Gluten And Your Health: What The Latest Science Says
Gluten is a word that invokes controversy. For reasons that can only be ascribed to human nature, people exhibit strong emotions and ironclad attitudes when it comes to this topic. “We have been eating gluten since time immemorial, so why should this be a problem?” Many will claim this and give it no additional thought. Others will claim the exclusion of gluten from their diet has utterly transformed their lives.
However, as it turns out with many hot topics, there is more nuance to the science behind gluten than meets the eye.
The error of polar-opposite attitudes
Polar opposite opinions about the nature of gluten and its impact on our health are completely legitimate, but this particular topic often causes conflict and dismissal of the opposing arguments. This only pollutes public discourse and renders the examination of facts even more difficult.
This is where the error lies. In order to fully grasp the nature of gluten and how it may (or may not) impact your health in significant ways, we have to keep our heads cool and turn to facts.
The conflicting search results
Now, when you decide to commence a comprehensible search of information on the nature of gluten-free diets, you will get a lot of conflicting results. Some articles claim that gluten is not only harmless but that it also harbors numerous positive effects. Others claim that it is only harmful to individuals that suffer from celiac disease, while the remaining articles postulate that we all have a gluten intolerance – to an extent.
Let’s start with the broad picture
In scientific terms, humans are classified as mammalian omnivores. While our diet needs to be diverse and brimming with plant-based foods, we can obtain nutrients and energy from animal-based material. This is because humans tended to migrate a lot and inhabited vastly different climate conditions and elevations, so their bodies needed to adapt for absorbing the widest range of energy sources. This also means that, as generations upon generations of humans that settled in different areas adapted to different diets, some people are simply less tolerant (or completely intolerant) to certain types of food.
The key is in celiac disease
Some of this intolerance is manifested through a range of food allergies. You have probably heard that, for example, some people are allergic to peanuts or strawberries. In a similar vein, up to 1% of the worldwide population has celiac disease – an autoimmune condition that encourages the body to mistakenly register gluten as a foreign threat. As the immune system flares up and attacks gluten proteins, it damages your gut, acidizes your body and causes low-key inflammation.
Of course, there are a fraction of people that have non-celiac gluten sensitivity, and they’ll have to make necessary dietary changes just like those that have the autoimmune disease. But what do these changes mean?
The foods to exclude, based on science
Science classifies gluten as a collective term rather than a single compound, and it refers to a range of proteins known as prolamins that are found in wheat, rye, and barley. This means that you’ll have to avoid all the bread and pasta based on these elementary food resources, including cereals and other baked goods that are not labeled as gluten-free. It also includes a battery of beverages, snacks, countless sauces, and even soups. Sounds quite limiting, doesn’t it?
You are not as limited as you think
While it may seem to you that the exclusion of gluten limits your dietary choices, your meals can be just as eclectic as before, with some extra effort. There is an opulent range of dishes out there. You can plunge into an online search of dietary gems such as this recipe for a gluten-free cake if you are looking for a kernel of inspiration. See, your diet is not strictly limited to fruits and vegetables!
Also, a gluten-free diet doesn’t mean that you have to go vegan. As a matter of fact, lean protein sources such as fish and white-meat poultry will keep your energy stores replenished in a satisfactory way. However, if your diet is strictly vegan, you can rely on quinoa, chia seeds, amaranth, and a whole world of nuts coupled with gluten-free kinds of nut butter that can serve as a basis for many a meal, both sweet and salty.
At the end of the day, science is still trying to hash out the nuances of gluten and its effects on the eclectic makeup of humanity. What science does confirm is that a gluten-free diet can have wonderful dietary effects even on people who do not suffer from gluten-related allergies, let alone on those individuals that do. If you do even the most superficial research, you’ll notice that many gluten-rich foods fall under the ‘junk’ category, and you should reduce bread and baked goods and increase the intake of fruits and vegetables anyway.
In other words, the entire ruckus that surrounds the question of gluten-free validity is rendered mute once you realize that foods that are rich in gluten should be a much smaller percentage of your diet anyway.
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