Diet fads come in waves, and it’s easy to see evidence of this while walking through the aisles of a grocery store. In the wake of the popular Atkins diet, a number of low-carb foods were released. Now, many brands have shifted gears and begun promoting their foods as gluten free. While this is great news for people with gluten sensitivities, it can be confusing for consumers who aren’t sure what foods are best to feed their families.
What is Gluten?
Gluten is a protein in wheat that allows dough to become elastic. It provides shape and texture to bread and other baked goods, and it provides dietary protein to people who eat wheat-based products. While most people are able to digest these proteins, a condition called celiac disease makes some people intolerant to wheat-based proteins.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that weakens the lower intestine’s ability to absorb nutrients from food. This weakening occurs after consuming foods containing gluten, and it can have serious consequences if left untreated. Individuals with celiac disease can suffer from malnutrition no matter how much they eat due to their body’s inability to absorb crucial nutrients.
In recent years, celiac disease has become more prevalent. This may be due to improved medical technology making detection more accurate, or gluten intolerance may be more common than it once was. As many as 1 percent of Americans may suffer from celiac disease, and many cases may go diagnosed or confused for other things.
Is Gluten Bad?
For people with gluten intolerance, gluten free products are a way to enjoy foods that they might otherwise be unable to eat. Baked goods, pasta and cereal were previously off-limits to people with gluten intolerance, but now non-gluten versions are available. The majority of people, however, do not need to avoid gluten, and gluten-free foods are not inherently healthier than foods made from wheat.
For people with normally functioning immune systems, there is no reason to avoid eating wheat products. An individual who experiences discomfort after eating wheat or who displays symptoms of celiac disease may wish to speak with a medical professional and obtain a diagnosis before cutting wheat products from his or her diet.