Being gluten-free gets trendy


Since the publication of Dr. William Davis’ “Wheat Belly” and endorsements from celebrities like Miley Cyrus, being gluten free has become a health phenomenon. More and more people are deciding to give up gluten, whether or not they actually have to.

“Wheat Belly,” released in 2011, discusses the gluten-free diet as the best way to lose weight, saying wheat causes negative health effects for most people. Since being released, the book has been at the top of the New York Times Bestseller list and ignited a new diet craze. Many celebrities have come out since the book’s debut as well, in support of the diet fad. Miley Cyrus, Gwyneth Paltrow and Elisabeth Hasselbeck are just a few who have chosen to live gluten-free lives, making it even more of a trend.

Many people think that by completely dropping gluten from their diet they will be not only be healthier overall, but also lose weight weight in the process. While both “Wheat Belly” and celebrities are preaching the diet trend, it is important to note that gluten is a healthy protein for people who aren’t intolerant.

“It is a great protein source, and the more protein you get in your diet the better.” Elizabeth Clark, senior in food science, said. “Some people can’t have that source of protein because they can’t tolerate it.”

Jessica Levering, junior in kinesiology and pre-physical therapy, is intolerant to gluten. She said when she eliminated wheat products from her diet, the migraines she used to suffer from ceased.

“I feel less bloated, and do not get the uncomfortable feeling that I overate following a meal as I used to,” Levering said.

The symptoms of gluten intolerance and celiac disease can vary vastly, making them hard to diagnose. Anything from simple symptoms like migraines and bloating, to more severe symptoms like anemia can fit the description. Because the protein damages the small intestine, it eventually leads to malabsorption. Eating gluten is detrimental to the health of people with celiac disease or gluten intolerance.

Yet, as more people are now gluten-free by choice, many may not realize just what gluten is or what it is in. Reading ingredient labels is key, but so is knowing what to look for on the labels.

“Sometimes gluten isn’t just stated as gluten or wheat flour,” Clark said.

Gluten can be found not only in wheat, but also in products made from barley and rye. This easily eliminates most breads, cereals, cakes, cookies and pastas unless they are specifically labeled as gluten free. Even small amounts of hidden gluten, such as malt flavoring, can make a person with an intolerance sick.

Being unable to eat as much refined and processed food is one of the key reasons weight loss is connected to gluten-free diets. Weight loss is constantly being used to promote the lifestyle, but there are several more obstacles that should be acknowledged before making the jump to being gluten free.

After not eating gluten for a period of time, the body will eventually react to it as a poison. Even a trace amount of gluten, perhaps from cross-contamination, can send an intolerant person into a reaction. Some of these reactions can be mild, such as dry mouth, or as severe as vomiting and gastrointestinal irregularity.

“It’s hard when you go to restaurants.” Nicole Schaum, freshman in bakery science, said.

She was diagnosed just three months ago and has already learned the new dangers of eating out. A seemingly safe chicken breast served in the Derby Dining Center is just one example of something that has made Schaum sick.

Eating out can become difficult because you are not watching your food be prepared. Even though some restaurants have gluten-free menus, that does not always mean the kitchen staff are educated about how to prepare a meal free of gluten. A gluten intolerant person could wind up sick due to the kitchen using the same gloves to prepare all of the meals.

Schaum said she hopes to someday open up her own restaurant where people can avoid things like cross-contamination.

“I want to open my own restaurant for people with food allergies because I know how hard it is when you go out to eat,” Schaum said.

Although Clark isn’t on the diet herself, she said she is currently developing a gluten-free pizza crust in her research and development class. Not only is the pizza crust free of gluten, but it is free of all allergens as well. Clark said she got the idea to do away with the other allergens since most people with a gluten intolerance also have other allergies such as dairy and egg.

“It’s not built like a normal pizza crust, so it’s not going to hold together like the normal pizza crust,” Clark said. “We actually have to work through those challenges to make it actually function and be acceptable to a consumer.”

People like Schaum and Clark are helping to make gluten-free eating safer and easier. Since eating out can be a potentially hazardous experience for someone on a gluten-free diet, it seems the most logical way to eat would be to cook meals yourself. However, this can prove to be a challenge in itself.

When a recipe calls for all-purpose flour, there is no usual substitute. It can take a combination of two or more kinds of flours in order to replicate the effect of wheat flour. Tapioca flour, rice flour and potato starches are just a few of the common flours blended together to make a substitute for wheat flour.

To be gluten free, by necessity or choice, is to be intentional about everything you put in your body. It’s a constant lifestyle of being more aware about the food you eat and how it’s prepared. A gluten-free lifestyle is a challenge, regardless of the reason for it.

“It’s probably the hardest thing you’ll ever do in your life.” Schuam said.