Yogi diet: At last, we know what ‘gluten-free’ means

The title, before anyone writes anything, is a joke. Of course we know what “gluten-free” means. It’s just that the U.S. government didn’t, before now:

People with celiac disease can now have confidence in the meaning of a “gluten-free” label on foods.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a final rule that defines what characteristics a food has to have to bear a label that proclaims it “gluten- free.” The rule also holds foods labeled “without gluten,” “free of gluten,” and “no gluten” to the same standard.

This rule has been eagerly awaited by advocates for people with celiac disease, who face potentially life-threatening illnesses if they eat the gluten found in breads, cakes, cereals, pastas and many other foods.

As one of the criteria for using the claim “gluten-free,” FDA is setting a gluten limit of less than 20 ppm (parts per million) in foods that carry this label. This is the lowest level that can be consistently detected in foods using valid scientific analytical tools. Also, most people with celiac disease can tolerate foods with very small amounts of gluten. This level is consistent with those set by other countries and international bodies that set food safety standards.

The FDA released that last Friday. So now you know.

If you look over to the side of this blog, you’ll see our “Yogi diet” includes no wheat. It isn’t because either of us has celiac disease; it’s just that we’ve found we feel better, keep a more regulated weight (no wheat belly) and don’t get various sugar highs and lows when we aren’t eating wheat. All of that is caused by a change in modern wheat’s amino acids.

I haven’t seen anything that tried to link that change to the rise in celiac disease. In a lot of ways, the no-wheat thing when not attached to gluten-free is still sort of “out there.” (And it’s a bummer when you think about dosas or naan.) It’s our greatest nod to that vast changes that a yoga routine can cause (or the havoc it can wreck). But it is one we can’t but embrace.

And, to be clear: This FDA pronouncement doesn’t change things at all for us. We avoid gluten-free products like the plague because they are processed.

Posted by Steve

Since we’re talking wheat again, here’s more on gluten-free pros and cons

After two nasty reminders that wheat just doesn’t seem to do a body good, I’m cutting it back out of the diet. And so this New York Times piece on the growing anti-gluten “fad” is timely.

You can count us among those, embarrassingly along with Miley Cyrus, who have found anecdotally that we feel better with wheat out of our diet. Here is a key part to the Times piece:

For celiac experts, the anti-gluten zeal is a dramatic turnaround; not many years ago, they were struggling to raise awareness among doctors that bread and pasta can make some people very sick. Now they are voicing caution, tamping down the wilder claims about gluten-free diets.

“It is not a healthier diet for those who don’t need it,” Dr. Guandalini said. These people “are following a fad, essentially.” He added, “And that’s my biased opinion.”

Nonetheless, Dr. Guandalini agrees that some people who do not have celiac receive a genuine health boost from a gluten-free diet. He just cannot say how many.

As with most nutrition controversies, most everyone agrees on the underlying facts. Wheat entered the human diet only about 10,000 years ago, with the advent of agriculture.

“For the previous 250,000 years, man had evolved without having this very strange protein in his gut,” Dr. Guandalini said. “And as a result, this is a really strange, different protein which the human intestine cannot fully digest. Many people did not adapt to these great environmental changes, so some adverse effects related to gluten ingestion developed around that time.”

Now, keep in mind that we aren’t saying here that we have celiac’s disease. We instead are part of what I guess, judging from this story, is a fringe group who believe there is solid evidence that we shouldn’t be looking 10,000 years back when we think about our wheat consumption. We should look back less than 100, when hybridization altered wheat’s amino acids.

And here’s where I think we veer away from the gluten-free fad. We aren’t replacing muffins with gluten-free ones. We aren’t eating that stuff at all. From the Times:

Anecdotally, people like Ms. Golden Testa say that gluten-free diets have improved their health. Some people with diseases like irritable bowel syndrome and arthritis also report alleviation of their symptoms, and others are grasping at gluten as a source of a host of other conditions, though there is no scientific evidence to back most of the claims. Experts have been skeptical. It does not make obvious sense, for example, that someone would lose weight on a gluten-free diet. In fact, the opposite often happens for celiac patients as their malfunctioning intestines recover.

They also worried that people could end up eating less healthfully. A gluten-free muffin generally contains less fiber than a wheat-based one and still offers the same nutritional dangers — fat and sugar. Gluten-free foods are also less likely to be fortified with vitamins.

Our replacement of all these goodies are, mostly, vegetables. And I think a key is that we’ve cut processed foods out, including processed sugar.

So we aren’t urging a gluten-free diet — the fad one. It sounds a lot like when everything went “fat free.” It was still a lot of processed, awful stuff — just without the fat. That’s not the solution.

The answer for us has been: tons of vegetables (I figure like 20 servings a day); a little fruit; nuts and other grains; maybe some raw milk cheese occasionally as a treat; once or twice a month, maybe, homemade bread from heritage grains that pre-date the hybridization. And then, every now and then, a fun meal — one that doesn’t include wheat.

Posted by Steve