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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Making Big Bread: Gluten Madness Tied to Sticky Dough?




Beware the gluten! Damn the gluten! Stop the gluten before it is too late!

It's hidden in our pizza, pasta, bread, wraps, rolls, soups, ice cream, salad dressings, beer, natural flavorings, and processed foods. An estimated 95% of the types of prepared foods on the grocery shelves contain some form of gluten. And, although gluten is a staple of the American diet, it can cause serious health complications. Gluten can kill us!

And, Jesus, help us! A staggering estimated 99 percent of people who have a problem with eating gluten don't even know it. In a meteoric rise to infamy, the villain gluten has become public food enemy #1. What is left to eat? Should I burn my microwave and turn to tofu?


Gluten -- What the Hell Is It?

Gluten! Gluten! Gluten! Gluten-free advocates and health food advertisers warn us to restrict our diet immediately and never let this poison touch our healthy lips again. I mean the word even sounds deadly -- pronounced "glue ton," the ponderous connotation conjures images of a slimy, inescapable monstrous glob. It scares the shit out of us, and most of us don't even know that it is.

So, what exactly is this deadly substance we are unknowingly ingesting? Gluten is a gluey protein substance found in wheat or related grains and many other foods that we eat. It has been identified as the "stuff" that causes dough to be sticky. Unidentified starch, binders and fillers in medications or vitamins can even be unsuspected sources of gluten.

The definition of gluten sounds harmless enough -- more like the description of the affable Pillsbury Dough Boy than the menacing Blob. Yet with some startling findings, the medical community warns us that we should be changing our diets.
 

The Beast of Celiac

A recent large study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that people with diagnosed, undiagnosed, and "latent" celiac disease or gluten sensitivity had a higher risk of death, mostly from heart disease and cancer. In addition, the research confirms that people who don't have full blown celiac disease are still at risk.

(Mark Hyman, MD. "Gluten: What You Don't Know Might Kill You."  
The Blog. January 2 2010)

What is celiac disease, the harshest end of the gluten-as-allergen end of the spectrum? The Mayo Clinic tells us that it is an immune reaction to eating gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Gluten triggers an immune response in the small intestine of those who suffer from celiac disease. Over time, this reaction produces inflammation that damages the small intestine's lining and prevents absorption of some nutrients (malabsorption).

This intestinal damage can cause weight loss, bloating and sometimes diarrhea. Eventually, the brain, nervous system, bones, liver and other organs can be deprived of vital nourishment.

In children, malabsorption can affect growth and development. The intestinal irritation can cause stomach pain, especially after eating.

Celiac disease affects a scant 1% of the population -- one in 100 people, or three million Americans, most of who don't know they have it. There's no cure for celiac disease — but following a strict gluten-free diet can help manage symptoms and promote intestinal healing.

The good news is that gluten sensitivity is 100 percent curable.

But, it's not just a few who suffer from gluten sensitivity, but millions, especially those who are chronically ill. Alessio Fasano, M.D., director of the Center for Celiac Research at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, estimates some 6% of Americans have some degree of sensitivity to gluten.

Other estimates say that milder forms of gluten sensitivity may affect up to one-third of the American population. It is estimated that only one percent of those with the problem were actually diagnosed. That means 99 percent are walking around suffering without knowing it.

That is very bad news for our healthy pocketbooks. Undiagnosed gluten problems cost the American healthcare system tons of money. Dr. Peter Green, Professor of Clinical Medicine for the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University studied all 10 million subscribers to CIGNA and found those who were correctly diagnosed with celiac disease used fewer medical services and reduced their healthcare costs by more than 30 percent.

(Mark Hyman, MD. "Gluten: What You Don't Know Might Kill You."  
The Blog. January 2 2010)



Gluten-free Explosion - Fashion or Need?

More and more groceries and health food stores stock gluten-free products. Good news for people with celiac disease, but most of the people who reach for gluten-free products don’t have celiac disease and or even a sensitivity to wheat.

Peter H.R. Green, MD, director of the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University, told WebMD. “The market for gluten-free products is exploding. Why exactly we don’t know. Many people may just perceive that a gluten-free diet is healthier.”

In fact, it isn’t. For people with celiac disease, a gluten-free diet is essential. But for others, “unless people are very careful, a gluten-free diet can lack vitamins, minerals, and fiber,” says Green.

(Peter Jaret, reviewed By Louise Chang, MD, "The Truth About Gluten,"  
WebMD, October 9 2011)

According to marketing firm NPD’s Dieting Monitor, nearly a quarter of American adults are working towards reducing or cutting gluten from their diets. The gluten-free diet has become a sign of enlightened eating, an intellectual diet supported by a slew of studies and a passionate cadre of celebrity supporters.

Gluten-free is the rage:

* Jenny McCarthy professes gluten contributed to her son’s autism.  

* The View’s Elisabeth Hasselbeck says it caused her years of chronic pain and subsequently penned a cookbook. 

* Gwyneth Paltrow credits gluten-free eating for her lithe limbs and preternaturally taut stomach. 

* Tennis star Novak Djokovic sings the praises of his new gluten-free lifestyle, and all but gave the diet credit for his astounding domination of tennis top seed Rafael Nadal.

Despite the reality of need, the frenzy of demand drives the money market. Amazon.com keeps adding hundreds of new gluten-related titles, including several children’s books to help youngsters ease into the lifestyle.

According to CNBC and EuroMonitor International 2011 gluten-free sales hit $1.31 billion in the United States and $2.67 billion worldwide. Sales have more than doubled since 2005. Gluten-free Foods and Beverages in the U.S. projects that U.S. sales of gluten-free foods and beverages will exceed $5 billion by 2015.




So, Should We All Cut Gluten?

Can doctors misdiagnose gluten sensitivity? Has a scare caused people to be labeled with problems they don't have? Could the gluten-free lifestyle diet even mask serious anorexia?

Julie Dorfman, director of Nutrition at Philadelphia’s Renfrew Center, the country’s first residential facility for the treatment of women with eating disorders, says, “With the eating disordered population, I’d say that 110% of them are using intolerances or food ‘problems’ as a means to avoid eating these foods in a socially acceptable way. Gluten just happens to be the fad right now.”

Stacey Rosenfeld, Ph.D.,a psychologist who specializes in eating disorders is in the camp of those who believe that using medical or pseudo-medical reasons for restrictive diets is often a cover-up for disordered eating. “Nobody wants to be called out on an eating disorder or obsessive eating,” she says, “so anything they can do to hide it, they will.”

"Rosenfeld and Dorfman agree that setting rules around foods can start a vicious cycle in people prone to eating disorders, or those looking to lose an extreme amount of weight. The gluten-free lifestyle, while life-saving for the minority of Americans who suffer real consequences from grains, can be a slippery slope—or simply a means of denial—for some. According to Dorfman, the mentality is 'restrict, restrict, restrict.' She says, 'You set a rule that you’re not going to eat dairy, maybe, and the amount of food you can eat becomes limited. Then maybe you’re a vegan.  And now you can be gluten intolerant.'

"What’s left to eat?

"Next to nothing. And for some, that may be exactly the point."

(Meghan Casserly, "What We're (Not) Eating: A Potential Danger Of Gluten-Free," 
Forbes, May 23 2011)


Some Advice For the Gluten-Free

It’s worthwhile to consider whether or not following such a program poses any health dangers. Fortunately, there is little evidence that following a gluten free diet poses any serious long-term health risks. But, there are a few things you should watch out for, and some of these things are true of any diet you could try. Following are things you should watch out for on a gluten free diet:

1. Lowered Bacteria Production in the Gut

According to one study published in the British Journal of Health, a group of people who did not have Celiac disease were placed on a gluten free diet. At the end of the trial period, the amount of good bacteria had been significantly reduced, as had other markers that indicate good immune health.

2. Constipation

Substitute grains, especially rice, are not as high in fiber as wheat products. If you switch to substitute grains but neglect to increase your fruit and veggie consumption, you could suffer from constipation. 

 

3. Boredom and Complacency

The number one risk of a gluten free diet is growing too complacent or bored with your eating plan. If you need to break out of a rut, go online and find new products and recipes to temp your palate. Join a GF group and swap stories. If you get complacent or bored, it’s easy to backslide and begin eating a lot of gluten-containing products, thinking it will never hurt to try a little.


4. Overindulging with Too Many Gluten Free treats

Gluten free does not automatically mean healthy. So you cannot justify eating a tray of GF brownies by thinking that it’s good for you. If you overindulge on GF sweets, you are doing as much harm to your health as you would with their gluten-containing counterparts. A treat every now and then is great and will keep you happy with the program. But, don’t think that you can eat as much of every GF product as you want–you still need to be careful.

5. Nutritional Deficiency
“And any time you eliminate whole categories of food you’ve been used to eating, you run the risk of nutritional deficiencies,” said Green. A 2005 report from the American Dietetic Association warned that gluten-free products tend to be low in a wide range of important nutrients, including B vitamins, calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium, and fiber.

 

6. Expense

Choosing gluten-free foods has another drawback. Most gluten-free alternatives, such as pasta and bread, are significantly more expensive than their conventional counterparts. A 2007 survey conducted by Green and his colleagues found that gluten-free pastas and breads were twice the price of conventional products, for instance.


The bottom line: If you think you may have a problem with gluten, get tested.

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