Clarifying Gluten & Fiber – Why taking in less gluten may impact your health and fiber intake

This summer I was extremely privileged to attend a Wheat Safari sponsored by the Wheat Foods Council, with 25 other food and nutrition professionals in the plains of North Dakota. 
My colleagues included prominent food and nutrition bloggers, academics from major universities across the country, newspaper editors and broadcast journalists. We were chosen as important influencers of consumer opinion and nutrition education as it relates to the American public.

The primary focus of our trip was to learn more about the facts behind wheat production, harvesting, milling and producing a table food.We were able to visit American family farms, which have existed throughout generations of our ancestors for over 200 years, listening and learning about the science and expertise necessary for growing wheat for our country and our world. Our trip included noted experts in the field of carbohydrates and nutrition education. 

We learned substantial information on nutrition issues as they relate to wheat and how to help consumers identify whole grains while proceeding to the (already known to nutrition experts) conclusion of why gluten-free diets only make sense for those diagnosed with celiac disease, wheat allergy or non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

One of the main pieces consumers may miss when consuming a gluten free diet without medical need is dietary fiber and whole grains. One of our speakers, Distinguished Scholar and Professor Emerita of Nutrition, from St. Catherine University in St. Paul, MN, Dr. Julie Miller Jones, noted fiber is a nutrient of particular concern in those consuming a gluten free diet, as low intake of dietary fiber is associated with several chronic health issues such as cardiovascular disease.

Fiber is also listed in the 2010 dietary guidelines as a nutrient of concern. Evidence cited stated diets that include grains such as wheat and adequate dietary fiber support healthy gut bacteria. I can assure you we will continue to hear and read much science behind gut bacteria and how it relates to every single part of our body and well being, within the next decade.
Presently, the most probably reason for a rise in celiac disease may be linked to changes in our gut bacteria over many years. Last, we confirmed as nutrition experts, that diets eliminating grains and gluten are not proven as a way to lose weight and actually may contribute to weight gain.

What is gluten? Gluten is a major plant protein containing gliadin and glutenin present in wheat (and its relatives such as semolina, couscous and spelt), barley, rye and their ancient ancestors. Gluten provides structure for baked products requiring volume such as bread. Gluten is also found in these foods: malt/beer, malt extract/vinegar, malt flavoring such as soy sauce and hydrolyzed vegetable protein. Gluten is also in many other flavors and foods.

What can you do as consumers?

  • Get tested by your primary care provider (a simple blood test called the igA TTG is the first step, followed by lengthier invasive processes such as biopsy samples taken by endoscopy) and take part in a workup with a dietitian and / or gastroenterologist to determine whether you actually have celiac disease, wheat allergy or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. The key before getting the blood test is not to eliminate gluten from your diet for at least a few weeks to 2 months so the initial blood test results are accurate.
  • Try to keep whole grains and fiber in your diet by taking in 25 grams a day for women and 38 grams per day for men, or for children 14 grams per 100 kcals consumed. (The rule of thumb in calories for kids is 1000 kcal in the first year and 100 kcal for every year thereafter not taking in to account high activity levels or other dietary constraints.) These amounts of fiber are specific for reduction of cardiovascular disease. When striving for appropriate fiber intakes don’t forget to consume adequate amounts of fluid: 2.7 (12 cups) liters/day for women and 3.7 (16 cups) liters/day for men.
  • Learn what foods are high in fiber. Dried prunes, oranges, apples, figs, pears, strawberries, beans, peas, lentils, wheat bran flakes, raisin bran, shredded wheat, brown cooked rice, and oatmeal are all high in fiber and each contain at least 3.5 grams or more fiber per serving. A serving ranges from 1 piece of these fruits to ½-1 cup of cereal or rice.
  • Understand that gluten free foods often have more fat and sugar and are 2.5 times more expensive than their gluten-containing counterparts.
  • Know for a fact there is no GMO wheat in the entire world’s food supply therefore this cannot be a link to those individuals who have a positive gene and diagnosis for celiac disease.
  • Get your news and nutrition advice from the correct sources. Even well known newspapers and news magazines have printed non-factual information on this topic, which I gently refer to as “Glutenoia ,” referencing another speaker, Brett Carver, PhD, Regents Professor in Wheat Breeding and Genetics & Wheat Genetics Chair in Agriculture from Oklahoma State University, who I met on my trip to North Dakota.
  • Go to websites and organizations such as the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and check the ‘For the Public’ tab. Other good sources include Medline Plus, National Institute of Health, Food and Drug Administration, US Department of Agriculture, National Diabetes Education Program, American Institute for Cancer Research, The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network. I also recommend patients and clients look to for factual health information.

I sincerely feel that in 5-10 years or less we will look back and understand that the prominence of the gluten free diet for these past few years can be referenced as a major fad diet just as the fat free diet of the 90’s and the high protein diet of the 2000’s.