Recently I sat down with one of New York City’s best Registered Dietitians, Robin Barrie Kaiden, MS, RD, CDN, CSSD, to discuss, among many things, gluten. This misunderstood and often blamed food ingredient is an important nutrient, so what exactly is it? Hopefully, our conversation will help explain gluten and its role in (or out) of your diet.
Coach Kev: Hi Robin! Thanks again for sitting down and taking the time to discuss, of all things, GLUTEN! What exactly is Gluten?
Robin Barrie: My pleasure! First of all, Gluten is a protein made from 2 other protein molecules, gliadin, and glutenin, and found in the endosperm, or inside, of the wheat seed, and other related grains, including wheat and barley.
CK: Okay, you’re definitely starting to go scientific here, but it’s clear you know your stuff, Robin! Let’s keep it simple – what are some of the most common foods eaten by the everyday person that contain gluten?
RB: Gluten is found in:
- All forms of wheat, including wheat starch, wheat bran, wheat germ, cracked wheat, and hydrolyzed online gaming wheat protein.
- All flours that contain wheat, including plain flour, white flour, bromated flour, enriched flour, self-rising flour, durum flour, farina, semolina, and graham flour.
- All forms of rye and barley.
- Cross-bred grain varieties, such as triticale (a cross between wheat and rye).
- Some oats may contain gluten due to cross-contamination with wheat, barley, or rye during growing, harvesting, and processing procedures.
- Some common, obvious gluten-containing foods are flour, bread, cake, pizza, bagels, cookies, muffins, cereals, pretzels, pasta, dessert, and some alcoholic beverages.
CK: What are some UNCOMMON foods that contain gluten?
RB: Other sources of gluten aren’t so obvious. It is often added to processed foods due to its structural properties of providing stability and chewiness to these items.
- Vegetarian, vegan, and Japanese imitation “meats”: chicken, fish, duck, pork, beef, seitan
- Ice cream
- Bouillon cubes
- Brown rice syrup
- Candy, licorice
- Cured meats: cold cuts, hot dogs, salami, sausage
- Communion wafers
- French fries
- Malt (malt syrup, malt extract, malted milk, and malt vinegar)
- Matzo and matzo meal
- Modified food starch
- Seasoned snack foods (tortilla chips, potato chips)
- Self-basting turkey
- Soups, sauces, gravies, soy sauce
****Note that not all forms of the above items contain gluten. You must read labels carefully and/or you can consult with your Registered Dietitian if you are trying to avoid gluten and you are uncertain about some foods.
CK: Wow. What a list. It’s crazy to see how many products can actually contain gluten. How might someone know if they are sensitive to gluten?
RB: According to Dr. Choy those who have gluten sensitivities, wheat (gluten) allergies, or Celiac Disease, could suffer a variety of reactions upon consuming gluten ranging from mild to severe gastrointestinal discomfort, to dermatitis (skin rashes), and anaphylactic shock.
Range of Symptoms:
- Stuffed nose, congestion
- Swelling of face, throat, tongue
- Tingling or scratchy sensation in mouth, throat
- Digestive trouble: bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhea
- Decreased appetite, nausea, vomiting
- Anaphylactic shock
CK: Some of those might not be noticeable just by eating one specific food, so why are some people showing the effects by consuming gluten and not others?
RB: Only those with gluten sensitivity, allergy, or Celiac Disease will suffer from the above side effects.
CK: What is Celiac disease and who is affected by it?
RB: It is an autoimmune disease that occurs in genetically predisposed individuals of all ages. Its cause is unknown, and it can occur at any time from infancy to old age. It is more common in Caucasians, those of league of legends European decent, and women. About 1 in 250 people are estimated to have it in the United States, but only about 1 in 3000 are currently diagnosed.
The immune system reacts when gluten is consumed by damaging the villi of the intestine lining, causing malabsorption of foods, vitamins, and minerals. This can lead to symptoms including diarrhea, fatigue, nutrient deficiencies, and failure to thrive. Celiac disease can be diagnosed with an antibody blood test and more definitively with an intestinal biopsy.
Those who are diagnosed MUST read all food and medication labels, and be certain that plates, utensils, and food-preparation surfaces are clean, sanitized, and free of all gluten-containing items. Furthermore, make sure that your house is clean as well to avoid unwanted diseases. This makes it extremely difficult to eat out in restaurants unless they are designated as gluten-free establishments.
Not to advocate drinking, but which alcoholic drinks are gluten-free?
RB: Those who do suffer from Celiac disease or a gluten allergy can still indulge in moderate consumption of alcohol. All the below are some examples of gluten-free drinks. (This is not an exclusive list.):
- Wine and champagne (Wine coolers may contain barley malt and are NOT gluten-free.)
- Tequila: Jose Cuervo
- Whiskey: Jack Daniels
- Rum: Captain Morgan, Bacardi, Malibu
- Vodka: Absolut, Smirnoff, Zodiac (Some Smirnoff flavored varieties are NOT gluten-free. Check labels!)
Gluten-free beers: Redbridge, Bard’s Tale, New Grist, Rampo Valley Honey Beer, New Planet Tread Lightly Ale
Let’s say someone doesn’t have Celiac, but they notice Gluten sensitivity after they eat certain foods. What physical changes can you expect by avoiding gluten? And how often should they avoid gluten in a given day?
RB: A gluten-free diet is necessary for those who are allergic to prevent allergenic symptoms. It is also important to heal the intestines of those with Celiac disease and prevent further damage. This may take 3-6 months in children and 2-3 years in adults. Permanent intestinal damage is rare, but some side effects can remain, including shorter height and damaged tooth enamel (due to poor nutrient absorption).
Those who are attempting a gluten-free diet in an attempt to lose weight may drop some pounds due to the fact that they are eliminating many high-carbohydrate, processed food items, fried foods, and desserts. If these items are replaced with unprocessed whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, and lean proteins, this will lead to a healthier diet, increase energy, and health benefits.
HOWEVER, if you are not sensitive or allergic to wheat or do not suffer from Celiac disease, there is no reason to avoid whole grain wheat, barley, rye, and oats. I would not recommend a gluten-free diet for weight loss; I would instead suggest eating as above: unprocessed grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, and lean proteins. More attention has been brought to gluten-free diets due to the increased incidence and diagnosis of Celiac disease and wheat allergies, but it is more of a FAD than a FAB way to lose weight!
If you think you may be sensitive to gluten-containing foods, you can try what is called an Elimination Diet, where you remove all potential allergens and sensitive foods from the diet and then add them back in one at a time.
Consult your Registered Dietitian or Robin Kaiden for more information on this or other Nutrition-related topics.
Robin Barrie Kaiden, MS, RD, CDN, CSSD is a Registered, Licensed Dietitian and Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics with a private practice in New York, NY. She has been successfully assisting her clients in meeting their personal wellness, nutrition, weight loss, and exercise needs for over ten years.
Robin’s extensive experience includes working at New York City’s leading hospitals, consulting for top medical specialists, training clients at state-of-the-art fitness centers in Manhattan, and counseling amateur to professional athletes for sports performance. Her specialties range from weight loss, anti-aging, and beauty regimens to guiding parents in feeding their children with allergies and picky eating habits. She received B.S. and M.S. degrees in Nutrition and Exercise Science from Cornell and Columbia Universities.
Robin’s focus is to change people’s lives. From physical fitness to medical issues requiring strict diets, Robin will create an individualized program for you to maximize your health and give you the self-confidence to achieve and maintain your goals.
Contact Robin for more information:
Coach Kevin Dineen is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist in NYC. He works primarily with those interested in enhancing their daily lives and activities with exercise as one tool to live a happier, longer life. In addition, his expertise allows him to work closely with many physical therapists and doctors in the NYC area, coordinating post-rehabilitation protocols for many patients and clients. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on his website, http://www.coachkevdineen.com.