by Les Saidel - January, 2011
Gluten has been getting a bad rap in the media and medical journals in recent years, being blamed for everything from mild inflammations to serious illness, the bottom line being - gluten is bad for you.
Now that statement - gluten is bad for you - is not altogether false. If you suffer from a disease called Celiac's disease, gluten is not only bad for you, it can be downright dangerous. Celiac's disease is a genetic condition prevalent amongst a small percentage of the population (around 1%), predominantly of European descent, which manifests itself in the digestive system as an inability of the body to process the protein called gluten. This causes a Celiac sufferer's body to go into an antibody "frenzy" that begins destroying not only the "foreign" gluten cells but healthy intestinal cells as well.
According to many reports, the amount of people who suffer from Celiac's disease and don't even know it, is larger than previously thought, you might even be one of these people. If you have serious digestive problems after you eat breads, cookies, pasta etc. it may be worth your while to get yourself examined by a doctor.
For the rest of us, who are probably not Celiac sufferers, is gluten bad? The consencus of the medical literature seems to indicate that the answer to that is yes, an excess of gluten intake can increase inflammation in the body.
For those of us who are not Celiac sufferers, an excess of gluten intake will probably result in you feeling flat, lethargic and generally lacking in vigour. However, these symptoms may be caused by a myriad different reasons. To definitively prove that gluten is the culprit, you need to take drastic measures - you need to go on a gluten free diet for at least three months. That means no bread, cookies, pasta, breakfast cereals, salad dressings and many other processed food products (you can see a full list at http://celiac.org). After the 3 month diet you will have a 2 day gorge of gluten containing products and compare your feeling of wellbeing to the 3 days before. Then you will know for sure if it is the gluten causing the problem.
Unfortunately, when it comes to causing harm to our bodies, we are the main culprits. It is our eating habits and preferences which result in the food companies doing what they do. If most people prefer light, fluffy, airy bread, that is what is going to sell and that is what the food companies are going to zero in on. They will look for ways to make bread lighter and fluffier and one of the ways to do this is to pump bread with more gluten (or add extra gluten to the dough when it is mixed).
It always seemed to me to be a contradiction that gluten/bread is bad for us if man has been eating bread for millenia. However in today's society, the mills add extra gluten to their flour to make it rise better, the bakers add even more gluten to their doughs to make it rise even more, and it is easy to see how quickly we can be drowning in a deluge of excess gluten, not only in bread products, but other flour based products as well. And we are doing this to ourselves because of our perverted eating habits and preferences. G-d did not intend for bread to be that way naturally.
The same thing goes for refined sugars in food. We are deluged with it because that is how people like their food to taste, they buy more, the food companies latch on to that, they find more ways to make it sweeter, fluffier, shinier, more melt-in-the-mouth, creamier etc. etc. It is no wonder therefore that most food ingredient lists read more like Chemistry III than Nutrition I.
So it is an excees of gluten that can be harmful, just like it is an excess of anything that can be harmful (except for love, perhaps). In today's perverted society it is difficult to get away from the deluge. Almost everything we eat, drink and breathe is tampered with in some way.
You may think perhaps that a gluten free diet is the answer, but unfortunately most of the gluten free products on the market today, while being gluten free, are still in no way healthy. Quite the opposite in fact. You may think you are eating healthy when you are gluten free, but you may have been better off with the gluten products, some of which are overall more healthy than their gluten free counterparts.
So what recourse do you have? The simplistic answer is to stay away as much as possible from highly processed foods and try stick as much as possible with basic foodstuffs, though even these are tampered with to a degree you would not believe (meat, vegetables, fruit, milk etc. etc.)
Unfortunately for us there is no getting away to a desert island. The best we can do is with what we have and try to eat moderate amounts of as many foods as possible.
That then is the answer, like everything, gluten in moderation is not evil and will not kill you. Just take it easy and don't overdo it.
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