There seems to be a new diet craze that somehow seems to affect more Americans in 2011 than it ever has before. Now, more than ever, people are going on gluten-free diets. No, it’s not another Hollywood celebrity diet or some young, hip phase kids are going through. The reason people are going gluten-free is because gluten, as a molecule, has never been that well understood until recently.
Gluten is a protein that’s found in wheat, rye, barley, and oats. It can be found in anything from bread, gravy, pizza, even beer (and yes, there are gluten-free beers).
While it’s true that gluten-free diets are healthier for some people, they’re not for everyone. Gluten-free diets are specifically designed for those who are either allergic to gluten or have an intolerance to it. What’s the difference?
An allergy is a histamine response. It causes white blood cells to attack certain molecules in the body and thus create those familiar allergy symptoms: hives, runny nose, difficulty breathing, nausea. That’s just a common response. Some allergic reactions can get so severe it causes people to go into anaphylactic shock, where the person stops breathing and goes into cardiac arrest.
An intolerance is the digestive system’s inability to digest and process certain foods or chemicals. Symptoms of intolerance are never as serious as allergic reactions can be, but they are quite painful and can lead to malnourishment. Constipation, gas, bloating, and fatigue are all symptoms of intolerance. Celiac Disease is also a type of gluten intolerance.
If you have been diagnosed by a licensed medical doctor as being allergic or intolerant to gluten, by all means stay away from anything you even suspect contains gluten. However, if you “think” you may be allergic or intolerant to gluten and decide to go on a gluten-free diet, please consult a physician first.
Going on a gluten-free diet can be a nice way to lose weight because it eliminates foods that contain a lot of fat and carbohydrates. But be careful. Mismanaged gluten-free diets can have severe consequences. Dieters can suffer from a number of vitamin deficiencies such as iron, calcium, fiber, thiamin, folate, and more. This can cause liver, kidney, even brain damage.
A nice balance would be to have one gluten-free meal per day. There are tons of great recipes and dishes designed around those who can’t or simply choose not to consume gluten products.
But remember, only go on a diet if you need to lose weight or unless instructed to go on a specific diet by your physician.
Personally, I’ve never tried a gluten-free diet before, mostly because I’m a broke college student. My diet consists of cereal for breakfast and ramen noodles for dinner.