Gluten: The Latest Dietary Villain?

I'm embarrassed to admit this, but I've never paid any attention at all to gluten. Obviously, I'm totally out of the loop.

It seems that while I was out enjoying carb-laden treats, such as pretzels and beer, gluten has emerged as a very popular dietary bad guy. Apparently, gluten is now being blamed for everything from skin breakouts to emotional breakdowns.

The New York Times has an interesting article about the pros and cons of gluten, the protein that is found in breads, bagels, pizza dough, wheat, barley, cereal, rye, beer, Twinkies, and just about every processed food out there. It's also a key ingredient in vegetarian meat products, such as tempeh and seitan.

Some people do suffer from legitamite gluten-related ailments. Others are allergic or sensitive to it. Still others have trouble digesting gluten. But scientists are reluctant to claim that it's the culprit behind the several diseases some associate with gluten, such as arthritis, infertility, depression, and other conditions.

On one hand, gluten plays a clear role in celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that damages the small intestine and makes it hard for the body to digest nutrients. Celiac disease can be hard to diagnose, and some physicians think that many people experience mild gulten intolerance or sensitivity. Fortunately, gluten-free products and recipes are readily available.

Because gluten can generally be hard to digest, causing gas and indigestion, lots of people report anecdotal evidence that they feel better once they switch to a gluten-free diet.

On the other hand, however, doctors worry that too many people are jumping on the "blame-gluten" band-wagon without sufficient proof that there's a problem. They also speculate that some folks claim a gluten intolerance, when their real goal is to lose weight and cut calories by avoiding bread.

Personally, I've never tried to go gluten-free, so I have no idea how much havoc it's been wreaking on my system. But I do know that I feel much healthier when I cut back on processed foods. So I'm not ready to give up bread (or beer), but maybe I'll skip the pretzels.

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