WTF Wednesday – The Gluten-Free Apocalypse

By now you’ve probably heard something about a gluten-free diet. But what the heck does that even mean?

Contrary to popular belief, gluten doesn’t exist in nature. Huh? Let me explain. Gluten is made up of 2 proteins: gliadins and glutenins. These 2 proteins are found in wheat, rye, and barley. When they come together with water, gluten forms. Gluten doesn’t exist in oats, but due to cross-contamination with other grains in North America, oats here may contain gluten. Except for Cheerios because they got on that gluten-free bandwagon real fast.

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Look at that huge dough ball of GLUTEN (front and center, like the star of the bread show)

Gluten isn’t the devil (except when it comes to Celiac Disease, we will get to that), like you may have heard. In fact, it’s one of the best things because it gives dough elasticity and that doughy-feel. I am a proud supporter of bread.

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This is what happens when you make bread with only gluten…a masterpiece explosion! But it doesn’t taste good…so don’t do it

However, gluten is actually a dangerous thing for people with Celiac Disease. Consuming gluten-containing products causes the body to “attack” itself leading to damage of the small intestine. This is bad news since the small intestine is the primary site of nutrient absorption. Damaged small intestine = poor nutrient absorption = nutrient deficiencies (i.e. iron deficiency anemia, osteoporosis, etc.), among other serious health effects. Currently, the treatment for Celiac Disease is to avoid gluten.

Only a very small percentage of Americans have been diagnosed with Celiac Disease, so what’s the deal with everyone hating on gluten? It all began when a study was published in 2011 suggesting non-celiac gluten intolerance is a thing, but the precise mechanisms/biomarkers for diagnosis are unknown.

This sparked the gluten-free market explosion. Companies started re-formulating their goods to be gluten-free, making gluten-free versions of already existing products, or plastering that “gluten-free” label on products that never contained gluten in the first place, like nuts. It was heyday for people with Celiac Disease, since previously there were very few gluten-free products and of that many tasted like cardboard/were probably cardboard.

Why the sudden interest in avoiding gluten? Well, many Americans consume what’s known as a “Western Diet.” This means red meat galore, dinners out of a box, and laughing in the face of vegetables. The Western Diet is linked to a long range of health complications. Plus, all that saturated fat, salt, and lack of fiber doesn’t make you feel very good. Hello, feeling sluggish and tummy aches. With this news of non-celiac gluten intolerance, many felt they could attribute these symptoms to gluten.

Since there used to be barely any gluten-free products on the market, people with Celiac Disease couldn’t eat most things that came in a box. Instead, they had to rely on foods that naturally have no gluten, like fruits, veggies, nuts, turkey, salmon, tuna, etc. All the good stuff. People noticed this type of diet and lifestyle led to people looking more trim than the average American. They wanted in. Hence, the gluten-free diet industry explosion.

However, in 2013 the same research group released another study saying they couldn’t find evidence to support their initial finding of non-celiac gluten intolerance. Although there currently are no ways to diagnose/define this gluten-sensitivity, there still are people who anecdotally feel better on a gluten-free diet. I’m sure we will see more research to come in this area.

Until then, here’s the takeaway (for those without Celiac Disease, since you should listen to your doctor and not me):

  1. Eat your fruits and veggies! Seriously, they are super awesome for providing your body with essential nutrients and giving your body the fuel it needs. Plus they have fiber, which keeps you regular (a.k.a. smooth sailing in the bathroom).
  2. Save your money: Gluten-free products are more expensive and many are not fortified with required nutrients, like B-vitamins and iron. Gluten-free does not mean whole-grain, so many don’t have much fiber and we all know how good fiber is for us.
  3. Center meals around veggies and lean protein. Make a tofu-veggie stir fry, bake salmon with a range of vegetables, look up different vegetarian recipes to get creative. The Moosewood Cookbook is great inspiration.

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Do you follow a gluten-free diet? What are your reasons for doing so?

What are your thoughts on “gluten sensitivity?”

 

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WTF Wednesday – Drunkorexia

Hi friends! I’m starting a new blog series: WTF Wednesday, where we will explore controversial/bizarre/unique nutrition topics. The aim of this feature is to clear up misconceptions and shed light on what’s happening in nutrition. If you have any requests for topics, feel free to leave a comment or email me at nutritionphdeats@gmail.com. Here we go!

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WTF is “drunkorexia?”

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Drunkorexia is an emerging trend, especially among college students, that involves combining diet-related behaviors with excessive drinking. These behaviors include restricting food intake, over exercising, or binging/purging.

The goal is to compensate for alcohol’s empty calories. Alcohol calories are not freebies-there are 7 calories per gram of alcohol, which means ~125 calories in 5 fl oz of wine, ~150 calories in a can of beer, and ~100 calories in a vodka shot. Not only is 7 calories per gram a fairly hefty amount (there are only 4 calories per gram in protein and carbohydrates), but there is essentially no redeeming nutritional value in alcohol, such as vitamins, minerals, fiber, etc. (however, red wine does have bioactive chemicals from the skin of grapes and beer has a small amount of B vitamins and certain minerals).

Drinking on an empty stomach leads to getting drunker faster, since there is no/not enough food in the stomach to help absorb the alcohol and slow down the transfer of alcohol into the bloodstream. This could lead to negative alcohol-related consequences, including nutritionally.

Alcohol impacts our nutrition in a few different ways:

  1. Drinking alcohol replaces the nutrient-dense foods you could be eating instead. Drinking also lowers inhibition, making that late night Taco Bell run seem a lot more appealing and can lead to over-eating. If you give me a glass of wine and cheese, you better hurry in and grab some before the cheese is gone ;).photo
  2. Alcohol lowers the absorption of certain vitamins and minerals, such as thiamin, folate, and vitamin B12, which could up your chances of a nutrient deficiency. This is especially important if you are a vegetarian or vegan, since it’s difficult to get enough vitamin B12 without eating animal products (side note: take a B12 supplement if you do not eat animal products, please & thank you :)).
  3. Wonky things happen with metabolizing vitamins A and D when alcohol is thrown into the mix. Most Americans, especially women, have low vitamin D levels. If you choose to consume alcohol, get your vitamin D well before you have that beer.
  4. Alcohol is a diuretic – it causes you to pee faster! This leads to more zinc, potassium, calcium, folic acid, and magnesium ending up in your urine instead of being used in your body. Potassium and calcium are nutrients of concern, which means many Americans already do not meet their need.

If you choose to drink, counteract the drunkorexia:

  • Stick to one drink per hour and alternate rounds with water, seltzer, or club soda. Ask the nice bartender to add in some lemon and lime wedges (even cherries) for added flavor, plus it looks pretty.
  • Eat, eat, eat. Keep your regular meal times (especially on drinking days) and stock up on nutrient-dense meals. Make sure you have something in your stomach before that glass of wine. Center meals around veggies and add in a side of whole-grains and lean protein. Example: Bake salmon with balsamic vinegar and olive oil, toss in broccoli and mushrooms, and add 1/2 cup of whole-wheat couscous to your portion.IMG_6064
  • Get your vitamins and minerals:
  1. Whole grains are a good source of thiamin, folate, and zinc;
  2. Vitamin D is found in eggs, salmon, and mushrooms;
  3. Vitamin A is in red/orange-colored fruits and veggies;
  4. Meat and shellfish have zinc;
  5. Potassium is found in fruits and veggies;
  6. Calcium is in dairy products, tofu, and broccoli;
  7. Vitamin B12 is in animal products (supplements are recommended for vegetarians and vegans);
  8. and dark leafy greens, nuts, and dark chocolate houses magnesium.
  • Hydration is major key (thank you DJ Khaled). But seriously, when you’re thirsty drink water. Water helps with fluid balance and keeps our bodies running.

Let’s stop this trend before it fully catches on. Down with the drunkorexia, drink responsibly.

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