Ask a nutrition student: You knead to know about gluten

Stacey Arnold

My girlfriend rejected the pasta I made, saying she was going gluten-free because it would improve her overall health. We got into an argument about whether or not gluten is bad for you. Who is right?

-My GF is GF

Unless your girlfriend was recently diagnosed with celiac disease or some other type of gluten or wheat allergy, she shouldn’t give up on gluten.

Gluten is the product of two different types of naturally occurring proteins, glutenin and gliadin, which are found in wheat, rye, barley and triticale foods. Gluten provides foods texture and structure.

Gluten develops when one kneads bread dough or stirs any type of baked good batter, according to Essentials of Food Science. Ever wondered why the back of the brownie mix box cautions over mixing? Too much gluten formation creates tough baked goods.

Whether you have a tendency to over-mix and prove to be a “crumby” baker or are a chef who always rises to the occasion, people diagnosed with celiac disease should avoid gluten altogether.

Celiac disease is a genetic disorder that affects 1 in 133 Americans. The body responds to gluten by damaging the walls of the small intestine. Because the small intestine is responsible for the absorption of food, those with celiac disease can have nutrient deficiencies.

For those without celiac disease or a sensitivity to gluten or wheat, it is unlikely that they’ll reap any health benefits from going gluten-free. Because wheat provides fiber, iron, calcium and many B vitamins, eliminating gluten completely could actually be detrimental to one’s health.

Overall health aside, if you’re looking to lower the number on the scale, turn to something else. At this time, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reports that there is no scientific evidence that going gluten-free will promote weight loss. Gluten-free foods actually have a higher density of fat and sugar than their counterparts. According to the Journal of Pediatrics, obesity and metabolic syndrome have actually been observed in people after they start a gluten-free diet.

What about your friend who drops some weight after a week of gluten-less dining? More likely than not, his elimination of gluten-containing processed foods and carbohydrates is to blame for the slim down, not the removal of gluten itself.

For most of the population, gluten will not harm your gut or grant you a slender build. My advice: unless you have celiac disease, go against the grain on this gluten-free diet fad.