What is the Gluten-Free craze all about?
by Ginger Snyder RD, CD
It's hard to go a day without hearing the phrase "Gluten Free." So what does this mean? Should you be eating a gluten-free diet?
Gluten is a protein found in grains such as wheat, barley, rye and triticale (a cross between wheat and rye). A gluten-free diet is essential to those with Celiac Disease, but recently, more and more people are choosing a gluten-free diet without any indication of medical need. There are claims that this diet is beneficial for those with autism, obesity, heart disease, digestive problems, and a whole host of other ailments. Others simply state that they "feel better" when not eating grains.
There are some real issues with grains today. In the 1950's scientists began cross-breeding wheat to make it hardier, shorter and better growing. Our wheat today is hybridized to have more gluten. This process has also caused novel proteins to develop which are not found in the parent or the plant. Some of these new proteins are more difficult for us to properly digest. This is theorized as the cause of an increase in people who appear to have gluten intolerance or sensitivity. Today's hybridized wheat also contains sodium azide, a known toxin.
Americans typically eat refined grains, which contribute to obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and more. All of the macro (fat, carbohydrate, protein) and micro (vitamins and minerals) nutrients found in grains can be found in other foods. It is difficult to replace all of these micronutrients, so people must be careful and selective about what foods are replacing grains in their diet or they will find that their diet is lacking in fiber, iron, folate, niacin, thiamin, calcium, vitamin B12, phosphorus and zinc. It is essential that wheat is replaced with healthy, naturally gluten-free grains. These include quinoa, buckwheat, millet, cornmeal, oats and rice. You should also balance the diet with lots of fruits and vegetables. Lean meats and low-fat dairy products are also good for a gluten-free diet.
Grains have a few good things going for them too. Grains are budget friendly and provide the base for a lot of our "comfort" foods. They are rich in B vitamins and magnesium which can be difficult to get from other sources. Some people need a higher carbohydrate diet than others. Carbohydrates are the most readily available form of energy for our body. Glucose is the only energy source the brain can metabolize. Grains can be a part of a healthy diet. Choosing whole grains that are high in fiber will give the body the most nutrient dense version of grain products.
Studies have not proven any link between a gluten free diet and weight loss. The link between Autism and gluten-free diets remains controversial with studies on both sides of the issue. Decreasing your intake of refined carbohydrates can lead to better control of blood sugars and decrease your risk for heart disease. It's important to use moderation and balance in choosing how to fuel your body. Each individual will find that their body is unique and can tolerate a different balance of nutrients. If you choose to eliminate all grains containing gluten from your diet, be sure to replace them with healthy, nutrient dense alternatives. Here is a good gluten-free recipe to try with your family.
Zesty Quinoa Salad
1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 limes, juiced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon red pepper
1-½ cups halved cherry tomatoes
1 (15 oz.) can black beans, drained and rinsed
5 green onions, finely chopped
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
1. Bring quinoa and water to a boil in a saucepan. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until quinoa is tender and water has been absorbed, 10 to 15 minutes. Set aside to cool.
2. Whisk olive oil, lime juice, cumin, 1 teaspoon salt, and red pepper flakes together in a bowl.
3. Combine quinoa, tomatoes, black beans, and green onions together in a bowl. Pour dressing over quinoa mixture; toss to coat. Stir in cilantro; season with salt and black pepper. Serve immediately or chill in refrigerator.