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College of Health and Human Sciences

Going gluten-free? Read the label, Haub says

Thursday, June 28, 2012

One of the latest trends in the food market and among celebrities is going gluten-free. Snack giant Frito-Lay has announced it will introduce new gluten-free labels and products, and songster Miley Cyrus credited her recent weight loss to a gluten-free diet.

Going gluten-free may be a good choice for some individuals, but that just because a product label says it's gluten-free doesn't means that it's healthy, said Mark Haub, associate professor and interim head of department of human nutrition in the College of Human Ecology. He studies whole grains and dietary fiber.

A gluten-free diet is recommended for those with celiac disease, a digestive disorder triggered by eating gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye.

Take a good hard look at those labels, Haub said.

The gluten-free product likely contains as many calories as gluten options, he said, because a gram of sorghum, corn or rice flour appears to be metabolically similar to a gram of wheat flour.

Haub said that gluten isn't bad for the average person.

"People have been eating wheat, rye and barley for thousands of years, and there are people who live to be 100 who eat wheat products and don't seem to exhibit any types of health issues," he said.

Gluten-free diets are now being adopted by people without celiac disease. Haub said as long as they do their research about the diet, he's fine with the trend.

"I'm totally supportive of people selecting and choosing lifestyle habits that best suit their needs and preferences, and this would fit that category," he said.

If someone eats more varieties of vegetables and fruits and engages in portion control of other foods, then this type of gluten-free living may elicit health benefits, he said.

Those with celiac disease often experience symptoms like nausea and diarrhea. "It can have funny symptoms like depression, acid reflux and it can stunt children's growth," said Kathryn Deschenes, a master's student in food science. She has celiac disease, which runs in her family.

For the 1 percent of the population with celiac disease, giving up gluten products usually takes away those symptoms. Deschenes went gluten-free in high school and likes the recent gluten-free trend.

"It's been beneficial for the market," she said, adding that it means more companies are producing gluten-free products and labeling their products as such.

Deschenes cautions that gluten-free is not necessarily a weight-loss program and can be a bad diet if you aren't aware of the things it lacks, such as a sufficient amount of fiber.

To help add more fiber to her diet, Deschenes buys breads with more fiber. She also said you can add flax seed to your diet, which is high in fiber.

Prepared by University communications and marketing and Human Ecology communications


This article was posted on Thursday, June 28, 2012, and is filed under College News, Food, Nutrition, Dietetics and Health.