Is gluten, which is simply a protein that comes from wheat and wheat related products, really a problem? The answer is a resounding “Yes!” For about 2% of the worlds population. That’s 20 of every 1000 people you encounter. Roughly twice as many, 4% or so, believe they are what has come to be called “gluten intolerant.” However, there is really no actual defined medical condition called gluten intolerance.
But let’s not stop there. If we’re putting gluten on trial, let’s gather all of the evidence.
Wheat, in its natural form, is a whole grain. And whole grains are a treasure trove of nutrition and fiber. Whole grain flour and unrefined whole grains are key features of a heart-healthy diet. However, once grains are refined, they lose 50% of their vitamins, minerals and nutrients and 78% of their fiber. Many of the refined flours are enriched to build back the loss of their nutritional load, but they still lack that all-important fiber component.
Are gluten intolerant people really intolerant of gluten? Let’s assume that they are currently reading their bodies. They eat wheat products, and they suffer for it. But what if gluten is innocent? There’s a good chance that they are having trouble is refined wheat flour, sugar, and/or a variety of other additives.
Most of the bread we purchase at the supermarket is made with heavily refined flour, stripped of its most valued nutrients. A good bread should consist of 4 to 5 ingredients, with the main ingredient being whole grain flour. But about 90% of the commercial breads in stores will list 15-20 ingredients. And some are things that are not kind to your body: Potassium Bromate, Azodicarboamide, Partially Hydrogenated Oil, Excess Sugar, Mono and Diglycerides, Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA), Excess Sodium, and Caramel Coloring. That is a list of stuff that might cause your body to push back.
Most of us agree that we eat too much refined wheat and sugar. Each morning, many of us enjoy toast, a muffin or a bagel made from refined flour. Then, there are the tasty cookies or pumpkin bread that tempt us when we enjoy our coffee or tea. At work, there’s often a delicious box of doughnuts, a desktop candy bowl, or a homemade sweet to share. Lunch may mean a sandwich or a burger. And then we may include bread made from refined flour as an appetizer or even part of the evening meal. Top that with the fact that one of our favorite foods is pizza. And we haven ‘t yet counted the refined wheat flour in snack crackers and other prepared foods. The evidence is overwhelming. Our expanse of choices contributes to our ever-expanding waistlines, and for many, our ever-increasing discomfort.
Many who go “gluten free” swear they feel better. And I have no doubt that is true. But it’s probably not the absence of gluten they’re feeling. Consider this. Those folks are no longer eating sugary sweets like doughnuts, breakfast muffins, bagels with cream cheese, snack foods, pizza or burgers. Right there they’ve cut a load of fat, sugar and empty calories from their diets. And they’re not compounding that with the list of harmful non-nutrient additives in most commercial breads.
But if gluten isn’t the problem, what’s a person to do? A slice of good whole grain toast in the morning, or a whole grain roll with a dinner salad and homemade soup in the evening is not going to hurt you.
And you can enjoy good unrefined brown rice, quinoa, bulgur or faro with your meals. They’re satisfying, delicious, and an important part of a well-balanced diet.
Perhaps we should be more tolerant of gluten, and less tolerant of the processes and additives that steal nutrition from our wheat products.
Thank you, your honor. The defense rests.