Now that isn’t to say that all people should be eating gluten instead. People with celiac disease and gluten-sensitivity should, of course, avoid wheat and other items that contain gluten like barley, rye, triticale, and bulgur. If the body’s immune system attacks gluten, then it will also destroy the lining of the small intestine, resulting in malabsorption of nutrients and abdominal pain that can then lead to other conditions throughout the body. Celiac disease is serious and should not be taken lightly.
There are also several reasons, other than gluten, for which people avoid wheat. These include the gliadin protein of wheat that stimulates appetite, the wheat germ agglutinin that can result in abnormal intestinal permeability and inflammatory conditions, its amylopectin A content that spikes blood sugar, or its alpha amylase inhibitors that trigger wheat allergy.
For reasons still not perfectly clear, the amount of people sensitive to or intolerant of wheat and gluten has increased significantly and the food industry responded with more alternatives being placed on the market. Many health-conscious consumers joined the bandwagon and between 2008 to 2012, the gluten-free market grew 28%, according to Packaged Facts, who also estimates sales to exceed $6.6 billion by 2017.
But does that mean that gluten-free alternatives are healthy?
This is where an important distinction is made between natural whole foods and commercially processed junk foods and the latter includes gluten-free junk. So consider the following:
- Have you looked at the labels? Often, processed gluten-free products have more calories than the wheat products they are replacing.
- In the attempt to be all natural, gluten-free products are seldom enriched with vitamins and minerals like B vitamins and iron as they tend to be with processed wheat products.
- Many substitutes like rice flour, potato starch and tapioca starch are very high in glycemic index, resulting in blood sugar spikes that can be worse than sugar.
- Manufacturers creating gluten-free alternatives want to keep the taste and texture of the products they are replacing and often add unhealthy additives like emulsifiers, preservatives, gums, oils and sugars.
So instead of reaching for processed gluten-free bread or pasta, opt for whole foods that are naturally gluten free, like brown rice, quinoa or even yams and squash.
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