Gluten-free diets — eliminating any food made from wheat, rye or barley — have taken off in recent years, and many swear that eliminating grains from their diets has helped them lose weight,
think more clearly and enjoy better overall health.Popular self-help writer Tim Ferriss said in his book The Four-Hour Body that he lost 20 pounds in one month without exercise by, in part, eliminating “anything that is white, or can become white.”
Although experts estimate that only 1 per cent Americans — about 3 million people — actually suffer from Celiac disease, the disorder that causes their immune systems to reject wheat, 18 per cent of adults now buy gluten-free foods.
So why are so many people buying gluten-free foods?
“It’s the diet du jour,” says Julie M. Jones, a professor of dietetics at St. Catherine’s University in St. Paul, Minnesota.
A number of popular diets have recently advocated dropping wheat. Paleo dieters argue that wheat and other grains are relatively recent additions to the human diet, and aren’t as well suited to our digestive systems as animal meat, fruits and vegetables. Other low-carb diets like the Atkins diet also advocate reducing grains to spur weight-loss.
“Basically these are low-carb diets, where wheat is the hook,” Jones says.
But is this smart? Should most Americans be cutting out gluten entirely?
While some people should avoid wheat for health reasons, the number is relatively small. On top of only 1 per cent of Americans being diagnosed with Celiac disease, only 0.5 per cent more suffer from a wheat allergy.
People who suffer from Celiac disease are often lacking crucial vitamins, especially B vitamins. It can be dangerous and is difficult to diagnose without a biopsy. Almost half of all adults and more than half of all children with the disease showed no symptoms of the disease at all, according to information published by the University of Chicago Medical centre.
The highest estimates suggest 6 per cent of the U.S. population may some kind of trouble with gluten — which means 94 per cent can tolerate gluten just fine and should think and plan carefully before redlining it from their diets. The biggest problem — and this goes for any diet — is that cutting out gluten could leave you you severely deficient in nutrition, especially fibre, Jones says.
“The people who advocate low-carb diets say you can get fibre from fruits and vegetables, but, well we aren’t eating those either.”
Americans already get only a fraction of the required amount of fibre —only 4 per cent get enough of it, and less than 1 per cent of men between the ages of 14 and 50 meet the fibre requirement. Most people are way under the established guidelines of about 25 grams per day for women and almost 40 grams per day for men.
“Most people’s average intake is 13 grams a day,” Jones says. “The average gluten-free diet has only six grams per day.” People on low-carb diets eat fruit and vegetables to gain all of their fibre, but grains and cereals provide more efficient forms of fibre than pectin, which comes from fruits.
Ultimately, any weight lost on any of these diets is probably coming from a reduction in calories, rather than from the elimination of any one ingredient, Jones says.
People who do decide to drop wheat should look for other alternative whole grains, like whole grain sorghum, buckwheat and quinoa.
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