Weight & Wellness

Should You Be Gluten Free?

"Gluten Free!"  It's a ubiquitous claim, sometimes accompanied by a picture of a little smiley face.  Recently, a client brought me a menu from a self-proclaimed "healthy" fast food eatery.  Guess what?  Their salad dressings are gluten free!  Very little else on the menu is free of gluten, but at least you can get a salad...


What exactly is gluten and why should you be free of it - indeed, should you be free of it?


Gluten is a protein found mainly in wheat and in lesser amounts in barley, rye and oats.  Gluten helps bread rise and gives elasticity to dough (think of stretching pizza dough).  The word "gluten" is actually the Latin word for "glue".


The cultivation of wheat began around 8000 B.C.  Humans have been eating it in some form or another ever since.  Why should we stop now?


According to the CDC, 1.8 million adults in America suffer from Celiac disease.  That is roughly 1% of the population of the United States.  Celiac disease is a condition whereby the small intestine is damaged owing to a negative reaction to gluten consumption.  If you have been diagnosed with Celiac disease, you need to eliminate gluten from your diet (some children have a wheat allergy, but, they tend to outgrow it by adulthood).  Although it seems to be the trendy thing to do, if you don't have Celiac disease or a confirmed allergy to wheat, there is absolutely no reason to avoid gluten.  There are, however, numerous reasons for everyone to avoid processed grains.  In fact, there is no health benefit whatsoever, to refined grains.  As far as the human body is concerned, refined grains are not much different from refined sugar - they provide little or no nutrients and cause rapid, unhealthy spikes in blood sugar.


  When wheat is processed, the germ, bran, and consequently, the vitamins, minerals, and fiber are removed.  What remains are the starchy and sticky parts of the wheat kernel and, if the flour is bleached, bleach residues - notably, chlorine dioxide and potassium bromate (the latter banned in all of Europe and many other countries as a carcinogen).  In addition, unless the wheat is grown organically, it is routinely sprayed with at least fifty different insecticides, herbicides and fungicides.  These chemicals make their way into the soil and are actually absorbed through the roots of the plant.  Traces of these chemicals remain in the kernel used for flour, refined or not.  I often wonder if some the problems people have with wheat is actually caused by the chemicals used to grow and process it and the chemicals used in processed flour products, such products as cookies, cakes, crackers, breads, bagels, etc.  In addition, of the approximately 22 vitamins and minerals that are removed during refining, only 5, iron, folic acid, riboflavin, niacin and thiamin are returned to make "enriched" flour.  Flour was alot richer before it was refined and enriched...


Whole wheat and other whole grains are impressive sources of  vitamins, notably B vitamins, minerals, iron, fiber, protein and anti-oxidants.  If you don't have Celiac disease, please, jump off the gluten free bandwagon and enjoy whole grains; they are an integral part of a healthy diet and have been so for thousands of years.


Antioxidant Supplements

I am often asked about antioxidants; is it preferable to consume antioxidants from food or pills?


Although I am not opposed to supplements, it is safer and more beneficial to consume antioxidants from food sources. As an example, a diet high in beta-carotene from food has consistently indicated a reduced risk of certain cancers and cardiovascular disease.  However, when beta-carotene, via the administration of supplements, was studied in a number of intervention trials, consumption was linked to an increased risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease. I'm sure you heard the reports of these studies all over the news. "Beta-carotene causes cancer!"


Not so simple.  Not so fast.  There are several questions regarding the study of supplements:


How much is enough?

How much is too much?

How were the substances extracted?

From what source were they extracted?

And, finally, it is most important to note that nutrients consumed from food sources are not consumed in isolation.  In a way, it would be akin to listening to a symphony, but having the percussion intstruments drown out all of the other instruments.  The result is not music.  All members of the orchestra need to be present and functioning for a successful performance of a symphony.  Health is a symphony.  Food, in particular, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, provide needed antioxidants along with many phytonutrients that work together, in ways not fully understood yet, to promote health and prevent disease.


The benefits of increased consumption of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are numerous, here are but a few:


As noted above, it would increase the consumption of many antioxidants and phytonutrients.

It would increase the intake of hundreds of non-essential compounds that have antioxidant activity.

It would likely reduce caloric intake, both because it might replace higher fat or unhealthy foods, and because fruits and vegetables are low energy dense foods.

It would increase fiber intake.


All of the above have been linked to a reduced risk of cancer, obesity, and certain chronic diseases.

Fad Diets

As promised, here are the top 10 ways to spot a fad diet:


1.  It promises quick weight loss - 1 to 2 pounds per week.

2.  It promotes a miracle food such as cabbage or grapefruit, both of which are good for you, but neither will undo years of bad eating habits and neither will melt fat.

3.  It restricts or eliminates certain foods or food groups.

4.  It promotes certain foods or combinations of foods - often with inflexible menu plans.

5.  The theory behind the diet is based on anecdote, unsubstantiated case histories, and/or pseudo science.

6.  It contradicts the advice of the majority of health professionals.

7.  It is unsupported by published research studies.

8.  It sounds too good to be true:  "lose weight while you sleep!", for example.

9.  It claims to work because of a new "breakthrough" food, theory, or vitamin.

10.  It relies on out-of-context quotes, outdated sites, and unpublished studies.  The author will often use phrases such as, "in a soon to be published study...".


The fad diet floodgates opened in the early 1800's with a regimen advocated by a minister, Sylvester Graham - yes the same Graham of Graham Cracker fame.  Apparently, the good minister was averse to any form of gluttony and he advised temperance in all facets of life, particularly diet.  He encouraged his followers to eat only brown bread, vegetables, and water.  The rest, as they say, is history:  The Calorie Counting Diet, The Inuit Meat and Fat Diet, The Drinking Man's Diet, Nutrisystem, The Scarsdale Diet, The Beverly Hills Diet, The South Beach Diet, Atkins, Eat 4 Your Blood Type, Jenny Craig, Pritikin, The Belly Fat Cure, The Hormone Diet, The Fat Flush Plan are just a few of the more well-known diets.

Most fad diets do not work long-term.  Many of them are potentially dangerous.  Have you ever tried a fad diet?  Now that you know how to identify a fad diet, are you likely to try one again?



Food? for Thought

If someone came up to you on the street, held up a mysterious substance, and asked, "would you like to eat this?", chances are, you would decline.  Why?  Because you don't know what it is, you don't know where it came from, and you don't know who made it.  Yet every day, millions of Americans willingly ingest an alarming array of questionable substances:


Disodium inosinate

Disodium guanylate

Sodium erythorbate

Sodium stearol lactylate

Sodium acid pyrophosphate

Sodium aluminum phosphate

Sodium silicoaluminate

Polysorbate 60

Propylene glycol monostearate

Acetylated monoglycerides

Hydroxypropyl methylcellulose


The above are but a few of the tongue-twisting ingredients common in frozen pizza, whipped toppings, canned soups (even the so-called healthy ones), puddings, ice-cream, salad dressings, etc.


Do you know what acetylated monoglycerides look like?  Or sodium silicoaluminate?  If someone came up to you on the street and asked, "Would you like to eat some acetylated monoglycerides?"  Would you?