Why do we need gluten?

By Amanda Tesser

“I cut off gluten from my diet,” she told me.
“Why?”
“I wanna lose weight.”

This is part of a real conversation between Glauce Fleury and a friend of hers. So she asked me if I could write about gluten to clarify a few doubts. I agreed because the scenario above is way too common, and it shouldn’t be.

Gluten is a mixture of two smaller proteins (gliadin and glutenin) found in several types of cereals. Gluten-free diets have become popular for two main reasons:

  • You can lose weight. (Sure, you can. As a lot of foods contain gluten, you’ll avoid most of them, including junk food. At the same time, you’ll eat more fruits and veggies, which are naturally gluten-free and healthier.)
  • Theories say that gluten has been modified over time, so what we find on the market is a crossbreed of several types of wheat that could lead to diabetes and obesity. (There’s no scientific proof of that. Obesity is a multifactor disease. If it were caused by gluten or any single substance, it’d be much easier to control it.)

The truth is, in most cases, gluten is a problem only if you consume high amounts. As it’s high in carbs, these carbs can be converted into fat and lead to overweight, obesity and chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension (high blood pressure).

If you’re not intolerant to gluten, don’t remove it from your diet. What you can do is to include some gluten-free options just to vary. For example, eat quinoa more often than pasta, and use rice flour instead of wheat flour to bake your cakes.

Gluten is useful to let us know when we ate enough and should stop eating. Besides, studies show that gluten-free diets can trigger and increase anxiety and depression in people with predisposition.

For people with intolerance to gluten (celiac disease), consuming even small amounts can be risky. If that’s your case, exclude this protein completely from your diet — no wheat, oats, barley and malt.

When you’re doing groceries, be careful when choosing flour, bread, pasta and cookies. Check labels often. There are several gluten-free options on the market. When in restaurants, double-check the menu information with the servers.

If you have celiac disease, consuming gluten would trigger your immune system to act against the small intestines causing inflammation and poor absorption of nutrients. Some symptoms include chronic diarrhea, anemia and depression.

Keep your diet under permanent control to avoid a constant damage that could put your life at risk. Cutting off gluten will help you recover the structure of your intestines.

Another illness related to gluten is dermatitis herpetiformis (also known as Duhring’s disease). Some symptoms are itchy wounds or blisters. If that’s your case, follow the same recommendations given to people with celiac disease.

In both situations, I repeat, cut off gluten entirely. Eat veggies, fruits, legumes, oilseeds and gluten-free grains. Flour, sugar and starch should be consumed less often to avoid overweight and changes in your blood sugar levels.

We’re all exposed to cross contamination. Reduce these risks by filling your diet with raw foods (the ones that come from the nature and don’t go through any type of food processing).

Only a small part of what you eat should be processed foods (that includes rice, beans, coffee and dry seasoning, not only junk food). They may present traits of gluten that, when considering all you consume in a day, could damage your immune system.

What about focusing on a healthier diet?

Photo credit: © Miran Rijavec under Creative Commons via Flickr.

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