In the last few years, beside malignant and infectious diseases, pollution and food shortages, humanity has gotten a new large enemy – gluten. At least, that’s what the blogosphere and various internet health gurus say. Gluten free diets have become a growing trend during the last few years, possibly even bigger than chokers and over the knee boots.
To estimate how grounded a decision for gluten free diets really is, we should first study this gluten thing.
Gluten is a mixture of 2 kinds of protein (prolamine and glutelin) that are found in the grass family, such as cereals – wheat, rye, barley, spelt (it is not contained in corn or rice). It is found in seeds, along with starch, and plays a role in feeding the sprout. Its name comes from the Latin word for glue, taking into account its highly elastic properties – it gives dough its characteristic look (and is responsible for the toughness you feel when chewing bread) and it enables its growth. It is found in all flour based products – bread, pasta etc and it’s often added by itself to make the dough grow larger.
It is also used as a meat substitute, as a protein substitute and in ice cream and ketchup as stabilizer. It is a critical ingredient in beer, as bear is made from barley. Aside from food, gluten can be found in cosmetics, as it is a common ingredient in lipsticks and shampoos.
Why (or better yet, to whom) is gluten dangerous? People with celiac disease have a very intense reaction to gluten – when exposed to gluten, these people develop an abnormal immune response and create antibodies against gluten which can attack various organs in the patients body.
During the intake of gluten foods, an inflammation occurs in the small intestine and it produces symptoms such as diarrhea, pain, loss of appetite, and even growth stop in children. The only known treatment for celiac disease is a strict gluten free diet.
If the person is healthy (without celiac disease), they can freely take foods containing gluten. Several studies have been conducted over the last few years with the goal of answering if a gluten free diet provides any medical benefits. They all came to the same conclusion- it doesn’t.
Gluten is certainly not something you couldn’t live without, but there is no (scientific) reason for a fully gluten free diet, especially since the latest studies showed that gluten free foods have questionable nutrition values.