7.11.2011

The Dish on Gluten

I’ve recently become really intrigued by the concept of gluten-free foods. What is it? What foods are and are not gluten free? What are the health benefits? Should you consider going gluten free?

First, let’s establish exactly what gluten is. Gluten is a protein found in wheat that gives elasticity to dough, establishes a chewy texture, and helps dough to rise and maintain its shape.

The main reason people choose to go gluten free is because they have been diagnosed with celiac disease, characterized by an intolerance to the gluten in wheat, barley, and rye. Those with celiac disease experience intestinal trouble and malnutrition because their body sees gluten as an invader (much like our bodies view milk as an invader!) and rejects it instead of absorbing it as nutrients. It can develop at any age and lasts for a lifetime, commonly beginning after major emotional events such as surgery, infections, or pregnancy. 

Approximately 1% of Americans (or about 3 million people) have celiac disease, but only 10% have been diagnosed.

So, what foods contain gluten?

Well, there are the usual suspects: bagels, beer, bread, pasta, pizza, cookies, cakes, crackers, and pretzels. However, after doing some research, I was shocked to discover that pickles, Twizzlers, hot dogs, pudding, blue cheese, curry powder, soy sauce, and some chocolates also contain gluten! Who would have thought?
It can be a bit difficult when shopping or dining out to find foods that are both vegan and gluten free. 

However, the combination is on the rise and there are some great products out there to purchase. Bob’s Red Mill and 1-2-3 Gluten Free both make great mixes that meet the needs of vegans and gluten-intolerant folks alike. Babycakes NYC, a bakery owned by Erin McKenna, is also vegan and gluten free and is becoming quite popular. Erin has been featured on the Martha Stewart Living Show and even opened a Babycakes location in Walt Disney World.
I really want to try this!

If you are looking for recipes, check out http://xgfx.org/, a newly opened site that only features recipes that are both vegan and gluten free.

Should you go gluten free if you are not intolerant to wheat? To show the benefits of going gluten free, I have compiled a list, seen below:
- wheat is a pro-inflammatory agent (wheat rapidly converts to sugar, which causes your body’s insulin levels to rise and therefore inflames your blood cells)
- most humans don’t digest wheat fully (undigested wheat ferments in your body and causes gas)
- refined wheat has little nutritional value
- gluten can decrease a woman’s ability to ovulate and is linked to a decrease in fertility
- grains make you crave sugar because they break down into sugar
- avoiding gluten can improve mental health (and decrease the symptoms of schizophrenia, depression, and autism) and energy levels
- a diet low in gluten is also low in carbohydrates (anyone dieting? This can be a good thing!)
- you’ll eat fewer junk foods because gluten free convenience foods cost more ($4 for six cookies makes you think again before eating the entire box)
Quinoa is a delicious gluten free nutritional powerhouse!

It was a lot harder for me to find negatives for eating a gluten free diet, but what I did find, you can see in the list below:
- Gluten free food can be expensive. (But so can vegan foods, which we should be used to be now, right?)
- GF foods can be hard to find.
- It can be hard to eat out at restaurants without badgering the waiter or waitress about their menu.

If you know of any other negatives for gluten free, I’m all ears!

Personally, I see no real negatives for choosing to eat GF. There are a lot of nutritional benefits to avoiding the stuff, plus you’ll have more energy, fewer sugar cravings, and automatically lose a bit of weight. What could be better?

Although it can be a challenge, I definitely recommending going GF and vegan. Although I’m not GF myself, it’s something I would love to work towards. Even if I’m not 100% GF, avoiding most gluten containing foods will benefit my body and help me feel a lot healthier.

What do you guys think?
 Much love, 

1 comment:

  1. Hi Rachael! Have you seen XGFX? It is a vegan gluten-free online resource. Definitely check it out! Lots of recipes and tutorials, reviews and a section full of guides for what to stock in your cupboard. I am vegan and lean towards gluten free when I'm cooking and absolutely love this website.
    http://xgfx.org/

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