The gluten-free trend continues to bring legions onto the no-wheat bandwagon. But now, it's not just gluten-intolerant people who are giving up the protein.
Dr. Arthur Agatston, a cardiologist who authored the renowned health book “The South Beach Diet” and created SouthBeachDiet.com, has followed up with “South Beach Diet Gluten Solution.” The book isn’t just for people diagnosed with gluten intolerance (celiac disease), he says — it’s for everyone.
“I think everyone is on the gluten-sensitive spectrum to some degree,” says Agatston. “I am convinced it is the most under-diagnosed medical condition of our time.”
Gluten is a protein found in highest concentration in wheat, but other grains like barley have smaller amounts. Some grains like quinoa or oats have none. Gluten can damage the small intestine, which is where nutrients from food are absorbed: “If gluten is not properly digested, it begins to poke holes in the lining and harms the small intestine,” explains Agatston.
The issue isn’t gluten, he says, but its misuse by the food industry.
“It’s in everything and that’s the problem. Our bodies are inundated with it now, creating sensitivity. There are those who have celiac disease and they should avoid it at all times. But for most of us, we need to be gluten-aware and restrict ourselves.”
According to the book, lowering gluten intake can improve mental focus and energy levels, heal chronic skin conditions such as psoriasis, relieve anxiety and depression, help with rheumatoid arthritis and protect against diabetes.
“There is no downside to going gluten-free,” says Agatston. “But people don’t have to be gluten-phobic, just gluten-aware. Find your own threshold and what makes you feel healthier. If you cheat one day, cut back the next.”
How to do it
Be gluten aware: Choose grains carefully, cut down on beer, avoid seitan — which is highly concentrated gluten — and swap commercially made white bread for naturally risen whole wheat bread. “When wheat is processed, the bran and wheat germ are taken away. We’re left with the starch, which concentrates the gluten,” says Agatston.
“Also, the way bread was traditionally baked, it was left to rise and the bacteria broke down the gluten, predigesting it for us. Now, commercial bakers make 'no-rise' bread and the gluten isn’t broken down at all, giving us a bigger load to tackle.”