There’s a LOT of confusion out there these days about whether gluten is a real hazard to your health or not. More and more frequently in supermarkets, you can find products that are labeled as gluten-free. This seal quickly reminds us of organic labels. This label suggests that gluten and possibly even cereals themselves are unhealthy. Is it really healthier to completely avoid products with gluten?
First of all: It is good that more and more products are offered that do not contain gluten. But not because it is unhealthy. But because there are people who suffer from an illness that makes it impossible for them to process this protein. This illness is called celiac disease and only about 1% of the population suffer from it. There is also something that doctors call gluten sensitivity and between 2% and 6% of the population suffers from it.
Although there are more and more people who voluntarily refuse gluten, a terrifying number of them do not even know what exactly gluten is, or why it should be healthy to not consume it.
Gluten intolerance is an illness, not a fashion phenomenon
Let us look at gluten more closely. Gluten is a mixture of different proteins, a gluten protein, which is contained in many cereal varieties such as wheat, barley or rye. Oatmeal itself does not contain gluten, the only way oatmeal that may contain traces of gluten is if it is treated in a facility where they also process wheat. If you cannot tolerate gluten then you can obviously not consume anything that contains gluten.
To make it clear: the No-Go list includes bread, cereal, beer, biscuits and cakes, pizza or noodles. Gluten is also contained in a large quantity of industrially manufactured foods, in ready-to-eat sauces, breadcrumbs, powders and various sweets. In short: in a large proportion of industrially produced food, as well as some important basic foods.
In celiac disease, gluten induces a chronic inflammation of the intestines. But it is estimated that less than one percent of the population is affected. The other 99% have no directly visible damage caused by the consumption of gluten, thus also no direct gain by the renunciation. So why do people quit consuming gluten?
Unprocessed foods are healthier – whether with or without gluten
With the above list, you can already guess why many people jump on the anti-gluten train. Many of these products are not natural and heavily processed. They must be processed before they can be consumed and are partially enriched with artificial, chemical additives. Also, industrial sugar is included in most products of the food industry and no one can deny that too much sugar is unhealthy. There are more substances contained in food that we don’t know about. The more unknown substances then the more difficult it is for our body to process the food.
Gluten is neither healthy nor unhealthy
Does that mean that to refrain from gluten is actually healthier? No. Because what makes these products unhealthy is not the gluten, but the artificial or chemical substances. Cereal is a naturally grown plant, whether it is wheat or rice. Today, wheat is mainly processed into white flour, which means that many of the healthy substances contained in cereal grain are no longer present in the final product. So again we see here that the industry removes certain ingredients that would be good for us. Whole grain, which is extracted from whole grains, still contains all the fibers, oils and minerals, which are beneficial for our digestion.
Those who want to look after their health (and do not suffer from celiac disease or gluten sensitivity) are well served to buy whole grain products instead of white flour products. Expensive gluten-free substitute products, on the other hand, are completely superfluous for consumers that don’t suffer from celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. But here too, as with everything in life, too much is always unhealthy.