Do you know what Gluten Is?

So, this Jimmy Kimmel clip has been making the rounds on the internet this week:

It turns out that lots of people who have gone gluten free because they think it’s healthy have no idea what gluten is. Some people knew it was somehow related to wheat and flour, but their understanding stopped there. Bakers and Alton Brown fans might know that gluten is the reason you don’t overmix baked goods– mixing too much leaves you with tough, chewy treats, which is not a happy thing when you’re going for a light fluffy bread or cake. Recently, gluten-free diets have taken off as an approach to lose weight and get healthy. Patrick and I have started to try to eat gluten free during the week because gluten sensitivities are sometimes linked to auto-immune reactions. There are tests for gluten/dairy/etc sensitivities that can be run by a doctor that could save us the effort of trying an elimination diet, but meal planning for a few weeks seemed a little more straightforward than finding a specialist and having the tests run. I haven’t noticed any significant difference in my reaction to the lack of gluten, but subbing fruits and veggies for cookies and crackers does leave me with more energy (not too surprising). We’ve avoided most gluten free snack food substitutes; this might be an option if one of us does seem to have a real reaction to gluten containing products, but for now, it’s probably a healthier option to stick to real food based snacks.

Anyhow, back to the point of this post: as Jimmy explained in the start of the video, gluten is a composite of two proteins, gliadin and glutenin. Gliadin is the major culprit in celiac disease and gluten sensitivities—the body develops antibodies to gliadin, causing an immune reaction to the presence of gluten in the body. It takes nearly two years of a gluten free diet for someone with the most common anti-gliadin antibody to allow these antibodies to return to normal levels. For the 15% of people that have elevated levels of these antibodies, a gluten free diet is important to decrease their immune response and any related complications. Gluten sensitivity seems to be a lot trickier of a situation—some people with sensitivities don’t always generate elevated levels of the anti-gliadin antibodies.

While it is possible that gluten sensitivities and wheat allergies are more common now (in the same way other food allergies are less unusual), the gluten free diet trend has really taken off. It reminds me a bit of the fat-free craze from a while back. Gluten free diets might be great if you fill in the gaps in your diet with fruits, veggies and other real, whole foods, but subbing your wheat based food for gluten free substitutes made with simple alternative carbs isn’t much of a healthy diet option.

Did you know what gluten was? Has a gluten free diet made a difference in your health?

Note: I am not a trained dietician or nutritionist. This post is solely based on my understanding of protein science and biology and not meant to advise.

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