The good and bad of the gluten fad

What to know before going gluten-free

By on January 29, 2014

In the midst of all the short-lived food trends, we have found one that has lasted longer than the others. The “gluten craze.” But before we jump on the bandwagon, we have to ask ourselves, “what exactly is gluten? And should we follow this trend?”

The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA) defines gluten as a protein that acts as a binding agent in many grains, such as wheat, rye and barley. The American Diabetes Association offers a comprehensive list of foods that contain gluten. Any wheat-based flours, bread, pasta, pretzels, baked goods and cereal are common sources of gluten. It is also found in beer, salad dressings, soy sauce and other sauces. Those who maintain gluten-free diets no longer eat these foods.

This “gluten craze” is not some silly fad. Health concerns serve as the main reason for going gluten-free. According to CNN, less than 1 percent of the American population is affected by celiac disease, or an allergy to gluten. The website of the NFCA lists several symptoms associated with the disease, such as stomach pains, headaches, rashes, irritability and fatigue. The NFCA has also reported that approximately 18 million Americans suffer from a non-celiac gluten sensitivity, which is an amount six times greater than the population affected by celiac disease. These people experience similar symptoms caused by gluten without having the celiac diagnosis. The removal of gluten from diets will resolve these problems and can result in an increase in energy and overall sense of being in better health.

The NFCA has found that people with autism and multiple sclerosis have noticeable improvement to their health after transitioning to a gluten-free diet.  Recently, many people without celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity have elected to eliminate the protein from their diets in order to experience similar results.

Freshman Kael Miller has been gluten-free for approximately a year.

“My sister has celiac disease, and we [went gluten-free] as a family, but it ended up helping my health issues also,” she said. “I had severe asthma and chronic migraines, but they’re all gone now.”

However, people who go gluten-free, whether it be out of necessity or choice, must be careful to ensure that they are receiving the proper amount of certain nutrients in their diet.  Yahoo! News did a report on this “gluten craze,” and they consulted nutrition experts about the cons of a gluten-free diet.  Since many of the foods that contain fiber, iron, niacin and other important vitamins contain gluten, it is common for people who maintain gluten-free diets to lack sufficient amounts of these nutrients. Fortified gluten-free foods are available, but they are often expensive, which is a common deterrent for people.

Additionally, going gluten-free may not be necessary for some people in order for them to feel healthier. Often what makes people feel better after eliminating gluten is the elimination of candies, snacks, pastries and other foods that provide simple carbohydrates and excess sugar. Reliance on healthier food options, such as fruits and vegetables, is what makes the difference for some people, so a gluten-free diet may not be necessary.

The transition to a gluten-free diet is not an easy one. There are many resources and options for people who choose to do so, but they still may encounter difficulty.

Glutenfreegirl.com offers a wide variety of seasonal recipes and tips on living gluten-free.

Quinnipiac University and the surrounding area offer gluten-free options to students. Café Q has a gluten-free area including bagels, hamburger buns, chicken nuggets, salad dressings and pasta.  Gluten-free pizzas can be requested. There are also off-campus dining options with gluten-free menus, such as Primo Pizza and Claire’s Corner Copia, among other restaurants.

Some students with gluten allergies don’t think the school offers enough gluten-free options.

Sophomore Lizzie Thompson has celiac disease and finds it difficult to find gluten free options in Café Q, “Instead of the gluten free options being easily accessible, you have to ask the employees if there is a gluten free option but they don’t advertise it well.”

Other students find Quinnipiac’s gluten-free options to be more accommodating.

“Quinnipiac has relatively good options, so that’s not what makes it hard,” Miller said. “Watching other people eat cupcakes and stuff from Au Bon Pain is what makes it hard. It’s the temptation that makes it difficult.”

Since gluten is found in so many foods, adaptation, creativity and dedication are required to maintain a gluten-free diet.

People rely on naturally gluten-free foods, such as rice, corn, beans, fresh produce or purchase gluten-free versions of foods.  They must be careful to make healthy choices and keep the warnings of nutrition experts in mind.

So will you join the “gluten craze?” You may have to sacrifice some of your favorite foods, but you may also reap the rewards of better health.

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About Jeanette Cibelli

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Sociology Major, Media Studies and Psychology Minor
Class of 2017