Breaking Down the Gluten-Free Phenomenon

By Lauren Horton

With government data showing that approximately 68% of U.S. adults are considered overweight, fad diet crazes run rampant.  We’ve seen the complete elimination of  all carbohydrates with the Atkins Diet, eating balanced amount of proteins, fats and sugars with the Zone diet, and now the latest trend of the moment: the gluten-free diet.

Walk down any supermarket aisle and you are bound to see a section purely dedicated to gluten-free products.  Is this sudden emergence solely feeding into this latest diet frenzy, or is it a necessary food market?  Well, the truth is, it is both.  Although there is no proof that cutting gluten will shed pounds, there are people out there who will reap healthy benefits from living a gluten-free lifestyle.

What is gluten?

As defined by Wikipedia, gluten is, “a protein composite which appears in foods processed from wheat and related species including barley and rye” (2010).  In other words, gluten is a mixture of wheat-based proteins that is an active ingredient found in most dough based foods (breads, pastas, etc.) as well as most natural grains, excluding rice and corn.

Who benefits from eating gluten-free products?

People who have a gluten-intolerance, also known as Celiac Disease (CD), would benefit greatly from incorporating this type of diet.  CD is a digestive disorder that affects the small intestine in response to gluten consumption.  Symptoms that can occur when a person with CD consumes gluten are diarrhea, bloating, vomiting, and bone pain and muscle cramps.  CD is a hereditary disorder that can be misdiagnosed as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or Crohn’s Disease.  To be tested for this disorder, ask your physician to order a CD blood screening.  Do not begin a gluten-free diet prior to this test as it can increase the probability of misdiagnosis.

Others who would benefit from eliminating gluten from their diets are those with gluten-sensitivity (those who have digestive discomfort when they consume gluten-based products) and those with wheat allergies.

Is it safe for those who are not gluten-intolerant?

Although engaging in a gluten-free lifestyle will not guarantee weight loss, there is typically nothing wrong for the average consumer to embark on the gluten-free journey.  Some of those without the intolerance have disclosed that they feel more energetic and alert since they have begun this new diet.  However, you should always consult your physician before making any radical changes to your diet and exercise routines.