Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

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The recent gluten-free food fad has some nutritionists concerned. When people eat gluten-free foods, they may be missing some important nutrients. It is generally recommended that if you do not have celiac disease, you do not need to avoid gluten. However, some people have given up wheat and other grains due to a real or perceived benefit. Many report that their digestive symptoms improve or “they just feel better.” Non-celiac gluten sensitivity or gluten intolerance has been suggested but as yet there is no definitive test for its diagnosis.

Research has shown that avoiding FODMAPS can help people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Wheat and other grains (rye, barley) (containing gluten) are sources of fructans that aggravate symptoms of IBS. So it is advised to eliminate these grains for a time from the diet to see if symptoms improve. See a previous post HERE.

If you choose gluten-free foods, you should definitely read the Nutrition Facts Panel as well as the ingredient lists.


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Sourdough Bread?

If you are avoiding wheat due to real or perceived intolerance to gluten, you may give sourdough bread a try. It is not recommended if you have been diagnosed with celiac disease, since it still contains gluten.

Avoid commercial sourdough since most will not be authentic. Try local bakeries and ask for a list of ingredients. Or you can make your own (with some patience and time) from a recipe found HERE.


For more information on sourdough click HERE.

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Is Gluten-Free Merely a Fad?


Going gluten-free is becoming more mainstream.  There appears to be more people avoiding gluten without having a celiac disease diagnosis. Gluten-free is appearing on restaurant menus and on food labels in supermarket products. Why is this occurring? The following article addresses this issue and gives us the facts.


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Food Trends 2016


Recently, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics held their annual meeting called the 2016 Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo in Boston, MA.

I did not attend, but some former colleagues and friends did attend and gathered information for new trends in foods coming soon to your local supermarket or on the Internet. Here are some of the highlights they passed on to me.

Snacks Rule at the Expo

My first thought was “Do we need any more snack foods?”  Some foods even though processed can be nutritious and beneficial to our health. Many of the new food trends fortunately are tending to lean in that direction.

The trend of Ultra-processed foods as defined as “food products containing several ingredients that are not traditionally used in cooking” were predominant. They are used to imitate sensory qualities of unprocessed or minimally processed foods”  appeared to be in abundance at the conference. “Natural” and organic are still a big draw with many food companies committing themselves to sustainability and responsible attention to the environment.


Digestive issues and the gastrointestinal tract have arrived and it’s about time. Food intolerances have been ignored in the medical field and treated as minor nuisances, in my opinion. The “Healthy Gut” is now displayed as having a “healthy microbiome” Check out my previous post on the microbiome HERE,

Check out my previous post on the FODMAP diet HERE. As I suspected, the low FODMAP diet may become the next gluten-free fad. I have already discovered one marinara sauce with the label showing its absence of onions and garlic with the title description from their website:

“For people who are sensitive to the flavor or the effects of onions or garlic, Rao’s developed Sensitive Formula Marinara Sauce which achieves full-bodied taste without the use of onions or garlic.

  • Formulated without onions or garlic.
  • Great for all ages! Children through Seniors
  • Lower Sodium than Rao’s Marinara sauce.
  • No added sugar

Rao’s Sensitive Formula Marinara is made with Italian tomatoes, Italian olive oil, fresh carrots, fresh celery, salt, fresh basil.”


Sounds like a good product, have tried it and it is very good!

The conference featured many new digestive  products from salsa and pasta sauce to protein bars and drinks. I would imagine they will be appearing in supermarkets soon with a certified FODMAP stamp created at Monash University in Australia. next to their certified GlutenFree stamp.

Fermented Foods

By definition, fermented foods are:

“foods that have been through a process of lactofermentation in which natural bacteria feed on the sugar and starch in the food creating lactic acid. This process preserves the food, and creates beneficial enzymes, b-vitamins, Omega-3 fatty acids, and various strains of probiotics. Examples of fermented foods are sauerkraut, pickles, miso, kefir, and kimchi. Probiotics have also in the news for a while now and many companies are now crashing this market that previously was only limited to dietary supplements.

Food companies are beginning to promote these foods as “healthy” and offer them in various flavors. The problem with probiotics in foods is the same as with probiotic supplements: do the “helpful” bacteria survive the harsh acids in the digestion process to confer the claimed benefits? No one can truly be sure.

Plant-based meals

I think it has been fairly well established by observational studies that plant foods are more apt to keep us free from chronic diseases and increase our longevity. Many disagree, but the trend leans against meat-heavy diets.

One company under the auspices of the Mushroom Council has combined ground beef with mushrooms to cut down on saturated fat and calories. Nice idea to help meat lovers still enjoy their burgers.

The new kale fad appears to be have been replaced but not forgotten with emphasis on pulses (beans, peas, lentils). We haven’t heard that the term pulses in years.

Whole Grains

There they are again but this time with some unfamiliar names. One is sorghum. Historical records trace the sorghum plant back to Africa and Benjamin Franklin was said to have introduced it to the U.S. in the late 1700’s. Since it has many uses, it is often referred to one of the “‘4F” plants as it can used for fuel, food, forage, and feed. It is an important cereal due to its drought resistance in many developing countries in Africa and Asia.

As a food, it is gluten-free and can be used to make healthy, whole-grain breads. It is hard to find but except for some “health” food stores.

Fake pasta

Due to the recent trend of spiralized noodles from vegetables, consumers found ways to cut back on refined grains. So some companies have developed pastas and rice substitutes from lentils, chickpeas, and beans all marketed as gluten-free, high in protein and fiber.


How about beet chips, more smoothies filled with fruits and vegetables, and veggie fries from sweet potatoes, carrots, broccoli, chickpeas? Can french fries ever be replaced? The food companies are banking on that to occur.

There will be more salad kits with varied combinations – not just leafy greens. They may include Brussels sprouts, beet greens, chard and sliced broccoli stems – not a bad idea to try to increase our vegetable intake.


Remember our ancestors began gathering seeds and nuts but the nuts won out. Now the seeds are taking the spotlight.  There are new seed bars – pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, flax seeds. There will be Mediterranean inspired seed and nut bars as well as seed butters made from watermelon, pumpkin and sunflower seeds. Move over, kale chips.

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What’s the Problem with Wheat?


What is the problem with wheat?  The question is growing with few answers.  Best selling books by two physicians have brought the problems to light; a search on PubMed has revealed  more questions; and now there’s a  documentary on the issue.  What is going on? People have been eating wheat for centuries, so what has changed?  It does not appear that gluten is the whole story. Now other issues are emerging.

Wheat flour is everywhere and is abundantly used in processed foods indicated in the list of ingredients. If you find that cutting down on wheat helps your digestive or other health problems,  please don’t self-diagnose but seek the advice of your doctor,  a registered dietitian or other health professional trained in digestive health.


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The Confusing World of Whole Grains


Recent research tells us that fiber-rich diets lowers the risk of diabetes and heart disease. This message is hyped by almost every health agency as well as the grain food industry. Although this advice is not inherently wrong, it may contain some caveats for some people.

What is a Whole Grain?

A whole grain in its pure intact, unprocessed form, it is a seed that has three major components – the outer bran (a fiber-rich coating), the inner endosperm (mainly containing starch) and the germ (a reproductive kernel).

What is a Refined Grain?

Refined grains usually only contain the endosperm as the germ and the bran is stripped away during processing. If it is enriched, some but not all nutrients are put back – thiamine, niacin, riboflavin, iron and folate.

Does a product always contain 100% whole grains?

A new definition adopted by the FDA in 2006, states “whole grain” refers to any product containing 51% by weight of a mixture of bran, endosperm and germ in the proportions one would expect to see in an intact grain can be considered a whole grain.

What are the Whole Gain Council Stamps?

A label can say “whole grain” but that does not guarantee it is all whole grain. You should look for Stamps on the front of the package.

If it bears the 100% Stamp, all of its grain ingredients are whole. These brands also contain at least 16 grams (one full serving) of whole grain per serving, according to the Whole Grain Council. If it bears the Basic Stamp, it contains at least 8 grams (a half serving) of whole grains per serving, but may also fit the FDA definition –  some refined grain or less than 51% of whole grains by weight.

What are the Health Benefits of Whole Grains?

Since products only have to contain only 51% of the separated whole grain components, they may have less fiber and lower nutrient levels so the claimed benefits may not apply to these products.

For example, for a product meeting the new definition, a person would have to eat 10 bowls of Multigrain Cheerios, 16 slices of whole wheat bread or nine cups of brown rice to get the recommended fiber intake for one day.

What Do the Critics of Whole Grains Say?

Critics say that most grains cannot be eaten in their natural state, i.e, they must be milled and ground to some degree so all grains undergo some processing. They also say that grains contain what is referred to “anti-nutrients” like phytates that can interfere with the absorption and assimilation of minerals. Oatmeal is an exception. Oats are different from wheat, rye and barley .Oats are minimally processed and retain their bran and germ that give us all the true benefits of whole, intact grains. (unless they are the instant kinds).

What About the Fiber?

As far as fiber goes, many grains are not much better than refined grains. Look at the cereals and you will find it hard to find a serving of cereal grains that provide more than 1 or 2 grams of fiber unless intact whole grains like oats or bran is present.

What are Fiber Rich Foods?

The power-house foods loaded with fiber are avocado (11 grams) or a serving of beans with 11-7 grams as well as fruits, vegetables and legumes. The endosperm of grains is starch-rich (chains of glucose) that can raise blood sugar levels very quickly, especially in diabetics.

What About Gluten?

Then there are the gluten issues found in wheat, rye, and barley. There has been an increase in the number of celiac sufferers and now there is evidence that some people may be non-celiac gluten sensitive. Wheat is also heavy in fructans that are chains of carbohydrates that may trigger symptoms in irritable bowel patients.

Should You Give Up on Whole Grains?

Of course, not – whole grains are an excellent source of calories and nutrients. However, most of these nutrients and calories are also found in other foods such as fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, eggs, and dairy products. There is a slight edge in eating whole grains instead of refined grains – all the nutrients lost in processing are not put back, just the five previously mentioned that are required by law.

What If I Have Digestive Problems with Grains?

If you like them and they do not cause undesirable symptoms, eat them.  The benefits are there when the whole intact grain is present. However, most grain products- cookies, biscuits, cereals, do not contain the whole intact grain. They are not the best bet since many of them can also be high in sugar and fat.

What to Do

Read the labels carefully, especially the ingredient labels

Find an excellent guide HERE. 



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Non-Celiac Wheat Sensitivity?

Should you be gluten-free or wheat-free? Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. Avoidance is essential for people with celiac disease, a condition that triggers an immune response damaging the lining of the small intestine. There may also be some people who experience the symptoms (bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea) of celiac  now referred to as non-celiac wheat sensitivity without having the actual diagnosis of celiac disease.

Proponents think a gluten-free diet will improve everyone’s health, skeptics consider gluten-free just another trend.  Be sure to talk to your doctor – please do not self-diagnose. Restrictive diets can lead to nutrient deficiencies. If your doctor has suggested you try a wheat-free diet to see if symptoms subside, be sure to check ingredient labels of processed foods for the presence of wheat. For example, the presence of wheat flour is found in many products like breaded products or even cream soups.

It has been  debated as to whether non-celiac wheat sensitivity (NCWS) actually exists. This study sheds some light on the topic. Gluten