Nearly two million Americans have celiac disease and should avoid eating gluten, a new study finds. However, as little as a decade ago, virtually no one in the U.S. seemed to have a problem eating the protein that’s found in bread and other foods. Ali Miller, dietitian and natural foods expert with Naturally Nourished, explains the benefits and disadvantages of the health trend behind this fad diet.
Victoria Bechham, Miley Cyrus, and many other celebrities eat gluten-free. Does that mean you should, too?
Is Celiac disease on the rise?
According to a new study from the Mayo Clinic, it may be both. For the study, Dr. Joseph Murray, a gastroenterologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and his team looked at blood samples taken from Americans in the 1950s and compared them with samples taken from people today and determined it wasn’t just better diagnosis driving up the numbers. Celiac disease actually was increasing. Indeed, the research confirms estimates that about 1 percent of U.S. adults have it today, making it four times more common now than it was 50 years ago.
That translates to about 1.8 million Americans with celiac disease, but about 1.4 million people with the condition may not be aware they even have it. On the flip side, about 1.6 million people in the U.S. are on a gluten-free diet even though they haven’t been diagnosed with celiac disease.
Why is gluten being targeted for negative health effects, isn’t whole wheat good for you?/What is celiac disease?
Gluten is the protein component in many grains including: wheat, rye, spelt, barley, and some oats. People that have Celiac disease have an autoimmune reaction to gluten meaning that their body sees gluten as a foreign invader and gluten destroys the lining of the intestine. There are people that have gluten enteropathy or gluten-sensitivity without Celiac disease, in this case the gluten still destroys the lining of the gut but the body does not have an autoimmune response so the blood work or Celiac panel will not show elevated antigens or “immune system invader alarms”. 1 in 133 people in the US have Celiac disease and it is estimated that 5-10% of the population has gluten-sensitivity.
Symptoms of Celiac Disease: fatigue, headaches, constipation, diarrhea, joint pain, inflammatory reactions, damage to the intestine
Why is Celiac disease on the rise? This really seems to have been a rapid buzz.
3 reasons why Celiac disease and gluten intolerance is on the rise:
- Weaker Immune Systems
- Higher intake of processed foods
Changes in the grains/crops: Hybridization of the wheat in our food supply has dramatically changed wheat and commercial grains, with a higher proportion of gluten in wheat than ever before. Modern cultivation, milling, storage and processing deplete wheat of nutrients, including vitamin E, B vitamins, calcium, iron, and omega-3 fatty acids. Soil treated with chemical fertilizers, pesticides, synthetic growth hormones affect the plant development, and chemical preservatives contribute to gluten reactivity. Also, the hybridization of crops in our monoculture has produced wheat and flour-making grains to have the highest amount of gluten as it serves as a binder, helps dough rise, and provides structure/texture to baked goods. In the 1950s we began growing only the highest yielding crops.
Compromised immune system function: The hygiene hypothesis which suggests that “ultra-clean environments” do not allow for adequate exposure to antigens during child development; therefore, the gut doesn’t learn to handle antigens properly and the immune system responds with intolerance. With our focus on keeping “germs” away we have dramatically increased application of antibacterial soaps and body products.
Higher consumption of flour-based foods: sandwiches, pastries, muffins, tortillas, etc. and since the 1970s people have been told to choose whole wheat or whole grain which is higher in gluten.
And so is it beneficial to eat a gluten-free diet if you don’t have these conditions?
Gluten is a pro-inflammatory food and may increase fat storage in the body. Also carbohydrates in general cause a rise in blood sugar levels, which can increase risk for diabetes and cause instability with energy levels. I always like to focus on what we are having vs. what we are not. So, if you remove processed grains and flours from gluten-containing grains and replace it with sweet potatoes, legumes (beans), squash, carrots, beets, and starchy whole foods going gluten-free can be very beneficial, but if you just replace gluten foods with other processed gluten-free foods such as cookies, crackers, etc. you may not benefit.
Do you miss out on nutrients when following this type of meal plan?
If done improperly, a gluten-free diet can rob your body of important nutrients like iron, vitamins B12 and D, magnesium, and fiber. Processed gluten-free products are often higher in carbohydrates, fat, and sodium.
If you are replacing processed gluten products with processed gluten-free products, you may still be at a nutritional disadvantage. Instead, replace gluten products with whole sprouted grains, legumes, and nutrient-dense carbohydrates for a healthy improvement to any diet!
Black Bean Quinoa Salad
Ali Miller, RD, LD
With the most complete proteins of any grain and a great source of vitamins and minerals – iron, magnesium, Vit E, potassium, amino acids, and fiber – quinoa is an ideal gluten-free nutritious food for everyone! Quinoa is simple and quick to cook, so next time you’re craving a Mexican meal out; opt for making this wholesome recipe instead!
Yield: 8 servings
1 ½ cups quinoa 1 can black beans, rinsed 1 cup frozen organic corn kernels 1 ½ tablespoons balsamic vinegar 1 ½ cup bell pepper, finely chopped 2 each jalapeño chilies, seeded/minced ¼ cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped
- 5 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 ¼ teaspoons cumin, ground
- 1/3 cup olive oil
Method of Preparation:
1. Rinse quinoa with cold water using a fine mesh filter or strainer.
2. In a saucepan, combine quinoa with 3 cups water. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes until all the water has been absorbed & quinoa is tender.
3. While quinoa is cooking, in a small bowl, toss beans with vinegar and salt and pepper to taste.
4. Transfer quinoa to a large bowl and cool. Add beans, corn bell pepper, jalapenos, and cilantro. Toss Well.
5. In a small bowl whisk together lime juice, salt, and cumin and add oil in a stream, whisking. Drizzle dressing over salad and toss well.
Nutritional Analysis: Per serving Calories: 270 Total Fat: 12 g Protein: 9 g Carbohydrates: 30 g Fiber: 7 g Sodium: 213 mg