I was recently asked to be interviewed about a popular diet book that claims to reduce belly fat. After reading the book, and the hype that went with it, I thought this is just another one of those crash diets that will enjoy its 15 minutes of fame and fade away, like the Atkins Diet. (As a reminder, the Atkins Diet was about restricting all sources of carbohydrate, which includes wheat. It spawned an entire industry that made new-fangled foods, like carb-free pastas, bagels and cake mixes.)
As part of the due diligence for my interview, I also did a search to see what kind of attention gluten and wheat free eating was getting on the web. That's when I realized this was really a movement that had gained momentum due to the legitimate need for gluten free food among those who have celiac disease and the simplicity of weight loss if you eat wheat free meals.
The controversy and confusion over who should be giving up wheat, and why, provided a perfect theme for a blog post. So here it is in an easy to digest question and answer format.
Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Gluten and Wheat Free Diets and Were Afraid to Ask
What is the difference between wheat and gluten?
Wheat is a grass (classified as a grain for dietary purposes) that is used to make the most common flour found in breads and rolls, pastas, baked goods, crackers, pretzels, pizza crusts and much, much more. Gluten is a type of protein found in wheat, rye and barley. There are many other proteins in wheat, gluten is just one of them.
Why do some people need a gluten free or wheat free diet?
Some people have an allergy to wheat, so must avoid it. There are 27 potential allergens in wheat, but if a person does not know which one triggers their allergic reaction, they must avoid all forms of wheat. People who have been diagnosed with celiac disease, an autoimmune digestive disease, must eliminate gluten from their diet or they will suffer damage to their small intestines and become unable to absorb nutrients. Some people may also have a less severe problem known as gluten intolerance or gluten sensitivity.
Why is wheat being blamed for belly fat?
The author of the Wheat Belly books and cookbooks says the form of wheat grown today has more of the protein gliadin in it, which he claims it's "addictive." He believes eating modern wheat contributes to obesity and "belly fat," which increases the risk for diabetes and heart disease. These opinions are not shared by major health organizations, including the American Heart Association, American Diabetes Association and the American Medical Association. Our modern lifestyles are very different from what they were 100 years ago and all of these factors contribute to modern illnesses.
Is the wheat we grow today different from native wheat?
Yes, but selective breeding has been used on virtually all agricultural products to produce the best crops with the highest yields and to breed better cows, pigs and chickens. The entire food supply is radically different from the native plants and animals that were first eaten.
Can a gluten and wheat free diet help you lose weight?
If you eliminate foods containing wheat and don't replace the calories with other foods, you will lose weight. If you have celiac disease and eliminate gluten, you should gain weight.
Why is gluten free food so hard to get?
Gluten is only found in wheat, rye and barley, but many foods are exposed to wheat during processing or made with wheat, so they must be avoided as well. For example, wheat may be found in the glaze on rotisserie chickens, the extender in lunch meat and the thickener in yogurt.
What food do you think will be the target of the next big crash diet?