Contrary to popular belief, gluten-free diets are not necessarily a healthier diet for people who are not gluten sensitive or who have not been diagnosed with Celiac disease. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2004 concluded that adverse effects of gluten in celiac patients can be resolved with a gluten-free diet, but, there are no health benefits to avoiding gluten as a regular, healthy individual (Murray, Watson, Clearman). The theory of a gluten-free diet being healthy relies heavily on the fact that bread is very high on the Glycemic Index- meaning it causes a high insulin response due to an increase in blood glucose (Jenkins, Wolever, Taylor, Barker, Fielden, Baldwin, Bowling, Newman, Jenkins, Goff, 1981, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition). A study done in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2009 showed that the insulin response, after consuming hydrolysate gluten, was no higher then the other tested proteins (Claessens, Calame, Siemensma, Baak, Saris). The consumption of bread does cause high insulin, but there is no concrete proof that the insulin response is due to gluten content. Instead, the starches in wheat are the most likely suspect. In addition to this, healthy grains such as rye and barley are low on the Glycemic Index, but still contain gluten. Rather than going gluten-free, a better choice for the health of the average person would be to avoid wheat, particularly processed wheat. The issue with the starches in wheat, such as amylopectin, is thought to be more of a concern because the of the modifications and choice breeding that occurred during the Green Revolution. In the 1960’s, many crops were manipulated to increase production in harsher conditions and smaller areas. This created what is referred to as Dwarf Wheat, which is less nutrient dense then its ancestors (Farmer, Green Revolution?, 1978). However, one positive outcome of this health fad is an increasing interest in alternative grains and legumes, such as quinoa and lentils, as a substitute for white bread and pastas. Unfortunately, a large percentage of people following the gluten-free diet forgo these healthier and protein-rich options for products marketed as ‘gluten-free’ versions of their regular food choices. As many individuals who have attempted to bake gluten-free products can attest, baked goods with identical recipes but a gluten-free flour replacement are often not appetizing in flavor or texture. For a more pleasing product, manufacturing companies often manipulate their recipes, creating a less healthy alternative containing higher concentrations of sugars and fats. A study done by the journal of Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics has shown a correlation between gluten-free diets and a ‘high sugar intake, and low fiber and mineral intake’ in women. If done properly, a gluten-free diet and some experimentation can expand meal variety and increase in overall health. In making this diet decision without proper meal planning, or with a lack of background knowledge, however, could leave someone lacking vital nutrients and eating less healthy than they might expect.
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