Gluten & Putin: Does Jimmy Kimmel have a Point?

“Everyone has an opinion on what you should and shouldn’t be putting into your body,” notes Jimmy Kimmel—and he has a good point. The latest fad: “gluten free”. His adept observational skills come in handy once again; all the gluten-free followers his staff interviews don’t even know what it is that they’re so stringently avoiding. Hearsay and “a friend of a friend told me” are prominent providers of nutritional advice these days, and while it’s funny to contemplate on the Late Night Show—it’s less so when the wrong advice can impact your health. Hopefully this article can clear up the mysteries and the motivations behind living gluten free.

Jimmy Kimmel Pedestrian Question: What is Gluten?

So what is gluten anyway? Jimmy gave a very basic answer but it is correct. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye and most other grains. If you’re sensitive to it, ingesting the stuff can trigger an immune reaction in your intestines that is mighty unpleasant to deal with (think chronic stomach pain, headaches, fatigue, bloating and balance issues). For those who are truly gluten intolerant eating gluten causes their body to attack the protein as if it were an invader. While extreme intolerance isn’t running rampant, experts estimate that 1 in 20 are gluten sensitive (FYI: I’ve written more in depth about gluten sensitivity).

Extreme gluten intolerance is known as Celiac Disease, and IBS has also been linked to the ingestion of gluten—but is the original gluten sources referenced in the bible responsible for this sudden outbreak of tummy trouble, or is there another culprit? Original wheat has been usurped in processed products these days, by it’s Frankenstein child—the GMO. Genetically modified organisms have been altered using genetic engineering. American wheat crop alterations are all too common place. Altered wheat may be seen as “fake food” by the body—and thus it triggers an allergenic and irritating reaction in the digestive tract. Furthermore, modified wheat often has extremely high levels of gluten, which aggravates what was once a mild sensitivity and turns it into an actual condition. A 2013 study conducted at the Institute of Public Health and Clinical Nutrition at a university in Finland looked at the intestinal uptake (think digestion) of altered wheat. It turns out that the complex structure of the aleurone cell layer (altered wheat cell) directly affected the bioaccessibility (or digestibility) of the wheat. The researchers concluded that the structural modifications on the wheat resulted in an altered metabolism. Here’s more about GMOS and how to avoid them.

As research about the affects of a high gluten diet continues to grow, corporations are only too happy to provide gluten-free “healthy” alternatives. Market analysts have been keeping a close eye on the booming gluten free industry.

Mintel pegs the market at 10.5 billion in 2013, with an expected 48% increase (to 15.6 billion) in 2016. That’s only the products labeled gluten free; it doesn’t include naturally gluten free foods. This makes sense when 28% of Americans claim to be cutting back on their bread intake. In Europe, the demand is expected to increase by 38.5%. Clearly it’s a force to be reckoned with. Unfortunately, while corporations may be happy to offer you an alternative, they’re not particularly fixated on offering one that is truly healthy—most gluten-free products aren’t.

In fact, many of us are paying sky-high prices for gluten-free products, when we’d be better off without them. According to the Celiac Disease Center only 1 in 133 Americans truly suffer from the condition. Many Americans then, are avoiding it because it’s popular to do so—without keeping in mind that various food components have been in and out of fashion in the 70’s (like sugar, fat, and carbs).

TIME Healthland noted, “People who have bad reactions to common gluten-containing foods — pasta, breads, baked goods and breakfast cereal — may actually be sensitive to something else… It’s also possible that some people develop gastrointestinal or other symptoms simply because they believe they’re food-sensitive.” While gluten intolerance and insensitivity are real and should be catered to, gluten isn’t the behemoth monstrosity responsible for every American’s ills—and removing it from your diet may not be the cure all you are searching for.

Today’s modern version of gluten may be detrimental to you; the research has yet to draw any serious conclusions (and ‘research’ has its own pros and cons) . As such, it’s good to keep in mind that our GI tract isn’t a vacuum, and other factors and foods may be involved in causing our symptoms. While monitoring or reducing your gluten intake (by foregoing gluten for naturally gluten free or reduced gluten products rather than anything that says “gluten free”) is a worthwhile endeavor, we should all be sure to look at every aspect of our diet and make a variety of good changes and choices if we want to see a real (and healthy) difference.

As I always say: If it’s from the ground or makes a sound; consume it!