Gluten free Going against the grain
Gluten seems to be the new dietary no-no. As during the fat-free and low-carb crazes of the past, consumers are now clamoring for gluten-free products like never before.
Before jumping on the gluten free bandwagon, though, a bit of background is in order.
Gluten is a protein found primarily in whole-grain wheat, rye and barley. When you eat whole grain bread or barley soup, gluten provides the body with protein to build and repair muscle tissue or to manufacture other body proteins like hormones and enzymes. Gluten protein provides structure to baked goods, and can be isolated from grains and formed into a vegetarian meat substitute known as seitan.
Many people feel that they can’t handle gluten because they feel bloated or gassy when they eat grains – and because they feel less bloated when they stop eating gluten-rich foods. And they note that they often lose weight when they cut out the gluten, which could be reason for the sudden enthusiasm for gluten free foods.
Because gluten lurks not only in grain foods but is also used as a stabilizer and thickener in lots of processed foods like salad dressings, frozen yogurt, and processed cold cuts, it could be that people feel better after they go gluten-free, whether they’re intolerant or not. After all, they are cutting out fast foods and processed foods and possibly replacing starchy foods with healthy fruits and veggies, which would promote weight loss.
Some people truly have gluten intolerance and do have to follow a strict gluten-free diet, but the numbers are relatively small. It has been estimated that only about 1 percent of the population has the most severe form, known as celiac disease.
Those who are truly intolerant to gluten have to spend lots of time reading labels. They must avoid wheat, rye, and barley, as well as wheat “cousins” kamut and spelt. And products made from these grains, such as bulgur, couscous, wheat germ, semolina, durum, and bran, are forbidden, too. Gluten might also be disguised on a label as vegetable protein, modified food starch or malt flavoring, and it’s sometimes found in soy sauce and grain-based alcohol.
True gluten intolerance is relatively rare, but one argument for going gluten-free is that it’s a way to improve the diet, especially if refined grains have been the source of most of the gluten. Replacing starch-heavy pastas, cakes, cookies, white bread, and pretzels with gluten-free whole grains like quinoa or millet is good advice for everyone.
Understand the meaning and why fear the fat
Sheer the word “fat,” and most people shake. But, I’m not talking today about the kind of fat that deposits under our skin, making us soft and bulbous. I’m talking about the kinds of fat that we eat.
Fat, more than any other component of our diet, causes the most confusion. Everyone has an view as far as how much to eat, what kinds to eat, which ones are healthy and which ones should be evaded. It seems like every month there is a new “scientific study” hyping one kind of fat over another that contradicts the last study. There are many misconceptions and myths about fat in our diet, so I hope to address the most common ones and help you sort out the facts.
1. Eating fat makes us fat. True, dietary fat has more calories per gram (9 calories per gram) than either protein or carbohydrates (4 calories per gram), but it’s the total calories we eat that lead to weight gain. Too often we avoid fat but end up replacing those calories with sugar. When excess sugar is not burned off, it is stored as body fat. Eating fats slows down our digestion and helps us feel full longer, which can actually help with weight loss.
2. Our bodies don’t need fat in our diet. We can’t live without some fat in our diet. Fat gives us energy, helps absorb vitamins, including A, D, E and K , helps make necessary hormones, and is essential for nerve and brain function. A fat-deficient diet can result in stunted growth, reproductive failure, skin lesions, kidney and liver disorders, vision problems, subtle neurological problems, and chronic intestinal disease. In fact, 25 percent to 30 percent of our calories should come from fat.
3. It is best to stick to low-fat or fat-free foods. Not always. Processed foods that are low fat or fat-free have additional elements added to make up for the lack of fat. Often, the ingredient is sugar. Fat-free does not mean calorie-free, and many reduced-fat foods have as many or more calories than their traditional replacements.
4. Any food high in fat is high in cholesterol. Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found only in animal foods. Vegetable oils and nuts do not have cholesterol.
5. Eating fat will raise my cholesterol and increase my risk for heart disease. Eating the wrong foods can definitely raise your cholesterol and increase your risk for heart disease.
But some fats can actually help you lower your risks and improve your lipid levels. Fats found in fish, nuts, seeds, some vegetable oils and avocados help decrease inflammation and increase good cholesterol levels.
6. All fats are the same. True, all fats have the same 9 calories per gram, but they are not equal when it comes to health benefits. There are several different types of fats; the most talked about are:
- Saturated fat: Found in animal products, like meat and dairy, this is the type of fat that can negatively affect cholesterol levels and increase the risk for heart disease. However, there are more than two dozen different kinds of saturated fat and not all of them are harmful. Coconut oil, palm oil and palm kernel oil are saturated fats but appear to be metabolized quickly, help reduce inflammation and do not elevate lipids. Beef and chocolate have a kind of saturated fat that that isn’t harmful to our health.
- Polyunsaturated fat: This is the kind of fat found in most vegetable oils, like corn and soybean. These can help improve cholesterol levels.
- Monounsaturated fat: Considered the healthiest kind of fat, you can find this in olive or canola oils, nuts, avocados and olives. Monounsaturated fat can help lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
- Trans fat: Worst of the worst, trans fats or partially hydrogenated fats, increase our risk of heart disease and should be avoided. These are mostly found in processed foods.
- Omega 3 fat: Found in fish, flax and chia seeds, omega 3 fatty acids can help decrease the risk of heart disease and stroke.
7. If you stick to healthy fats, there is no need to limit how much fat you eat. Healthy fat or not, all fat is still a major source of calories. Unless you can afford unlimited calories, it’s best to eat a diet moderate in fat.