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Pass the Gluten! (Unless You Have Celiac Disease or Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity)

From celebrities to personal trainers, to that couple in your neighborhood with the Babybjörn, to your yoga instructor—for the past few decades people have been avoiding foods that contain gluten like lottery winners avoid distant relatives who have suddenly reappeared to congratulate them. Yet results of a Harvard-led study that were recently published in The BMJ indicate that since whole grains, which is where gluten is found, are beneficial in preventing heart disease, an unnecessary avoidance of gluten could result in not getting enough of the nutrients that whole grains provide. In other words, if you do not have celiac disease and don’t have non-celiac sensitivity but are on a gluten-free diet, you could be putting yourself at risk for a coronary.   

Gluten is the name used for the proteins found in wheat, rye, barley and triticale (a cross between wheat and rye). Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition in which the small intestine attacks itself when these proteins are ingested, preventing the body from absorbing vital nutrients.

Celiac disease can develop at any age and can lead to serious health problems, including chronic conditions like thyroid disease and Type 1 Diabetes if the person does not follow a strict, gluten-free diet. It can also lead to some cancers.

The first such diet was introduced by a Dutch pediatrician during World War II, who noticed that during a food shortage fewer of his patients with celiac disease were experiencing symptoms. He realized that this was due to malnourishment, namely their lack of access to foods containing wheat.

The fact that an estimated one percent of Americans has Celiac disease but gluten-free foods are a billion-dollar industry, especially in light of these new findings is enough to raise a few eyebrows. Go ahead, fill up on that pasta. Enjoy!