What is the deal with gluten?

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When I first heard about the gluten-free craze from my girlfriends a few years ago, I thought it was just another weight-loss trend. It reminded me of the low-fat, carb-free and all-protein fads from years past. Even Jimmy Kimmel did a hilarious skit about gluten-free eaters and their lack of actual purpose when avoiding it. I was definitely one of them. I only presumed it was a way to avoid carbs for the sake of losing weight.

As a proponent of moderation, I’ve always believed that a balanced diet and exercise is the most effective way to stay fit and healthy. But after doing some research, it’s apparent that I was wrong to dismiss the gluten-free diet—dead wrong. There’s a greater danger to this “craze” than most of us realize.

The real deal with gluten:

  1. Wheat has changed for the worse. Gluten is an elastic protein found in grains, with wheat being the most commonly consumed. Now the wheat of today is not the same as the wheat of our parent’s generation. Thirty years ago, wheat had limited pesticide exposure along with significantly better soil quality. Sadly, this is not the case with modern wheat, even if it is organically grown. According to the US Department of Agriculture, as of 2012, 99% of durum wheat, 97% of spring wheat, and 61% of winter wheat has been treated with herbicides, a major increase since the levels found in 1998.  
  2. If bugs can’t eat our wheat, then neither should we. For the past fifteen years, it has become routine for harvesters to apply the herbicide, Roundup, to wheat fields a week before harvest. Roundup contains glyphosate, a toxic chemical used as a drying agent to kill the wheat plant, allowing for an earlier and larger harvest. RoundUp weed killer nets food Giant Monsanto about $5 billion annually. International studies have shown that glyphosate acts as a hormone disruptor, destroys beneficial bacteria in the gut leading to a host of autoimmune disorders, yet there are often Glyphosate residues found in the wheat we buy and consume every day. Last year the World Health Organization’s cancer group, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, classified it as a probable carcinogen. And just because you’re not getting ill immediately, doesn’t mean you’re unaffected. With today’s wheat, it’s really just a waiting game . . .
  3. In avoiding gluten, we eat cleaner. We naturally end up focusing on fresh produce while avoiding the packaged food aisle: win-win.

Eating healthy means doing your homework

The good news is gluten-free products have swarmed the market, so it’s easy to avoid. And since there is a multitude of alternative grains free of gluten and harmful GMOs, they’re also easy to replace. Instead, try quinoa, organic brown rice, amaranth, sorghum or buckwheat.  We have found some great gluten free products at the natural products expo including....

Also: be aware that—as with anything food related—there are caveats. Not all gluten-free products are healthy. In fact, many compensate with sugars, processed oils, and synthetic flavors, all of which are harmful in the long run.

My suggestion? Read your labels and avoid gluten. Even if you don’t currently have a gluten allergy it’s necessary to avoid conventional wheat in the US. The rise of Celiacs disease has a direct correlation to the increased use of Roundup on wheat crops, and it’s not on a genetic level, it’s environmental. At the very least, dodge any wheat that isn’t organically grown and completely free of Roundup and other pesticides. That’s not an easy task in the US today, but it’s possible with due diligence. When it comes to the risks involved with contemporary food, research is becoming more and more paramount. Don’t forget to do yours.