Is Gluten Making You Sick or Fat?

The Health Benefits of Whole Grains

In the absence of celiac disease, wheat, barley, rye, and oats are staple foods. Whole grains consist of both the outer and inner layer of the seed and are rich in fiber, which helps lower cholesterol levels. Whole grain is also rich in antioxidants and is cholesterol free. 
 
Besides tasting good, bread or pasta made from whole grains is an important source of nutrients. These include vitamins B1, B2, niacin, B6, and folate, as well as the minerals magnesium, iron, and zinc. Whole-grain wheat intake may increase beneficial bacteria that protect the gut from cancers, inflammatory conditions, and cardiovascular disease. Consuming three to five servings per day of whole grains appears to decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and weight gain.
 

The Nutritional Content of Gluten-Free Foods

Manufacturers of gluten-free foods must replace gluten protein with other substances to give a bread-like product. Since gluten is the primary protein of wheat flour, its removal leads to a reduced protein content. Often, gluten is replaced with cornstarch, a carbohydrate. Cornstarch contains no B vitamins and has only a fraction of the mineral content found in whole wheat. Other starches, such as potato, rice, and even gluten-free wheat starch, have a similar low nutritional value.
 
One study of gluten-free bread found that it was a starch-based food, low in proteins and high in fat content, with a high glycemic index. A high glycemic index means that the starch is quickly digested to sugar and causes a rapid rise in blood sugar levels, leading to a release of too much insulin. In comparison, starch from whole-grain bread is digested more slowly and has a low glycemic index, leading to more stable blood sugar levels.
 
A comparison of the nutritional content of 200 gluten-free foods with their gluten-containing counterparts found similar deficits. Gluten-free breads had almost one-third less protein than their equivalents with gluten and provided twice as much fat, which was mainly saturated fat and cholesterol. Gluten-free pasta and baked goods had similar amounts of protein and fat compared to gluten-free bread, but in addition, had decreased fiber and increased sodium.
 
Both whole grain and fiber are inversely associated with weight gain (in other words, the less whole grain and fiber a person eats, the more likely they are to gain weight). Wheat-derived fiber has also been reported to decrease blood sugar levels and reduce fasting triglycerides.
 
Approximately 20 percent to 40 percent of people with celiac disease who follow a gluten-free diet have some nutritional deficiencies, such as protein, dietary fiber, mineral, or vitamin deficiencies. This situation may be due to lack of requirements regarding vitamin and mineral fortification in gluten-free products. In most cases, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, folate, and iron content is only 66 percent to 80 percent, and the amount of dietary fiber is only 30 percent to 50 percent of the content in their gluten-containing counterparts. A gluten-free diet may also lead to reductions in beneficial gut bacteria and an increase in levels of harmful ones.
 
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