What is a Gluten-Free Diet and Why Does it Matter?

By now, you’ve probably heard of the gluten-free craze: gluten-free chips; gluten-free soups; gluten-free cakes; gluten-free breads; gluten-free beer; gluten-free pastas. There’s even such a thing as gluten-free dog food. But not everyone really knows what it means and why it’s important.

Before we get started, we’ve made a list of some important terms related to the gluten-free discussion:

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye that is “created when two molecules, glutenin and gliadin, come into contact to and form a bond” (source). It acts as a sort of glue, helping foods to hold their shape. Gluten has been part of the human diet for at least 10,000 years (source), but has recently been blamed for causing such problems as arthritis, asthma, multiple sclerosis, and schizophrenia.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that affects around one percent of the population. “In celiac disease, gluten triggers an immune response that attacks the lining of the small intestine. This means the body is unable to effectively absorb nutrients into the bloodstream, which can lead to anemia, delayed growth, and weight loss” (source). Complications from celiac disease can also give way to conditions such as osteoporosis, infertility, neurological ailments, stomach pain, fatigue, weight loss, and skin rashes. There are no medications or surgeries to cure this disease, and the only way to avoid the complications is to follow a life-long, gluten-free diet.

Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS) is a condition that is not as serious as celiac disease, but occurs when a person is sensitive to gluten. There is some controversy surrounding NCGS as a result of the fact that there are non blood tests, biopsies, genetic markers, or antibodies that can confirm is presence (source). In fact, it is rarely diagnosed by doctors, and many people don’t believe that it actually exists. Reported symptoms of NCGS include bloating and gas, diarrhea, fatigue, headache, and skin rash.

It is estimated that anywhere from 18 million to 20 million Americans have some form of gluten intolerance or sensitivity to gluten, and about one-third of American adults are attempting to eliminate gluten from their diets (source). People who avoid gluten must avoid the following products, or eat the gluten-free version of these products:

  • bread
  • beer
  • certain candies
  • cereals
  • cakes and pies
  • french fries
  • pastas
  • processed meats/soups
There are also several foods that are naturally gluten-free, including:
  • fruits and vegetables
  • fresh eggs and meats
  • fresh fish and poultry
  • unprocessed beans
  • seeds and nuts
  • the majority of dairy products
  • many grains (those with celiac disease need to be careful about consuming grains since they may have been mixed or have come into contact with products that contain)
The main questions surrounding the extreme increase in celiac disease and NCGS is how it came about. Because it is a relatively recent medical development, there is limited evidence that suggests, outside of celiac disease, that gluten is bad for our health (source). In order to get a more clear picture of why celiac disease has increased more than fourfold in the last 60 years (source), we will likely need to wait until more long-term studies emerge. The fact that studies have shown that the increase has affected young and old people equally suggests that the cause is environmental. 
The following list provides several common arguments as to why increased instances of celiac disease and NCGS has become more common. However, it is important to note that many of the main theories also have refuting evidence.
Wheat genes have significantly changed over time. Some scientists argue that the chemical makeup of the wheat gene is much different than it was even 50 years ago. This could account for the fact that certain people report experiencing distress after eating products that contain gluten. On the contrary, several studies suggest that the contents of wheat have not changed that much from a chemical standpoint (source).
Human genes have not evolved to consume a modern Western diet. A Western diet is typically defined as being loaded with refined, high-calorie carbohydrates. Our bodies have a hard time digesting these over-processed food products, which can lead to increased blood sugar. Gluten is one of the proteins found in these carbohydrates.
Most of the wheat we eat today is milled into white flour. White flour contains a lot of gluten but not very many vitamins or nutrients. A high consumption rate of white flour can lead to increases in blood sugar, that can in turn lead to diabetes and other chronic diseases (source).
The amount of gluten added to industrially-made bread has significantly increased over time. This could provide a partial explanation as to why there are more instances of gluten intolerance and celiac disease.
Whatever the true cause is, most doctors and food industry executives agree that following a gluten-free diet is best for those who have a medical need to do so (source).
Advantages to the gluten-free diet.

Aside from those with celiac disease, who must avoid eating gluten altogether, those who have chosen a gluten-free diet have reported several benefits, including:
  • weight loss
  • increased energy
  • reduced consumption of refined carbs, bread, beer, and other high-calorie foods
Problems with and drawbacks to the gluten-free diet.

Those who follow a gluten-free diet who do not have a medical need to do so may be at risk for under-nutrition. This is because a gluten-free diet often lacks the necessary nutrients to maintain a healthy and balanced diet. Additionally, many of the gluten-free substitutes for common goods are actually just junk food, and contain fewer vitamins, less fiber, more sugar, and more highly refined carbohydrates (like rice starch, corn starch, tapioca starch, and potato starch). This means that the a gluten-free diet could actually lead to poor digestion and weight gain. In certain instances, it can also reduce the amount of beneficial bacteria found in the stomach (source). Furthermore, some nutritionists argue that the gluten-free diet “has been made famous by celebrities who have little to no health or nutrition credentials” (source).
That being said, we feel that you should trust your body and your instincts and do what you feel is right for you.

Whatever your reasons are for eliminating gluten from your diet, we’ve got you covered. Although we’re not a gluten-free facility, we’ve labeled the items on our menus that are gluten-free. We are also willing to work with our clients to make or procure other gluten-free products. We encourage you to contact us if you would like to discuss gluten-free options for your next event.

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