Glendale College's Student Magazine
Tuesday October 24th 2017

Flavor of the Month: Gluten-free diets

wheatOnce little more than a fad, what was formerly a nutritional recommendation has for some adherents become a way of life. Miley Cyrus, Zooey Deschanel, Lady Gaga and Chelsea Clinton are among the celebrities who have chosen to eliminate gluten from their diets.

Rana Saldano, a dietary intern from Cal Poly Pomona, recently spoke of the good and bad effects of such a choice at Glendale Community College.

“The gluten-free diet became a fad because people can lose weight on it,” says Saldano. “But it’s not healthy for everyone. People without celiac disease or gluten intolerance are missing out on vital nutrients and vitamins.”

The gluten-free diet excludes gluten, or a protein composite that is found mostly in wheat, barley, and rye. The diet was created in the 1950s for people who suffer from celiac disease, a condition that can prevent important nutrients from being absorbed by the small intestine due to an abnormal immune response to gluten, which, for people with the genetic predisposition, is an allergen. At its worst, celiac disease can damage the lining of the small intestine. Approximately 1 percent of Americans live with the disease, which is a four-fold increase from the 1950s, possibly because of improved diagnostic tools. Because mild celiac disease has few or no symptoms, about 83 percent of cases are undiagnosed or masked by other conditions. It is estimated that 3 million Americans have celiac disease, while 18 million Americans have a sensitivity to gluten.

There is much confusion about what gluten is and what role it plays in a healthy diet. On the May 9 episode of “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” the host surveyed four people who maintain a gluten-free diet asking them what gluten is. Of the four, not one person was able to give a sensible response.

Gluten is found primarily in bread and pasta and also in commercially processed foods where it is used as a stabilizer, an emulsifier, or a thickener in everything from soups to self-basting poultry. It is a popular meat alternative. Gluten levels in processed foods have tripled since 1997.

Gluten is not found in meat, dairy, fish, eggs and vegetables, and in other grains such as buckwheat, corn, rice, and quinoa. Oats do not technically contain gluten but may be contaminated if processed using the same equipment as wheat.

The popularity of the diet is undeniable. U.S. News and World Report estimates that nearly 15 to 25 percent of consumers report looking for gluten-free products. Growth in the gluten-free food industry may reach $6 billion by 2015.

“A gluten-free diet is about 55 to 60 percent of a healthy diet,” says Saldano. “Just to eat healthier or to lose weight are not good reasons to go gluten-free.”

Health claims abound advocating the gluten-free diet. Besides gluten sensitivity and celiac disease, studies have been conducted on whether a gluten-free diet could reduce symptoms of autism, adhd, thyroid disease, multiple sclerosis and more. The results have not been conclusive.

Subjectively, many people find that giving up wheat products and processed food improves their health.

“Seriously we feel better… more energy and our skin looks better,” says Natasha Rezai, 24, who went gluten-free with her boyfriend about a year ago.

The gluten-free lifestyle is easier than ever. Gluten-free alternatives to pizza, pastries, pasta, beer, and other wheat-laden foods are readily available and popular restaurants including PF Chang’s, Chili’s, and Red Robin, offer gluten-free menus.

With wide varieties of gluten-free substitutes, devoted websites, and even phone apps, gluten-free dieters can live a normal life without too many limitations. But it’s still important to research the options.

As Rezai says, “the problem with gluten-free is just because it says gluten-free does not mean it’s better for you.”

About Alton Ina
Alton Ina II is a first-time staff writer for the Insider.

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