Is Gluten Really Bad for You?

These days, it’s easy to find a multitude of gluten-free products by simply strolling down any grocery aisle. Stores are full of gluten-free bread, gluten-free beer, gluten-free brownie mixes, and much more. More people than ever choose to eat gluten-free diets, but is this way of eating really better for you? What’s the deal with gluten, anyway?

The word “gluten” means “glue” in Latin and is a name for a specific group of proteins found in wheat, rye, and barley. Gluten is stretchy, sticky, and elastic and acts as a thickening agent in food as well as products such as hair gel and toothpaste. Just as with non-human milk, some people’s digestive systems have trouble breaking down gluten. People who are truly sensitive to gluten have what is known as coeliac disease.

Coeliac disease is an incurable gluten intolerance. It causes an autoimmune response in the body that makes the body reject these proteins instead of absorbing them. Left untreated, coeliac disease can lead to inflammation, diarrhoea, bloating, ulcers, and nutritional deficiencies.

Unless you are one of the few people with a true gluten intolerance, gluten is not inherently bad for you. Many people today buy gluten-free products because they perceive them as healthier than other products, but most of these products contain the same amount of sugar, sodium, and saturated fat as their traditional counterparts. In addition, gluten-free products often contain refined ingredients such as white rice flour or potato starch that can have an unhealthy impact on your blood sugar and trigger cravings.

A gluten-free diet is likely to be deficient in iron, calcium, folate, zinc, and vitamin B12. It’s true that many people eat too many grains (especially refined wheat) and can benefit from a more balanced approach to eating that includes lots of vegetables, fruits, and lean protein. However, there’s no bulletproof justification for eschewing gluten altogether unless you have coeliac disease. The adage “all things in moderation” applies perfectly to your diet – don’t worry so much about any one specific thing and focus on a diet of whole, natural foods, and you’ll be doing yourself and your health a huge favour.

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