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 (check out my previous post Your 5 Worst Gluten-Free Mistakes), 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.
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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.