Given the astronomical rise in gluten-free everything up and down the entire food industry, let’s take a closer look at gluten.
What is Gluten?
Gluten is a natural protein found in many grains. It is a binder that holds food together and adds stretchiness. When you roll out dough and it keeps shrinking back in size, that’s the gluten at work. The higher the amount of gluten, the better it holds it shape. The lower the amount of gluten, the more delicate and crumbly your baked goods will be. Medium to high gluten levels require a leavening agent to help the mixture rise.
But whether or not it is good for you depends on you, the individual. For the overwhelming majority, gluten causes no serious side effects. This is good news because according to the Harvard University School of Public Health there are many health benefits attributed to gluten (wheat products), including significantly lower rates of heart disease and stroke, type 2 diabetes, and deaths from all causes.
Harvard USPH cites about one in a hundred (1%) of the population suffering from Celiac’s Disease /wheat allergies. For these unfortunate souls the side effects range from mild to serious - from the discomfort of constipation to intestinal damage. The good news for these people is that a gluten-free diet can totally reverse their side effects. There are many choices available for a gluten-free diet. Natural foods include fruits and vegetables, beans, seeds, legumes and nuts in their natural, unprocessed forms. Also eggs, non-processed meats, fish and poultry and most low-fat dairy products. Grains, starches or flours that can be part of a gluten-free diet include:
Corn — cornmeal, grits and polenta labeled gluten-free
Naturally gluten-free flours — rice, soy, corn, potato and bean flours and corn
Rice, including wild rice
Tapioca (cassava root)
And the range of prepared gluten-free products is mind boggling. Beyond the expected baking mixes and baked goods you can find everything from all kinds of chips and crisps to pasta sauces to dark chocolate fig truffles. The gluten-free market reached over $4 billion in sales in 2019 and will double by the end of the 2020s.
TIME TO DISPEL SOME COMMONLY HELD NOTIONS
Bearing this in mind, it is interesting to note that the highest percentage of gluten-free sales have been purchased by people who suffer no negative gluten reactions at all. And according to consumer surveys on gluten-free sales, these people’s top three reasons for buying gluten-free are:
- no reason
- a healthier option
- for digestive health
It is important to stress that if you suffer no negative gluten side effects, then none of the above reasons are valid or true.
In fact, by denying your diet of gluten, you are negatively impacting your health. Many studies have shown that groups with the highest intakes of whole grains including wheat (2-3 servings daily) were found to benefit (as mentioned above in that Harvard University study) from lower rates of heart disease and stroke, type 2 diabetes, and deaths from all causes.