Health Benefits of Gluten Free
We hope you will be as excited for today's article as we are! We have invited Dr. Ashley Ramirez, Owner of Mason-Dixon Bakery and Bistro to share with us the benefits of a gluten-free lifestyle. Ashley is a chemist who was diagnosed with Celiac disease during college and has since taken her love of chemistry to the kitchen to create delightful gluten-free foods. Today she shares some helpful information to get you started on a gluten-free journey. If you need help determining if gluten might be causing your health issues, feel free to comment below or contact us here at the pharmacy and we can help you.
It seems like every year, there is a new “diet” that is promised to make us lose weight, have more energy and live a longer life. There has been the South Beach Diet, the Zone Diet, the Atkins Diet, and more, each with their science to back their theory. Many will lump Gluten Free in with this category, but let’s talk about why gluten free is not a diet, but actually a lifestyle change that is necessary for some, and beneficial for all.
Gluten free, you see it everywhere now. In the grocery store, on the restaurant’s menu, on the book shelves of retail stores. It is the topic of many conversations and the term can strike fear into any dinner party host. Often this fear is due to a lack of understanding of what gluten is, how to cook without it and why it is important.
Let’s start with the “what” part:
Gluten is a naturally occurring protein that occurs in many foods, including wheat, rye and barley. The gluten protein falls in the prolamin family of proteins, meaning that it has high proline content. (But wait, this is natural, so why is it bad??) The problem lies in the fact that prolamins are very difficult for our body to digest. In fact, this set of proteins is one of the hardest proteins for our digestive enzymes to break down, and they interact with the intestinal lining, but more on this later.
Gluten is formed from the cross-linking of two sub proteins, the large aggregated glutenin proteins and the smaller, monomeric gliadin proteins. This crosslinked network is responsible for the viscoelastic properties of breads and pastries. When making bread in the presence of yeast, the fermentation process produces carbon dioxide, causing the bread to “rise”. This large protein structure, which makes up 75-85% of the total protein content of bread, allows the bread to rise without losing its structural integrity.
While bread, pasta and baked goods are the most familiar source of gluten in our diets, there are many more hidden uses of gluten in the food processing world. Gluten, unfortunately, is a very effective and inexpensive stabilizer, therefore making it the product of choice for processed foods. You can find gluten hiding in ketchups, sauces, ice creams, seasonings, lunch meats and more. It is also often used in the cosmetology industry as a stabilizer in make-ups, lotions and creams. Simply reading the food label in search of the term “wheat” does not work either. Gluten can be hidden under a number of other terms including: modified food starch, artificial flavors, caramel coloring or flavoring, maltodextrin, emulsifiers, stabilizers, dextrin and more, making it difficult to navigate the processed foods aisle.
So this brings us to our next topic of conversation, how do we cook without it:
By this point, you are probably thinking “Gluten is in everything! No wonder it works as a diet, you can’t eat anything!” Well, don’t worry, there is still plenty you can eat! We just have to rethink how we approach food. Let’s start with what is safe, and what is not:
When cooking, if you stick with the “good foods” list, it will be easy to prepare delicious, gluten free foods. When you look at this list, it is easy to see the health benefits of eating gluten free. It forces us to remove commercialized, processed foods from our diet, and return to the basics of fresh meats, fruits and vegetables.
Now, what about all of the gluten free products that fill the shelves of the grocery store? With the growth in popularity of gluten free dining, the commercial market has seized an opportunity to create another market. You can now find gluten free bread, pasta, cookies, pastries, sauces and more at the grocery store. This helps to add back a level of convenience to eating gluten free, but you have to be careful. Processed foods are processed foods, no matter whether they are gluten free or not. They contain preservatives, stabilizers and other chemical additives that are not natural to the body. They are often filled with the foods you will find on our “In Moderation” list above, and therefore should be used only in moderation.
I have put together a sample menu to get you jump started on your gluten free journey. At the end of this post, there is a list of resources, along with links to some of the recipes you see below! You will see as you look through the recipes that you will need to stock your pantry with a few new staple ingredients. Since we cannot use traditional baking flour, we blend a variety of different grains to produce new flour blends. White it can be a little overwhelming (and pricey) at first, once you get your pantry stocked, gluten free baking will become a breeze!
Now that you know what gluten is, and how to avoid it when cooking, let’s talk about the benefits of being gluten free and why it is important.
As we discussed in the first section, the gluten protein is very difficult for everyone to digest. For some people, an estimated 1-2% of the population, their bodies create antibodies against the gluten protein, creating an auto-immune response, known as Celiac Disease. An even larger portion of the population, up to 40%, is expected to have non-Celiac gluten sensitivity.
When we think of our immune system, we generally think of our skin as our first line of defense. Our skin keeps the good things in and the bad things out. When we get a cut, though, our defense line is damaged and we are susceptible to letting bad things in. We keep the cut covered with a bandaid to try and help protect ourselves. What many people don’t realize, though, is that our gut is a second layer of skin. We could pull a string all the way from our mouth to our anus, without ever actually “entering” the body. The gut lining is what creates this layer of skin and separates the “inside” from the “outside”. But what happens when our gut gets a cut? This is termed “leaky gut” syndrome and it is expected to affect a large percentage of the population. When our gut gets a cut, it allows proteins to pass into the body before complete digestion, initiating an immune response. This causes our immune system to be over-active and leads to auto-immune diseases.
“There are actually 140 auto-immune diseases that we’ve identified, and the only scientifically agreed upon cause for autoimmune is gluten sensitivity.”
- Dr. Peter Osborne, gluten sensitivity expert
We can think of gluten as the razor blade to our gut. Gluten either passes the gut lining through the enterocytes, or by loosening the tight junctions between the enterocytes enough for it to pass. Further problems arise due to the damage to the gut lining, which allows more proteins to pass, intensifying the auto-immune repsonse.
We need to keep our immune system balanced in order to remain healthy. Both an over-reactive and an under-reactive immune system have consequences.
Gluten is known to be a leading contributor to leaky gut syndrome, causing an over-reactive immune system. So, the next time someone tells you that gluten free is the next big “fad” diet, you will know the truth behind the matter. Removing gluten from our diet isn’t something we do to lose weight, it is something we do to keep ourselves healthy and functioning at 100%.
If you are interested in learning more about gluten free, or need help getting started on your journey to health, please feel free to come see us at Mason Dixon. We are a dedicated gluten free restaurant and bakery in Huntsville, AL, serving breakfast and lunch 6 days a week. We focus on natural, non-processed, fresh baked foods that nourish the body. Our fresh baked sandwich breads and made to order breakfast and lunch options will bring a level of convenience to gluten free. Check out our website to learn more, www.masondixonbakery.com Written by:
Dr. Ashley L. Ramirez
Owner, Mason Dixon Bakery & Bistro www.masondixonbakery.com
2358 Whitesburg Dr
Huntsville AL 35801
Links to Recipes: GF Apple Crisp with Oats
Irish Beef Stew
Banana Nut Bread
Asian Stir Fry with Chicken
Kale Soup with Sausage and Sweet Potato
Spaghetti Squash and Meatballs with Marinara
Paleo Shepherd’s Pie
Thai Chicken Wraps
Chicken Cobb Salad
Crustless Tomato Spinach Quiche
Ham and Sweet Potato Egg Muffins
Bacon Apple Chicken Burgers with Cranberry Sauce
Asian Inspired Chicken Wings
Paleo Chicken Pad Thai
Herb Crusted Pork Loin
Blogs to Resource:
Gluten Free Goddess: www.glutenfreegoddess.blogspot.com
The Paleo Mom: www.thepaleomom.com
Elana’s Pantry: www.elanaspantry.com