What’s all this about Gluten-Free?

During WWII, when there was a bread shortage in Europe, Willem-Karel Dicke, a Dutch physician, noticed that celiac (abdominal) disorders lessened, only to recur when Sweden dropped bread into the Netherlands from relief planes. Today, one in 133 people have celiac disease in the US.

So, what is it about wheat that louses us up? Physician William Davis, in his book, Wheat Belly, traces the development of wheat from Paleolithic times to today. It seems the original wheat had 14 chromosomes in its genetic structure. Today’s wheat, after centuries of hybridization, has 42 chromosomes, and a much higher gluten and carbohydrate content.

In early times, wheat represented a small part of the diet. Today, wheat is present at every meal, and in most snacks, and, like sugar, we’ve gone overboard devouring it. The average American eats 135 lbs. of wheat per year and most of us shudder at the thought of limiting our bread, crackers, muffins, cakes, cereals, pies, pizza, pasta, waffles, and much more.

Today, Gluten-Free seems to be the magic label that sells. That label continues to threaten our health with obesity as much as the Fat-Free label did. Without fat, to supply energy and provide essential nutrients to our bodies, and to carry the fat-soluble vitamins A,D,E, and K, we found that removing fat also removed those vitamins. People craved energy so much that they loaded up on carbohydrates to such excess that bodies automatically converted and stored the excess sugar as fat.

Just as we had ludicrous fat-free fruit and vegetables, now we have gluten-free water and gluten-free corn chips! (There is no gluten in corn.) Yet, the gluten-free label can have trace elements of gluten legally. Many products labeled gluten-free do have some gluten in them. The FDA requires the label to have less than 20 parts per million and labeling is voluntary.

People who are truly gluten-intolerant must monitor their diets carefully without relying on labels. Most of us are not in that category; we simply eat too much wheat. We may have cereal and toast for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch and pasta with garlic bread for supper. For a snack, we may have a high-energy bar loaded with wheat gluten to boost the protein content.

The easiest way to avoid excess wheat consumption is to think about adding more whole foods that are sweet, satisfying, and energizing, like yams, winter squash, apples, nuts, leafy greens, carrots and avocado, beans, eggs, fish, meat and poultry. Fall is a time to add more ginger root to keep warm. We may end up concocting creative potlucks out of the tremendous variety of wholesome foods in our fall harvest that energize us with a full charge, but without unwanted fat. For most of us, wheat can then serve as an accompaniment, not the main thread.

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