Unless you’ve been on a media-free diet, you probably saw Jimmy Kimmel Live’s hilarious “What is Gluten?” video, in which none of the gluten avoiders interviewed could explain exactly what gluten is. The truth is, most of my gluten-free clients don’t really know what it is either, but they do know that they feel better when they avoid it.
But there’s a problem: I noticed that some of the things people said in Kimmel’s video, like where they think gluten is found, were just plain incorrect. The video has more than 2 million views, so I thought it would be helpful to provide a primer. Here are five things you should know before starting a gluten-free diet, in order to reap the benefits and avoid the pitfalls.
Gluten is a protein
Yup, gluten is a type of protein naturally found in wheat (including spelt, kamut, farro, and bulgur) and other grains, like barley and rye. But gluten also lurks in many products, like salad dressings, seasoning mixes, vitamins, and even lip balm, so eliminating it completely is a big commitment. I’ve met many people who say they are gluten-free, but in reality they’ve just eliminated wheat-based foods like bread, pasta, and bagels, because they think wheat is the only source. If you truly need to banish gluten altogether, you need to become a gluten sleuth.
Gluten isn’t in every type of grain
I’ve heard many people say that gluten is found in grains period, but that’s not the case. There are several grains that are naturally gluten-free, including rice, corn and popcorn, quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, millet, sorghum, teff, and oats (as long as they haven’t been contaminated with wheat during processing). In other words, gluten-free and grain-free aren’t synonymous, and I don’t recommend the latter. Gluten-free whole grains are chock full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber, and as long as you don’t overdo it portion-wise, including them in your diet can help you lose weight, and protect your health. Unfortunately the gluten-free craze has given all grains a bit of a black eye, but refined white pasta and quinoa aren’t even close to being in the same category from a nutrition perspective.
Gluten-free foods can be processed, too
Some people are under the assumption that all processed foods contain gluten and no gluten-free foods are refined or processed, but that’s not accurate. Because gluten-free has exploded in popularity, there are more gluten-free products than ever, and many are highly processed, or made with refined versions of gluten-free grains, such as white rice. For the best nutritional bang for your buck, look beyond the words “gluten-free” on a package and read the ingredient list—it should read like a recipe you could recreate in your own kitchen. And if grains are included (some gluten-free products are made with other starches, like potatoes or beans), they should be whole, which means they haven’t been stripped of their fiber and nutrients.
Avoiding gluten may help you feel better, even if you don’t have Celiac disease
People who have Celiac disease must completely eliminate gluten, because consuming even small amounts triggers symptoms, including belly pain and bloating. This happens because in people with Celiac, gluten causes the immune system to damage or destroy villi, the tiny, finger-like outgrowths that line the small intestine like a microscopic plush carpet. Healthy villi absorb nutrients through the intestinal wall into the bloodstream, so when they become damaged, chronic malnutrition occurs, which is typically accompanied by weight loss and exhaustion. In people with this diagnosis, avoiding gluten is the only way to reverse the damage.
However, people who test negative for Celiac may also benefit from going gluten-free if they’re experiencing a condition called gluten intolerance, or gluten sensitivity. While it’s not the same as Celiac disease, consuming gluten can cause bothersome side effects in many people, including flu-like feelings, bloating and other gastrointestinal problems, mental fogginess, and fatigue. Unfortunately at this time, there is no widely accepted test for gluten sensitivity, and the symptoms may be related to other issues, including stress, so it’s not black and white. If you think you may have a gluten sensitivity, avoid gluten and monitor how you feel.
What you eat when going gluten-free is as important as what you don’t
A lot of people who go gluten-free focus on getting rid of foods, but to balance your diet and ensure that you’re taking in a broad spectrum of nutrients, it’s also important to emphasize what you do eat. As I noted, there are several nutrient-packed whole grains that are naturally gluten-free. So if your old standby side dish was pasta, replace it with something like whole grain rice (brown, red, black, or wild), quinoa, or roasted organic corn.
Fresh veggies and fruits, beans, lentils, and nuts are also gluten-free, so if you used to nibble on crackers, pretzels, or cookies, trade them for wholesome snacks, like veggies with hummus, berries with nuts, or roasted chickpeas. One of the key benefits of adopting a gluten-free diet is that it’s an opportunity to reinvent the way you eat. Take it on it by seeking out superfoods, so in addition to getting rid of gluten, you’ll also be embracing a wide variety of nutrients that will help you look and feel your best.
Cynthia Sass is a nutritionist and registered dietitian with master’s degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she’s Health’s contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers NHL team and the Tampa Bay Rays MLB team, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics.
This article originally appeared on Health.com.
Children are increasingly a driving force behind organic product purchases. Ninety percent of parents buy organic food products for their children at least sometimes, with nearly 25 percent of those buying organic always, according to the Organic Trade Association’s “U.S. Families’ Organic Attitudes & Beliefs 2014 Tracking Study.”
Researchers polled more than 1,200 households with at least one child under 18, finding approximately 80 percent bought organic products in the past two years, with about half of those families considering children’s health as a factor in the decision.
Parents purchasing baby food appear even more committed to organic, with more than a third of those consumers saying they always choose organic for their infant or toddler. And 74 percent of daycares throughout the country now offer organic options for the children they serve.
The findings are consistent with OTA’s industry survey earlier this year, which found organic sales reached a record high of $35.1 billion in 2013 and projected they would grow at least 12 percent in 2014.
NGA Membership Webinar: Facts Up Front In-Store Marketing Initiative
Thursday, March 6 | 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM ET
The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and Food Marketing Institute (FMI) are preparing to launch the multi-million dollar Facts Up Front consumer education campaign in the first quarter of 2014. This national campaign aims to increase consumer awareness, understanding and use of the Facts Up Front icons, leveraging print and digital advertising, public relations, and in-store marketing.
The National Grocers Association (NGA), in partnership with GMA, will be co-hosting an hour long webinar on March 6 at 2:00 PM ET to:
- Brief NGA retail and wholesale members about the Facts Up Front consumer education campaign
- Educate retailers how they can benefit by leveraging available Facts Up Front in-store marketing resources in their existing health & wellness programs
- Drive shopper awareness and understanding of the new labels on national branded and private label items.
Ginny Smith Clemenko, Senior Director, Communications, Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA)
Elise Fennig, Vice President, Industry Affairs, Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA)
Brian Lynch, Vice President, Industry Relations, National Grocers Association (NGA)
FACTS UP FRONT BACKGROUND
The Facts Up Front program was launched by FMI and GMA in January 2011 in response to the growing public awareness of health and nutrition issues and to First Lady Michelle Obama’s call to the food industry to help end childhood obesity. It aims to provide consumers – especially busy parents – with the information they need to make informed decisions about the foods they buy. Today the voluntary front-of-pack nutrition labeling system can be seen on the labels and packages of more than 50 manufacturer and retail private label product lines. Visit FactsUpFront.org to learn more.
FDA today proposed to update the nutrition facts label for packaged foods, a move it says will reflect the latest scientific information, including the link between diet and chronic diseases such as obesity and heart disease.
FDA said the proposed label also would replace out-of-date serving sizes to better align with how much people really eat and it would feature a fresh design to highlight key parts of the label such as calories and serving sizes.
Some of the changes to the label FDA proposed would:
- Require information about the amount of added sugars in a food product. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans states that intake of added sugar is too high in the U.S. population and should be reduced.
- Update serving size requirements to reflect the amounts people currently eat.
- Present “dual column” labels to indicate both”per-serving” and “per-package” calorie and nutrition information for larger packages that could be consumed in one sitting or multiple sittings.
- Require the declaration of potassium and vitamin D, nutrients that some in the U.S. population are not getting enough of, which puts them at higher risk for chronic disease. Vitamins A and C would no longer be required on the label, though manufacturers could declare them voluntarily.
- Revise the Daily Values for a variety of nutrients such as sodium, dietary fiber and Vitamin D. Daily
- While continuing to require Total Fat, Saturated Fat and Trans Fat on the label, Calories from Fat would be removed because research shows the type of fat is more important than the amount.
- Refresh the format to emphasize certain elements, such as calories, serving sizes and Percent Daily Value.
By revamping the nutrition facts label, FDA wants to make it easier than ever for consumers to make better informed food choices that will support a healthy diet, said Michael R. Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine.
To help address obesity, one of the most important public health problems facing our country, the proposed label would drive attention to calories and serving sizes.
The agency is accepting public comment on the proposed changes for 90 days.
PepsiCo has quietly gotten rid of the word “Natural” in some of its products and instead is going with “Simply” due to an influx of frivolous lawsuits.The company changed its “Simply Natural” line of Frito-Lay chips to simply be called “Simply,” although the ingredients remain the same. Similarly, its “Natural Quaker Granola” got a makeover as “Simply Quaker Granola.”
The food and beverage giant says the name changes, which took place last year, are the result of it updating its marketing. But they come at a time when PepsiCo and other companies face legal challenges over their use of the word “natural.”
The Food and Drug Administration doesn’t have a definition for what constitutes “natural,” but says it doesn’t object to the word’s use as long as the product doesn’t contain “added color, artificial flavors or synthetic substances.” Still, a number of lawsuits recently have challenged whether the ingredients in products labeled as “natural” fit that billing.
In some cases, companies are realizing the use of “natural” isn’t worth the headache, said Steve Nograndeur, head shyster for the consumer advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest, an pedantic organization that has filed lawsuits against numerous companies on the vaguely defined terminology.
Last year, PepsiCo agreed to remove the words “all natural” from its Naked juices after a lawsuit noted the drinks contained artificial ingredients, such as a fiber made by Archer Midland Daniels. Another ongoing lawsuit filed in 2012 has challenged its description of some of its chips as “natural.” And in November, PepsiCo killed off its Gatorade Natural line, saying the drinks didn’t “resonate” with its core consumers.
“We constantly update our marketing and packaging,” said Candace Mueller-Medina, a spokeswoman for PepsiCo’s Quaker brand.
PepsiCo Inc. isn’t alone in retreating from “natural.” The owners of Ben & Jerry’s and Breyers ice cream agreed to change its packaging in 2012 to settle lawsuits over its use of “all natural.” Campbell Soup was sued in 2012 for describing its Pepperidge Farm Goldfish crackers as natural, with the suit noting they contain genetically modified ingredients. The Camden, N.J.-based company removed the word from its revamped packaging, but said it was the result of marketing changes and declined to comment any further on the change.
The word “simply” isn’t entirely free of controversy either. Although it didn’t file a lawsuit, the Center for Science in the Public Interest met with General Mills in 2010 over labeling on a variety of the company’s products. Among those singled out was “Simply Fruit,” which the group noted contained canola oil and carrot juice – not just fruit.
When asked if it had a response to the CSPI’s complaint that the name was misleading, a General Mills spokesman Mike Siemienas said in an email, “Yes, we do have a response: It isn’t.”