The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
Undoubtedly you've heard someone in your circle of friends and acquaintances announce that they are now "gluten-free." Sometimes they'll claim they have an "intolerance" for gluten. Others will vaguely insist they feel better when they swear off the gluten and say that their health has improved since they've done so.
Photo credit: Shutterstock
There's no question that the gluten-free trend is growing. In last five years, sales of gluten-free products have increased 34 percent annually, heading for $1 billion in annual sales. Many more gluten-free options have popped up in the supermarket and menus in health-minded restaurant increasingly list gluten-free choices along with vegetarian and vegan ones.
So what is gluten and is it really something to be avoided as much as possible like high-fructose corn syrup or the mysterious "flavor" additive found in too many foods?
First of all, it's not some added or artificial compound. Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, barley and rye. You've probably heard of Celiac disease, which is not a wheat allergy, nor is it a gluten allergy. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder triggered by eating gluten.
The idea that there is widespread "gluten intolerance" occurring in people without celiac disease has been called into question. It may exist but the degree to which it does is unclear, as is the value for the general population of going gluten-free. Dr. Joseph Murray of the Mayo Clinic thinks many who have a bad reaction to foods containing gluten may actually have an undiagnosed form of celiac disease.
“There are a lot of people on a gluten-free diet, and it’s not clear what the medical need for that is,” says Murray. "It is important if someone thinks they might have celiac disease that they be tested first before they go on the diet.”
As with any diet, gluten-free has been shopped around as a health and weight-loss panacea in bestselling books, creating the perception that avoiding gluten is somehow a more virtuous way of eating.
Much of what these books promote is dubious. Simply removing gluten from your diet is unlikely to result in weight loss without changing other dietary habits and getting more exercise. There's nothing preventing a gluten-free product from being high in sugar, salt and fats although certainly not all are.
In addition, a gluten-free diet can easily become deficient in fiber as well as the vitamins and minerals commonly found in wheat-based food. Some gluten-free foods are fortified to make up for this, and there are specific foods, such as quinoa, millet and amaranth, that can be eaten to provide these nutrients. But that requires gluten-free eaters to take the additional step of seeking those out and making sure they are included in their diet.
Gluten is also really hard to avoid. While some sources like bread are obvious, others are not. It's widely used as a thickener in products like salad dressings, sauces, soups and gravies. And, since malt contains gluten, all your favorite beers will be forbidden, and you'll have to to track down that special gluten-free beer. Is it really worth it?
Most experts say no. While there may be a small population without celiac disease that has a gluten insensitivity, it's likely that most of your friends who are boring guests at parties with talk of their newfound gluten-free health are making it up, having convinced themselves that jumping through unnecessary dietary hoops has somehow been beneficial.
There is one upside though. The huge increase in the number of gluten-free products available has made life much easier for those with celiac disease. So even if your gluten-free diet is nothing but an affectation—and it probably is—they have reason to be grateful.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
‘Companies Should Not Be Allowed to Use Hazardous Ingredients in Products People Use’: Michelle Pfeiffer Speaks Up for Safer Cosmetics
The beauty products we put on our skin can have important consequences for our health. Just this March, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned that some Claire's cosmetics had tested positive for asbestos. But the FDA could only issue a warning, not a recall, because current law does not empower the agency to do so.
Michelle Pfeiffer wants to change that.
The actress and Environmental Working Group (EWG) board member was spotted on Capitol Hill Thursday lobbying lawmakers on behalf of a bill that would increase oversight of the cosmetics industry, The Washington Post reported.
By Julia Conley
Scientists at the United Nations' intergovernmental body focusing on biodiversity sounded alarms earlier this month with its report on the looming potential extinction of one million species — but few heard their calls, according to a German newspaper report.
The climate crisis is a major concern for American voters with nearly 40 percent reporting the issue will help determine how they cast their ballots in the upcoming 2020 presidential election, according to a report compiled by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.
Of more than 1,000 registered voters surveyed on global warming, climate and energy policies, as well as personal and collective action, 38 percent said that a candidate's position on climate change is "very important" when it comes to determining who will win their vote. Overall, democratic candidates are under more pressure to provide green solutions as part of their campaign promises with 64 percent of Democrat voters saying they prioritize the issue compared with just 34 percent of Independents and 12 percent of Republicans.
President Donald Trump has agreed to sign a $19.1 billion disaster relief bill that will help Americans still recovering from the flooding, hurricanes and wildfires that have devastated parts of the country in the past two years. Senate Republicans said they struck a deal with the president to approve the measure, despite the fact that it did not include the funding he wanted for the U.S.-Mexican border, CNN reported.
"The U.S. Senate has just approved a 19 Billion Dollar Disaster Relief Bill, with my total approval. Great!" the president tweeted Thursday.
"There was a lot of devastation throughout the state," Governor Mike Parson said at a Thursday morning press conference, as NPR reported. "We were very fortunate last night that we didn't have more injuries than what we had, and we didn't have more fatalities across the state. But three is too many."