Thursday, April 17, 2014

Gluten-Free or Not?

There's a lot of talk these days about the value of eating a gluten-free diet. For some people it completely turns their health around, while for others it doesn't seem to make any difference. So if you've been wondering about it, here are some thoughts I hope will be helpful.

First of all, what is gluten? It's a naturally occurring protein found in grains such as wheat, rye, and barley.

However, some people's digestive systems have a problem with gluten, either because of a condition called celiac disease, or from a gluten intolerance. (You can read more details about these two conditions here.) Anyone with these conditions needs to adopt a gluten-free diet. Also watch out for hidden sources of gluten, such as in toothpaste, lip balm, etc. 

For the rest of us, gluten-free can be a good option, depending on how it's done. 

Some people who switch to a gluten-free diet feel better, not because they are avoiding gluten, but because they are not eating so many unhealthy foods such as breads, pasta, cereals, cakes, cookies, etc. Because the modern diet is mainly "junk" food now, anyone who eats less junk and more "real" food such as vegetables, fruits, meat, etc, will of course feel better. 

However, some people do not feel better when switching to gluten-free, and that is often because they did not give up "junk" food, they simply switched to "gluten-free" junk food. There are a lot of products now that are "gluten-free" but are still not HEALTHY. Always read labels, and if necessary research the ingredients. Know what you're eating! 

Now, I believe that for most people the issue is not gluten itself, but what kinds of foods are eaten - processed, packaged foods versus fresh, organic, home-cooked foods. 

Another important factor is what kind of wheat, rye or barley you are eating. Today's version of wheat "flour" is nothing like the actual food God created. God clearly views wheat as something good and valuable. (Psalm 81:16, "But you would be fed with the finest of wheat..." and Psalm 147:14, "He...satisfies you with the finest of wheat.)

However wheat flour today has been cross-bred, modified, processed, stripped, bleached, and the result is a substance nothing like the wheat people ate in Bible times. This article explains what happened to modern wheat to make it so unhealthy.

That article also recommends buying and grinding your own carefully selected grain at home as the healthiest option. However, I realize that's not practical for many people. Personally, I buy Bob's Red Mill 100% stoneground whole wheat flour at our local health food store, and that seems to work for me. I use it to make non-yeast breads, such as irish soda bread and banana bread (recipes here.)

If you plan to continue eating wheat, just be sure you find a healthy kind of organic wheat and do your own baking. The more you eat home-cooked foods, and the less you eat processed foods, the healthier you'll be. 

If you'd like to try avoiding wheat/gluten, there are some healthy alternatives. Quinoa has wonderful reviews in the health community (here's an article about it). Organic kamut or spelt may also be good options for you. Just be careful not to replace wheat with other unhealthy foods (such as corn, which is genetically modified and nutritionally deficient). 

God created grains as good food for us. The challenge today is to find those that are healthy and closest to how God created them, not "improved" by man. 

If you have any helpful resources to share or questions about this topic, please post them in the comments. Thank you! 

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