Gluten: Friend or Foe

Gluten seems to be the topic of choice today. We hear about it in the news, see gluten free products popping up all over the place and find more and more people trying to avoid it. But is it really as bad as people are making it out to be or is a gluten free world just the latest fad? The gluten in question is a natural wheat protein which gives elasticity to dough, helps it to rise, keep its shape, and often gives the final product that chewy texture we love so much. Gluten, especially wheat gluten, is the basis for imitation meats resembling chicken, duck, fish, pork and beef and widely used in vegetarian, vegan and Buddhist cuisines as a meat substitute. Gluten is also used as a stabilizing agent in products like ice cream and ketchup among others. Suffice it to say, anything which contains wheat or some form of wheat, like semolina, spelt, durum, kamut, einkorn, faro, rye, barley and triticate contains gluten. Oats, while gluten free, are generally processed with other wheat based products and as such can become contaminated with gluten. Rice, corn, oats, buckwheat, and millet have glutens, but the glutens in these foods do not contain the gliadin molecule that cause the inflammatory reaction created by wheat gluten and are thus usually safe. Other safe grains include quinoa and amaranth.

Gluten is particularly problematic for people suffering from Celiac disease, for children dealing with ADHD, ADD, Autism and those who have a gluten intolerance. However there is a growing belief that excessive exposure to gluten can cause negative health consequences in the general population. For those who are sensitive to gluten, failure to remove gluten from your diet can result in Irritable Bowel Syndrome, abdominal pain, gas, bloating, vitamin deficiency, anemia, diarrhea or constipation. Long term exposure to gluten can result in Iron deficiency anemia, early onset osteoporosis or osteopenia, vitamin K deficiency associated with risk for hemorrhaging, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, central and peripheral nervous system disorders – usually due to unsuspected nutrient deficiencies, among other more serious conditions.

But Wheat and gluten has been around for hundreds of years and hasn’t always been a problem. In fact, research by the Mayo Clinic has shown that gluten intolerance and celiac disease is on the rise in recent years and it is believed to be largely due to “environmental influences, increased food processing and greater dietary dependence on gluten based grains.”

Overall natural whole grains be it wheat or the gluten free variety do have tremendous health benefits but not all food is equally healthy for everyone. For those who have celiac disease, ADD, ADHD, Autism or gluten insensitivity my suggestion is avoid gluten, you’re not missing anything and you will feel so much better. Your dietary options are limitless as is the deliciousness factor. For those who aren’t gluten sensitive, the key is everything in moderation. Regardless, everyone should be mindful of eating a well balanced diet comprised of natural whole foods with lots of dark leafy greens.

If interested in learning more about gluten, gluten sensitivity, celiac disease or the influence of gluten in managing ADD, ADHD or Autism in children please email Beth directly at

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