The Gluten Free Debate

Okay, I’m going to talk about this. It annoys the crap out of me that people think a gluten free diet is a weight loss plan. I apologize in advance if this seems like more of a rant than a carefree, semi-informative chat, but people who say they can’t eat gluten when in fact they’ve decided not to eat gluten in hopes that it will magic away their saddlebags really make me want to punch things.

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Let’s begin by talking about what gluten is. In the simplest terms, gluten is a protein that makes dough stretchy. If you’ve ever made bread or pizza dough you know what I’m talking about. That glorious elasticity  that develops after you knead your dough is gluten hard at work.

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That’s what we call the windowpane test, my friends. Brought to you by our little friend gluten. In not so simple terms, gluten is a protein made up of two different proteins (one of which is glutenin). It exists in its purest form in wheat. But the protein glutenin helps to make up lots of different proteins that occur in other grains like barley and rye. Sometimes gluten is added to other foods to help emulsification and elasticity. But gluten is not a chemical. It is a naturally occurring protein. (Yes, I’ve seriously heard people call it a chemical additive. Shut up, people, you are stupid.)

The Gluten Free Diet: There are two types of people who should probably adopt a gluten free diet. The first is people who are diagnosed with Celiac Disease. This is a formal diagnosis that can be easily made by doing a simple blood test at your doctor’s office. The second is people who have a Non Celiac Gluten Sensitivity. These people do not have Celiac Disease, but their symptoms are immediately alleviated when they eliminate gluten from their diet. Are we getting this, people? Gluten free diets are for people who have something actively WRONG with them. Terrible stomach cramps, persistent, possibly explosive diarrhea, rashes, fatigue, mouth sores, joint pain, arthritis- these are serious problems, get it?

Being five pounds overweight is not a serious problem!

I happen to know people who actually have Celiacs and I decided to talk to one of them a little about her disease and the gluten free lifestyle she is forced to follow because of it.

Me: “When did you discover you had Celiac?”
Nora: “I was formally diagnosed with Celiac about 2 years ago. My entire life I’ve had gastrointestinal problems…Basically no matter what I ate 50-60% of the time I would get horrific stomach cramps and diarrhea after eating. Dating in my 20s was awesome. Two years ago my stomach problems were increasing with severity, so I saw a specialist and he ordered a blood test and tada! Celiac.”

Me: “What happens to you when you eat gluten?”
Nora: “I pretty much eat gluten free 99% of the time. However, there are times when I got out to dinner and play Russian roulette and say “fuck it, I want some goddamn breadsticks. Within two hours I’ll be dying in a bathroom somewhere.”

Me: “What are your thoughts on the ‘gluten free weight loss plan’ craze?
Nora: “I think the whole thing is ridiculous. There is nothing about being gluten free that is honestly any healthier than an ordinary diet. I still consume the same amount of calories as anyone else. I think I sometimes have to make healthier choices when I am out because my options are limited. But all in all I usually hate people when they say they’re on a new gluten free diet. You’re stupid, go away.”

Me: “Is it easier for you to find gluten free products now than it used to be?”
Nora: “Yes!!! Most restaurants now have a gluten free menu or a few gf options. Most grocery stores have a section. I’m no longer limited to paying exorbitant prices at Whole Foods for gluten free products.”

Me: “Are gluten free products getting better as time goes on?”
Nora: “Yes. When I was first diagnosed bread was awful. I was buying this brown rice bread that tasted like death. Now I have at least three different brands to choose from at the grocery store. Also Rose’s Bakery in Evanston is phenomenal, as is Cookie Bar in Ravenswood. Both are gluten free shops.”

Me: “What’s your favorite GF brand?”
Nora: “Udi’s is good for sandwich bread. Other than that I don’t necessarily buy gluten free food all that much. I think it’s overpriced and I really don’t need it… except for these really expensive gluten free pop tarts from Whole Foods. Those I do need.”

Get it people? Actual gastrointestinal problems are why you should go gluten free. Here’s an eye opener: a lot of gluten free foods are actually worse for you than their glutenful counterparts because manufacturers have to fill their products with extra sugar and fat in order to make up for the fact that they taste like cardboard. Think about that next time you think you’re buying a “healthier” gluten free option.

Now here are a whole bunch of links from scientific people that will tell you the same thing I just told you. Because I’m right. Now go eat some bread.

Y’know… unless you have Celiac. Sorry, Nora.

US News & World Report
ABC News
Jillian Michaels – and you know she knows what she’s talking about.
CNN
Women’s Health

Special thanks to my lovely lady Nora for the honest and enlightening interview.

The good news here is that Nutella is gluten free. And all you need for that is a spoon. Wheeee!

 

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2 thoughts on “The Gluten Free Debate

  1. I’m encountering anecdotal evidence that Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is a result of Non Celiac Gluten Sensitivity. The symptoms of Hashimoto’s are not necessarily gastrointestinal, but quitting gluten can alleviate them. Stumbled upon your blog. Just thought there might be others who read this who are thinking about going gluten free, even without stomach problems. I’d say try it, if you feel better, then stick with it. Can’t hurt, right?

  2. Great post! I’m actually the reverse of gluten free because rice makes my blood sugar spike. Not to mention that I’m a baker by trade. Ha! Sorry celiacs. 😦

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