Is Gluten a Problem for You?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012
bread In 2012, there is a growing awareness that some people have problems when they eat gluten-containing foods. By now, you have probably seen lots of foods labeled "gluten-free", and may wonder about it. While there's no direct relationship between low-carb eating and gluten-free eating, I believe that it's a good idea to educate people who are sensitive to carbs about gluten, and possibly vice versa. This is because when people cut carbs they are almost always cutting way down on gluten and when people first go gluten-free, they usually cut back on carbs. Because of this, it's relatively easy to confuse the results of your dietary change, attributing to one what is caused by the other.

What is gluten? Gluten refers to the proteins in wheat which cause the dough to become elastic when kneaded. These proteins are also present in rye and barley, and in forms of wheat such as spelt, kamut, and bulgar. Since wheat is in many processed foods (think of ingredients such as starch and vegetable protein, as well as surprising foods such as soy sauce) a person on a gluten-free diet generally eats few processed foods (although food companies are rapidly rushing in to fill that gap).

When I went on my first reduced-carb diet 16 years ago, I was truly amazed by how much better I felt. It turned out that part of that dramatic change was because I am gluten intolerant. Unfortunately, when I found this out, I assumed that gluten was my only problem, so what did I do? Learned to bake with rice flour and other gluten-free grains! My weight came right back, and so did some of my symptoms. It took me awhile to figure out that I am glucose intolerant as well as gluten intolerant.

There is also a phenomenon where people who are overweight and go on a gluten-free diet often lose weight. My buddy Jane Anderson, the Guide to Celiac Disease, has written a great article, Gluten-Free Diets and Weight Loss, about this topic. One of the people she cites is Dr. William Davis, author of Wheat Belly. Dr. Davis writes about the detrimental effects of wheat, including its role in weight gain, but emphasizes that the weight loss won't be as likely to occur if people substitute other starches and sugars for the wheat. So is it the gluten, or the carbs? Perhaps both. (BTW, Dr. Davis is going to be on this year's Low-Carb Cruise. Also, in the gluten and weight loss article, Jane quotes Denise Minger, who is ALSO going to be on the cruise! See? It really is all connected!)

Another thing Jane has been writing a lot about lately is gluten sensitivity. Finally, there is evidence for something that many of us have known for a long time: that you don't have to have celiac disease to have problems with gluten. Estimates vary as to how many people are affected, but it seems as though it's at least 6-7% of the population. If you are interested in the topic, I highly recommend Jane's whole Celiac Disease site, as well as the following articles:

Also, did you know that all of my low-carb recipes are also gluten-free? Check out:
Photo c Elke Rohn

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