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Fight the Fad

Gluten-free should be taken more seriously

In the early days of humankind, before the birth of agriculture, everyone was gluten-free.  In today’s world, grain proteins are found in a multitude of food and beverages.

However, a new trend is emerging. People have started to make the choice to remove gluten from their diets in an attempt to live healthier, happier lives.

This trend, and those who follow it, is not to be confused with those who have celiac disease – a hypersensitivity to gluten causing difficulties in digesting food.

People with this disease can’t eat gluten, not by their own choice, but due to the autoimmune disorder. Because of this, those who choose their gluten-free diets in an attempt to eat healthier and lose weight have the potential to bother those with celiac disease.

“They make it difficult for me to take claims of gluten-free options seriously because a lot of them are targeted to [dieters] rather than celiacs,” said Amethyst Aston, a Calgarian with celiac disease.

“I find it extremely frustrating when they compare themselves to me. And, when people assume that I am one of them at restaurants, I end up sick,” she said.

According to the Canadian Celiac Association (CCA), it is estimated that one in 133 Canadians are affected by celiac disease.

Yet, almost 10 million Canadians avoid purchasing gluten, states a 2013 gluten-free certification program presentation by the CCA.

If the number of people who avoid eating grain proteins are that much higher than the number of those who have celiac disease, why are people choosing to remove it from their diets?

There are some who don’t have celiac disease and instead have gluten sensitivity, but that still leaves a large chunk of the gluten-free population unaccounted for.

Gluten refers to the proteins commonly found in wheat, rye, barley and triticale.

Many are opting to remove these proteins from their diets. This is because it is commonly believed that the human body cannot fully digest wheat.

Wheat is believed to be a pro-inflammatory agent and refined wheat has little nutritional value.

Therefore, cutting out wheat doesn’t necessarily make you healthier.

“The problem is a lot of people misunderstand. Gluten is not just wheat, and a lot of people don’t get that,” Aston said.

Aston, a chemistry and psychology student at the University of Calgary, said she believes removing wheat can actually be dangerous to a person’s health.

“Unless you opt to cut out grains altogether, you are actually vastly increasing your sugar intake. And people who cut out grains altogether, tend to end up low on energy.”

We all know refined grains are not the healthiest option, but whole grains are a source of slow-burning carbohydrates and actually improve blood sugar levels.

In addition, grains are a common source of B1, B2 and B9 vitamins. A lack of such can cause anemia – a deficiency of red blood cells or hemoglobin causing weariness and a pale appearance.

“Generally [gluten-free] is a very poor choice,” said Aston.

Perhaps the best bet for those who don’t have celiac disease or gluten sensitivities isn’t to remove cereal grains from their diet like in the days before the agrarian revolution.

Maybe taking a look at what grains we eat and the quantities we eat them in is the best solution.

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