Is Gluten Actually Bad For You? An Expert Weighs In

Aleksija Vujicic

 

We’ve probably all heard the arguments for and against gluten— and there are a lot of those. Your sister swears cutting out gluten was the best thing to ever happen to her, meanwhile your BFF refuses to give up pasta or pizza (we understand both sides, tbh).

One day you’re reading that your favorite influencer went gluten-free, and the next your mom is serving up lasagna for dinner— how is a girl supposed to know what to do? The great gluten controversy (should you cut it out or is it ok in moderation) is one that will probably continue, so we decided to get the facts and make the decision for ourselves. We spoke to Naturopathic Doctor Melissa Cugliari, ND (@drmelissacugliari) to figure out what the heck is going on with gluten.

 

First of All, What Even Is Gluten?

Gluten is one of life’s great mysteries that seem like they’ll never be solved. Why is Riverdale so weird? Will Kylie Jenner ever show us her real nails? What the heck is gluten?

According to Dr. Cugliari, gluten is basically the “glue” (get it, glue —> gluten) that helps certain foods keep their shape. It is a structural protein, to be exact, which is a term you’ve probably heard about in science class.

It is found in wheat, rye and barley and other grains, which are often found in some one your favorite foods like bread, pasta, pizza and baked goods. Gluten is sneaky, however, as it can also be hidden in many processed foods in which it acts like a binding agent, Dr. Cugliari tells us. Whenever you see one of those very long nutrition labels, beware.

 

Should I Avoid Gluten, Or Not?

Unfortunately, the answer isn’t totally black and white. Aka, your sister and your BFF can both be right.

Dr. Cugliari explains that, in reality, the problem with gluten is not really gluten itself (unless you’re gluten intolerant, which we’ll get to later). The problem really lies in the fact that “generally speaking, gluten is found in foods that are more processed— for example, breads and pastas. These foods are made from wheat, which is often grown in the presence of pesticides and other chemicals.” It’s these factors that might actually be negatively impacting your health.

So when your sister says she cut out gluten and feels much better, it might be because she has consequently started avoiding processed foods, and replacing them with more nutritious alternatives (which we totally stan!).

Those who observe a gluten-free diet “may feel better because they are eating a healthier, more balanced diet overall, consisting of whole foods [like] vegetables, unprocessed grains, fruits, and proteins”. If you’ve ever read Zenzy before, you’ll know that we believe foods that come straight from Mother Nature are always going to be nicer to your body, skin, and mental health— and that’s pretty much what’s happening here.

Your sister isn’t making things up— In fact, Dr. Cugliari tells us that “by limiting or eliminating gluten, some individuals may feel better, they may feel more energized and their digestive systems work more smoothly.” Eating fruit makes you feel good— who knew? (Well actually, we did).

 

But If You’re Thinking About Substituting Gluten-Free Items (Like GF Bread and Pasta)…

… Think again. Unfortunately, continuing to consume your starchy favorites with a ‘gluten-free’ label is not the answer (sorry). In Dr. Cugliari’s experience, this can actually make you feel worse. Just because a food is labeled “gluten-free”, doesn’t mean it’s healthier. Oftentimes, foods that are marketed as being “gluten-free” are still processed, and might even have higher amounts of sugar or other questionable ingredients to improve their taste. Just because a package says “gluten-free”, does not mean that the food is healthier by any means, Dr. Cugliari tells us.

If you’re going to cut out gluten, try replacing it with unprocessed whole grains that are naturally gluten-free like quinoa, wild rice, millet, buckwheat, and steel cut oats. These are an important part of your diet, and will be nicer to your body. 🙂

 

Got It. But What If I’m Gluten Intolerant?

For some people, it really is best to strictly limit or totally eliminate gluten from your diet, and that is when you are gluten sensitive or gluten intolerant.

Gluten Sensitivity: Dr. Cugliari explains that individuals with gluten sensitivity may experience a wide range of symptoms upon ingesting gluten, including gas, bloating, irregular bowel movements, skin concerns, brain fog, aggravation of skin concerns like acne, and more. However, the symptoms can look different for each person.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, the best way to determine if you have a gluten sensitivity is to seek the assistance of a licensed Naturopathic Doctor or other trusted healthcare official who can help you temporary eliminate gluten from your diet and monitor your symptoms.

Gluten Intolerance: Gluten intolerance is known as Celiac Disease, which is an autoimmune disorder that often runs in families. When someone who has Celiac Disease eats gluten, their immune system reacts negatively and attacks their own body, often leading to inflammation in the intestinal tract, Dr. Cugliari explains.

Often, the symptoms of Celiac Disease can be similar to those of gluten sensitivity, such as irregular bowel movements (diarrhea or constipation), gas, bloating, abdominal pain, trouble concentrating, and fatigue, but they may be more severe. They also don’t always show up immediately after consuming gluten, as they can show up hours or even days later and remain for long periods of time.

In this case, the only way to be diagnosed with Celiac Disease is to be tested and diagnosed by your Doctor.

 

In summary, if after consulting with your Doctor you are considered to have gluten sensitivity or gluten intolerance, it is best to restrict or avoid gluten entirely. If not, however, the idea is to eat as many whole foods that are naturally free of gluten (including some grains!) and consume gluten (in pasta, pizza, etc.) in moderation 🙂 We always want to do what is nicest for our bodies! 

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