Consumer Reports Weighs In on Gluten
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But the reality is, worldwide, gluten is a source of protein, both in foods prepared directly from sources containing it, and as an additive to foods otherwise low in protein. People who exercise heavily need protein. Many others get too much. But even if you’re following the sensible 60% carb – 22% fat – 18% protein recommendations of many sports-related nutritionists, avoiding gluten will mean avoiding not just protein—but also a good deal of healthy carbohydrate. This is because gluten is a good source of fiber.
“While people may feel better on a gluten-free diet, there is little evidence to support that their improved health is related to the elimination of gluten from their diet,” said Trisha Calvo, deputy content editor for health and food, in a statement issued by Consumer Reports.
A gluten-free diet means avoiding all products that contain wheat, rye, and barley, as well as their derivatives. The list includes types of wheat like durum, farina, graham flour, and semolina. Also prohibited are bulgur, kamut, kasha, matzo meal, spelt and triticale. Swearing off whole grains such as these is not a good idea if you don’t have Celiac disease; for athletes it’s an even worse idea. (And if you’re consuming gluten-free versions of these foods rather than eliminating them altogether, you are stripping away much of the fiber anyway.)
Celiac disease is a rare autoimmune condition in which gluten causes potentially life-threatening intestinal damage. In the case of going gluten-free, it's starting to look like if for you it feels like a choice at all, it is not one worth making. But for those who must cut out gluten:
- Eat grains. Consuming a variety of whole grains is healthy regardless of whether you're gluten-free, so don’t cut them entirely out. Replace wheat with amaranth, corn, buckwheat, quinoa, millet and sorghum, which aren’t related to wheat and have high vitamin and fiber content. Also supplement these with an occasional serving of rice.
- Shop the grocery store perimeter. Stick with naturally gluten-free whole foods: fruits, vegetables, lean meat and poultry, fish, most dairy, legumes, grains and nuts.
- Read the label. Minimize the intake of packaged foods made with refined rice or potato flours; choose non-rice whole grains instead. When buying processed foods, keep an eye on the sugar, fat and sodium content of the product, as well as the presence of nutritionless fillers like xanthan gum.
At the intersection of “good advice” and “plausible explanation” (for why so many people perceive health improvements after losing gluten), lies the fact that eating lean protein plus plenty of vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds is a great way to avoid gluten. It is also a very healthy way to eat. This therefore could contribute to the reason some people in fact feel better cutting out gluten—they are simply eating much better, and the lack of gluten is taking the credit for the reason they feel better. But this outcome requires sticking to whole vs. processed gluten-free foods. So far, research shows that removing gluten from the diet just isn’t medically necessary for the vast majority of people.