Be sure before you cut out gluten
In the battle to get leaner and healthier, people have been targeting many different food groups over the years, from fats to carbohydrates. Now, experts are weighing in on whether or not grains might be a culprit in the growing prevalence of certain diseases, including obesity and dementia.
Conflicting opinions on carbohydrates
“Carbohydrates are awful for the brain,” said Dr. David Perlmutter, neurologist and author of the new book “Grain Brain.” “Eating carbohydrate foods increases blood sugar levels, which causes inflammation and can lead to dementias.”
However, a recent study conducted by the University of Nebraska showed that eating whole grains, such as barley and brown rice, actually helped decrease inflammation.
Carolyn O’Neil, a registered dietitian, also agrees with these findings that dispute the elimination of carbohydrates in one’s diet.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” O’Neil said. “A study by Centers for Disease Control researchers projected that if grains were eliminated then diets would be extremely low in folic acid, iron and B vitamins. Even those with a gluten digestion problem have their choice of many nutritious gluten free grains to enjoy, including amaranth, buckwheat, corn, millet, non-contaminated oats, quinoa, rice, sorghum, teff and wild rice.”
The experts weigh-in
A growing number of people are being diagnosed with sensitivity to gluten, which is a condition that can cause a range of health problems. Gluten found in wheat, barley, rye and in oats processed in the same mills as those grains, cannot be digested by those with celiac disease (CD) and can affect the health of those who are gluten intolerant.
According to the National Institute of Health, between 5 percent and 10 percent of all people may suffer from a gluten sensitivity of some form. One out of every 133 Americans (about 3 million people) have Celiac Disease. Individuals with CD do need to consume a gluten-free diet. Nutrition experts in the United States and Canada state there is no evidence eating whole grains containing gluten poses widespread health risks for the rest of the population. For more information, visit http://www.bestfoodfacts.org.
Some experts, like Perlmutter, are also critical of wheat as a culprit in obesity. This is a claim disputed by others, including Judy Adams, registered dietitian with the Wheat Foods Council, who points out that Americans are actually eating less wheat today than they did one hundred years ago. O’Neil adds that those who are cutting gluten out of their diets in order to lose weight may wind up gaining instead.
“You can eat just as many or even more calories when choosing gluten free foods,” she said. “After all, gluten free chocolate chip cookies are still chocolate chip cookies.”
Although gluten may be at the center of the current debate, all sides seem to agree some factors do play a key role in a healthy lifestyle: physical activity; sleep; healthy fats, such as those in olive oil and avocado; and a Mediterranean style diet, which emphasizes fruits, vegetables and seafood.
With these healthy dieting elements in mind, and by keeping yourself informed about the facts and benefits of foods, you can make the most educated decision when choosing what to feed your family.