks good on the outside may have serious health implications as we may not yet know enough about the modifications and how it can negatively impact our health. It may be that these negative repercussions are becoming more noticed lately, thus creating a Gluten-free industry.
There may be truth to these theories, and gluten may be bad for some, but it is not necessarily bad for all. If someone is having severe symptoms, this may require a blood test to rule out Celiac disease. If you are not sure, an easy way to find out is to do an ‘elimination diet’. In other words, don’t eat anything with gluten in it for about 3 weeks and monitor how this change makes you feel. If you re-introduce it after this time period and it makes you feel sick, then chances are that you have a problem with gluten.
Because of its unique properties, gluten makes its way into many foods. The good news is that when you avoid gluten, you are likely avoiding many processed foods, and that alone will make you feel better.