Remember the early 2000s? Those were some great years. The fashion was all about tiny purses and tracksuits, Britney Spears was at the top of her game, and everyone ate all the gluten they wanted without a care in the world.
Fast-forward to 2010 to 2015 and it seems that everywhere you go there are new people on gluten-free diets, products that boast about their lack of gluten and celebrities, nutritionists and food bloggers endorsing the gluten-free lifestyle.
It’s hard to say exactly what started the trend, but what is clear is that it’s not going away any time soon. With any new fad, it’s important to have the facts so that you can decide whether it’s something worth getting behind. Let’s start with what gluten actually is. No, gluten is not a disgusting, terrifying chemical that is detrimental to your health. Gluten is actually just a protein found primarily in wheat. It helps dough to rise and, once its cooked, have a chewy texture. It also is necessary to make some of the best foods life has to offer: bread, cereal, pasta, pizza and beer.
However, despite the deliciousness gluten can create, for people with celiac disease the choice to eat gluten is a life or death decision. Celiac disease is a condition in which gluten in the bloodstream causes an immune reaction that seriously damages the lining of the small intestine. This causes diarrhea, bloating, gas, fatigue, anemia and osteoporosis. It can also lead to more serious symptoms such as infertility, nerve damage and seizures. There are also many who are classified as gluten-sensitive and who exhibit some of the symptoms as those who have celiac disease. For people who have celiac disease and gluten sensitivity, it is imperative that they stick to a gluten free diet.
Those that do not have these sorts of reactions to gluten however, need to be aware of the damage that a gluten-free diet can have to their health. Instagram is currently a breeding ground for hundreds, if not thousands of accounts managed by people claiming to be on a gluten-free diet. These accounts make the lifestyle look relatively easy, but don’t be fooled, it takes a lot of work and planning to be on a healthy diet that excludes gluten. It is very easy to skip out on essential nutrients, namely vitamin B, on a gluten-free diet. It is also very difficult to determine what has gluten and what doesn’t. While it’s clear that bread and pasta are out, gluten often hides in unexpected places like frozen veggies and soy sauce.
If you really want to try out the diet, you have to be willing to spend extra time and money on your eating habits on a daily basis. It’s also important to keep in mind that for those with gluten sensitivity and celiac disease, this diet is not a choice. For many who are forced to follow the diet, it is a huge burden on their life and they would give anything to be able to eat normal foods. So when venturing into the gluten free world, remember these three principles: look at labels, don’t neglect your nutritional needs and for the sake of everybody, don’t over-share about your newfound lifestyle.
Rachel Cox-Rosen is a Broadcast Journalism and International Studies double major. She hopes to some day be a reporter on sports or international news and politics.