Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

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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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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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Gluten Sensitivity?

Wheat is the third most produced cereal crop

Wheat is the third most produced cereal crop (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It appears that the gluten-free trend is continuing to grow as more products are generated by  the food companies.  Although celiac disease is real, is gluten sensitivity real?  This article attempts to explore this debate.  Many people just report they feel better when they give up wheat but is it just a placebo effect or a trendy fad?  Results of a recent study gives us some answers.  The study population was small, however and one study does not “prove” anything.  Wheat itself has some inherent problems such as wheat allergy and is a common source of fructans that cause digestive difficulties in some people.


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Is Wheat Toxic?

English: Wheat

English: Wheat (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Wheat is being blamed recently by many who believe that it is responsible for an array of toxic attacks on the body.  The most recent popular books include Wheat Belly Total Health by Dr. William Davis  and Grain Brain by Dr. David Perlmutter. They are both provacative and written in a convincing way.  But what is the truth? The following article  written by Tom Philpott sorts out some of the complicated issues associated with wheat in our diets.


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Should You Give Up Gluten?

Wheat is the third most produced cereal crop

Wheat is the third most produced cereal crop (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the supermarket, one may think that gluten is the scourge of the decade judging by the myriad of signs indicating that the product is gluten free..  If you have already have tried to go “gluten free”, or are considering it,  you may want to read the linked article.   If you do not have diagnosed celiac disease or have told by a doctor that you are not  sensitive or intolerant to gluten, you may think twice about avoiding it.  Most “experts” suggest it is perfectly safe nutritionally to  avoiding it for about two weeks and if your digestive symptoms do not improve, you maybe should not be avoiding gluten.  However, gluten is not the only culprit when it comes to digestive problems and some carbohydrates.  There are fructans  which some humans have difficulty digesting due to the lack of an enzyme necessary for its breakdown.  Wheat is a source of  fructans along with other foods.  Check with your doctor to make sure your symptoms are not due to celiac disease and then decide if avoidance of wheat (at least temporarily) would be of benefit to you.  On the other hand, some people find that cutting down on wheat products while  not avoiding it completely help alleviate symptoms.


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Going Gluten-Free?

Wheat is the third most produced cereal crop

Wheat is the third most produced cereal crop (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Gluten-free is the new diet craze.  Recently in the supermarket all sort of products are now boasting Gluten Free emblazoned on their labels.   If you didn’t know any better, one would think that gluten is the worst villain ever to appear in the food supply.

Last year gluten-free product sales reached $2.64 billion dollars.  Many cereal brands such as General Mills Chex are now declared to be gluten-free.  Actually most people who buy these products don’t need them – the only ones they truly benefit are those people with diagnosed celiac disease or those who may be gluten sensitive. Based on the sales, it appears that a great number of people think that gluten-free means healthier for all of us.

Celiac disease is an inherited immune response to gluten. Gluten is a protein containing gliadins and glutenins found in wheat, barley, and rye flours.  With celiac disease, the immune system attacks the villi, hair like projections that line the small intestine, through which nutrients are absorbed. In patients with celiac disease, their villi become flattened rendering them inefficient absorbers. Untreated gluten intolerance is associated with certain cancers, osteoporosis, infertility, skin rashes and joint pain. Diagnosing celiac disease is fairly simple: The patient’s blood is tested for gluten antibodies and   by an intestinal biopsy.

Recently, celiac disease has received a great deal of attention when it was reported that its incidence is much greater than previously thought.  Although the cause is unknown, celiac disease affects about one in 100 people. Celiac patients may suffer severe stomach pain and diarrhea if they eat even traces of the protein gluten.  Once gluten is eliminated from the diet, celiac disease is usually manageable.

There are three classifications of intolerance to gluten:  Celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, and wheat allergy.   Wheat allergy is quite rare and is simply treated by wheat avoidance.  Gluten sensitivity diagnosis does not meet the criteria for celiac disease but its symptoms often are similar and disappear with gluten avoidance.  Some evidence suggests that gluten avoidance may be beneficial to lessen gastrointestinal or other symptoms associated with other diseases, including lupus, irritable bowel syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, and psoriasis.

There are some claims that gluten-free diets may help with weight loss but so far, no evidence clearly exists to support this claim; some studies indicate that some people actually gain weight on a gluten-free diet.

Gluten helps dough rise and gives baked goods structure and texture. Gluten-free foods often have high levels of carbohydrates including sugar – when you remove the gluten; the baked product then lacks texture and taste.   So sugar and fat become the substitutes to make the product palatable. Many gluten –free baked goods are often made with non-enriched refined flours and starches that are low in fiber and protein and lack iron, folic acid and other B vitamins.  Be sure to the read the ingredient labels on these gluten-free products to find the flour source.  Look for beans, almonds, quinoa, brown rice that will naturally have more nutrients.

By the end of 2012, the FDA will be ruling on a standard definition for gluten-free.   This will define the claim in parts per million of gluten present in the product.  For now some companies test their products themselves and rely on voluntary certification programs provided by the Gluten Intolerance Group, the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, the Celiac Sprue Association, and the Canadian Celiac Association.

It appears that there are more cases of celiac disease than 20 years ago.  This may be due to better diagnoses or that people eat more processed wheat products like pastas and baked goods and these products use wheat flour with a higher gluten content.

Another problem may be that wheat itself has changed due to crossbreeding to make it hardier, shorter and produce a higher yield.  Norman Borlaug, the U.S. plant scientist behind many of these innovations, won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work.

If you feel you are suffering from gluten-induced symptoms such as gastrointestinal distress, try going without wheat, rye and barley products for a couple of weeks.  If you improve, have your doctor test just to be sure you don’t have celiac disease, which can be dangerous if untreated.

Bottom Line:  Don’t rely on gluten-free products entirely.  If you decide to go gluten-free, be aware of the pitfalls since all gluten-free products may not be healthy and  there may be unintended consequences with avoidance of the health benefits afforded by consuming healthy whole grains.   A good source for gluten-free advice is Gluten-Free Diet: A Comprehensive Resource Guide by Shelley Case.  A registered dietitian, Shelley Case, RD is a leading international nutrition expert on celiac disease and the gluten-free diet. She is a member of the Medical Advisory Boards of the Celiac Disease Foundation and Gluten Intolerance Group in the United States and the Professional Advisory Board of the Canadian Celiac Association.

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