Not so long ago, relatively few people had ever heard of gluten. But the interest and enthusiasm surrounding the gluten-free food movement in recent years has been remarkable.
So, what is gluten?
Gluten (the term came from the Latin gluten meaning glue) is a group of proteins found only in a select few whole grains – wheat, rye, and barley; the rest are naturally gluten-free. These proteins give elasticity to dough helping it to rise and to keep its shape.
Gluten is a “storage” group of proteins, high-molecular-weight proteins commonly found in grass-related grains, such as wheat, barley, and rye. Gluten is a composite protein, composed of glutenin and prolamins. The natural role of these seed storage proteins is to nourish seeds during flowering and germination, thereby contributing to the successful reproduction of the species.
In our kitchen gluten is responsible for the ability of flour to form dough. Hence, gluten is an integral component of an incredible variety of wheat-containing foods, including breads, cereals, and pastas.
Generally, bread flours are high in gluten. More refining leads to chewier products such as pizza and bagels, while less refining yields tender baked goods such as pastry products.
In Europe, the average consumption of gluten is 10g to 20g per day. Modern industrial baking methods are likely linked to a rise in gluten-related disorders such as celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, gluten ataxia, and wheat allergy.
Gluten-free breads are dramatically different from regular breads
Now that you have the lowdown on what makes up your gluten-free loaf from the supermarket, it’s pretty apparent that gluten free bread is nutritionally vastly different from regular loaves.
A breakdown of ingredients in gluten-free bread
The ingredient list of commercial enriched whole grain gluten-free bread
- brown rice flour
- tapioca starch
- corn starch, flax seeds
- sunflower seeds
- buckwheat flour
- thiamine (vitamin b1)
- riboflavin (vitamin b2)
- dried egg-white
- citric acid
- soybean and/or canola oil
- chicory root inulin
- xanthan gum
- vegetable monoglycerides
- calcium propionate
- modified cellusose
- sorbic acid
- calcium carbonate
- calcium pantothenate
- calcium sulphate
- pyridoxine hydrochloride
- tricalcium phosphate
- may contain sesame seeds and soy
The ingredient list of commercial organic whole wheat bread
- organic whole wheat flour
- organic honey
- organic wheat bran
- organic sunflower oil
- wheat germ
- organic soy flour
Health Risks of Gluten-Free Breads
Whole grains, such as whole wheat bread, contain important nutrients. Avoiding foods that contain gluten can lead to deficiencies in essential nutrients, including iron, calcium, fiber, folate, thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin. In addition, many products that contain gluten are also fortified with vitamins. Moreover, many processed gluten-free products can be higher in fat, sugar, and calories than their gluten equivalents. This can lead to weight gain.
Following a gluten-free diet in the absence of celiac disease may be dangerous to your health.
A study published in The BMJ in 2017 concluded that a person who follows a gluten-free diet without having celiac disease has a higher risk of cardiovascular disease in the long term. This is because they will miss out on the heart-healthy benefits of whole grains.
NOTE: The BMJ (mostly referred to as the British Medical Journal) is one of the world’s top four most cited general medical journals.
It’s what experts say about going gluten free:
- Gaynor Bussell, a dietitian and spokesperson for the United Kingdom’s Association for Nutrition: “Gluten is only bad for health if you are a celiac.” Bussell believes that many people who follow the diet “have been duped by popular but poorly informed celebrities and media.”
- Lisa Cimperman, a clinical dietitian at the University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland, OH, and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: “Gluten is neither essential nor detrimental to one’s health or quality of diet.” Cimperman warns against assuming that “gluten-free” is healthful. “The reality is that gluten-free junk food or desserts are certainly no healthier than their gluten-containing counterparts,” she says.
- Robert H. Shmerling, MD, is the former clinical chief at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center now practicing in Boston, MA. He has over 37 years of experience in arthritis and autoimmune diseases than other specialists in his area. He graduated from Harvard Medical School medical school in 1983. “The dangers of gluten have probably been overstated – and oversold. Don’t be swayed by an elite athlete or movie star to restrict your diet when there’s no medical reason to do so.”
- Thomas M. Campbell, MD, is a medical director of the UR Medicine Weight Management & Lifestyle Center at Highland Hospital and a co-author “The China Study, The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and The Startling Implications for Diet, Weight-Loss, and Long-Term Health” says “If you haven’t been diagnosed with Celiac but decide to reduce or eliminate gluten from your diet, I would urge you to replace it with more plant-based foods and items that are not processed rather than foods manufactured to be gluten-free”.
So, if you are not celiac, think twice before turning to a gluten free diet.
Remember, don’t fix which ain’t broke!