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Ask Carb Diva: Questions & Answers About Food, Recipes, & Cooking, #147

Updated on July 26, 2020
Carb Diva profile image

Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes, one ingredient at a time.

Only One

There was only one question this week; you're lucky that it was such a juicy one. I managed to fill up this article with that one jump-start.

If you've been following this weekly series, you know that this is where I go on to say:

If you're an old friend, you already know how this works. But, if this is your first visit, let me introduce you to my kitchen.

Each week I receive questions about food ingredients, cooking or baking terms or methods, requests for recipes, and queries about nutrition. Just about anything food-related has been covered here.

I'm sharing this past week's question and my response; it happens every Monday. Want to join in the fun? You can leave your question in the comments below, and next week the answer will be right here. It's that easy.

Gluten, Celiac, and Wheat Allergies—Should I Be Concerned?

The question of the day is from Audrey Hunt.

"Here's a question I'd like an answer for: Is a gluten-free diet for everyone or just those that have celiac disease?"

I love this topic; it’s full of mystery, intrigue, suspicion, confusion, and perhaps a bit of sham and flim-flam. How’s that for an introduction?

Despite what many people have come to believe, gluten is not a poisonous substance. It's a basic part of many of our foods; it's simply a protein. The Chinese call gluten "the muscle of flour." When viewed under a microscope, it looks like a spider web; it's that “web” that traps carbon dioxide bubbles, giving wheat pasta its spring and texture and making raised bread well, rise.

So how did gluten get to be the bad guy?

Most large grocery stores have an entire section devoted to "gluten-free" so it must be something we all need to be careful about, right? Or has gluten-free become the latest cultural fad? Thanks to certain A-list celebrities (one of them being “Harpo” spelled backward), we’ve been led to believe that gluten is a poison, an ugly scourge that must be removed from our lives. Nearly one-third of consumers have expressed an interest in gluten-free. In response, the food industry has certainly hopped onto the bandwagon—why wouldn’t they avail themselves of a $2.7 billion marketing strategy that is projected to more than double by 2025?

Close-up of wheat growing in the field
Close-up of wheat growing in the field | Source

It's a Real Problem

That’s not to say that celiac and wheat sensitivity are bogus; they are very real maladies that affect hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S. alone. Scientists estimate that one percent of the population has celiac disease and another 0.5 percent is allergic to wheat.

Let's pause for a moment and talk about celiac and wheat/gluten sensitivities.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder (the body attacking itself). When people with celiac ingest gluten, the wall of their small intestine becomes inflamed. In response, the body's immune system attacks the intestinal wall. Symptoms are diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and fatigue. In time, if left untreated serious, irreparable damage to the digestive system can happen.

And then there is wheat allergy, also known as "non-celiac gluten sensitivity" or NCGS. The symptoms of NCGS are often the same at for those with celiac but in this case there is no immune response and (more important) no intestinal damage. People who think they have digestive problems linked to gluten should be tested to make sure they don't have celiac disease; celiac can be confirmed with blood tests.

Gluten-free bread
Gluten-free bread | Source

But It's Also Terribly Misunderstood and Over-Diagnosed

Are you confused? With such a small percentage of the population actually having this disease why are so many people reporting relief of "symptoms" (such as dizziness, migraines, inflammation, and foggy brain) when they stop eating gluten?

On July 11, 2013, Alan Levinovitz published an article in New Scientist entitled “What if your gluten intolerance is all in your head?” Is it possible that one-third of our population is making itself sick? Levinovitz wrote:

No one likes to be told they are mistaken about the foundation of their most dearly held beliefs. It offended the faithful when Karl Marx suggested that religions are psychological tools meant to placate the masses. Suggesting that gluten intolerance might have a psychological basis threatens a similarly foundational belief, namely that we are rational beings, competent interpreters of reality immune to mass hysteria and self-deception.

Obviously this is not the case. For one, our memories are notoriously unreliable. You may remember getting headaches from Chinese food when in fact those memories were created when you read about Chinese restaurant syndrome in the news. The same is true for memories of gluten intolerance. Don’t forget, certainty about your memories is not sufficient evidence of their truth: “Look, I know that for the last 20 years, every time I ate gluten it gave me terrible gas.”

Under oath, eyewitnesses constantly forget crucial details and replace them with their own fabrications. They aren’t liars – they’re just human. One reason for this unreliability is that memory and perception are prone to confirmation bias. Once a bias is in place, we’ll selectively remember – and notice – whatever facts help confirm it.

So where does the confirmation bias on gluten stem from? Do you recall the Atkins diet fad of the 1990s? One in every 11 Americans placed themselves on the low-carb/no-carb diet. What foods were they shunning? Carbs are found in cakes, cookies, bread, and pasta which, coincidently, also are made of wheat and so contain gluten. Do you see the connection?

If you want to learn more, click on this link for Mr. Levinovitz's entire article. It's a good read.

We're Organized

Did you know that there is a Table of Contents for this series? I have created an article that provides a detailed listing of each question I've received. It's broken down by category, and within each category, the questions are listed alphabetically. Each question is actually a hotlink back to the original post.

Here's a link to that Table of Contents.

I have also cataloged all of my personal recipes that I have shared with you in this weekly Q&A series and in all of my other articles as well. The link to that Index is here. There are hotlinks to each recipe and this will be updated as new recipes are shared.

Let's Try Again Next Week

If you have questions about foods, cooking techniques, or nutrition you can ask them here. If you are in search of an old recipe or need ideas on how to improve an existing one I can help you. If you want to learn more, let's do it together. Present your questions, your ideas, your comments below. Or, you can write to me personally at this email address: lindalum52@gmail.com.

And, I promise that there will always be at least one photo of a kitty in every Monday post. If you don't ask questions, you'll have to suffer through another wacky list next week, so keep those cards and letters coming in.

© 2020 Linda Lum

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    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      12 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Doris, of course you may. You made a very good point. The clamor for gluten free has expanded the market. For you it's a good thing that gluten-free products have expanded and have become much tastier. Absolutely!

      I did not know that stress could trigger an episode, but it makes perfect sense. Autoimmune diseases are like that (rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, for example).

      It's very unfortunate though that the prices are so high. $5 for a loaf of bread is horrible.

      Thank you for writing. Your comments have contributed so much more to this topic.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      12 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Ohmygoodness. Now there IS such a thing as gluten-free beer (tastes nasty) but I agree with you.

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      Doris James MizBejabbers 

      12 months ago from Beautiful South

      Linda, thanks for the article on Celiac and gluten sensitivity. May I chime in? I haven't read Dr. Levinovitz's article yet, but I plan to. I will be the first to say that a lot of people are jumping on the bandwagon and it has become a fad. However, that has worked to the advantage of people who have Celiac like I do because it has created a demand for more and better gluten-free products on the market. For the longest, I was in a state of denial because gluten-free food was so bad. Now, especially in foods like pasta and some flours, I can hardly tell the difference. But if I had a choice between the finest steak in town and a hamburger on a wheat bun that wouldn't make me sick, I'd snatch up the hamburger and go off in the corner and growl jealously like a cat while I ate it. Oh, that heavenly wheat flavor!

      Wheat glutens have never given me a headache, so I don't think that's a valid test. But, if you eat a nice breakfast of pancakes or biscuits and gravy, and by noon your body has swollen a couple of inches around your waist and you can't fasten your pants or skirt, you can barely get your feet into your shoes and your face is swollen, especially your jaws and around the eyes, and in addition, you have heartburn, you may want to be tested for Celiac. At least those are the symptoms in my family. Undiagnosed, untreated Celiac can lead to colon cancer. My mom, grandmother and uncle all died of colon cancer. I just wish I could get my son, who has tested positive for Celiac, to go on a gluten-free diet.

      Stress can bring on an attack. Years ago, a friend of mine who'd never heard of Celiac nearly died from an acute attack of Celiac that gave him chronic diarrhea. He'd just lost his business and gone broke and the stress brought on the attack. Back then (1980) it took the doctors three weeks to diagnose the cause of his "dysentery-type" illness.

      So, I'm thankful for all the publicity and demand that this fad has brought on. I don't think the diet is particularly healthy or unhealthy but it is expensive (good bread is $5 a loaf). However, if I didn't have this autoimmune disease, I would not spend the money on a gluten-free diet (and I would enjoy a REAL hamburger.

    • Abby Slutsky profile image

      Abby Slutsky 

      12 months ago from America

      This is interesting. I have a baked goods business and do shows on occasion. I am convinced that many "gluten-free" people are not really gluten free. I have actually had people come up to me drinking beer telling me they are gluten free. I do think a lot of undiagnosed people have decided that they are gluten intolerant.

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 

      12 months ago from Brazil

      Hi Linda,

      I don't have a problem with eating gluten, thank goodness. Interesting to read how it has snowballed.

      I am making stews in the slow cooker. Chicken or beef. Is there a way to make dumplings on top in the slow cooker too?

      Have a great week.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      12 months ago from Washington State, USA

      They wouldn't know for sure without being tested. It's really such a small segment of the population; I'll bet their moms made the diagnosis. Glad you are able to tolerate gluten. I know I could do it if I had to, but would add another dimension to my life that I don't need.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      12 months ago from USA

      I was tested for gluten sensitivity but do not have it thankfully. A surprising number a kids in the high school I used to volunteer for said they had it. It made me wonder about the veracity.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      12 months ago from SW England

      Thank you. That will be interesting.

      Ann

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      12 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Ann thank you for your comments. I'm glad that your granddaughter was finally diagnosed so that she can adapt her diet to the specific needs of her body. I would be glad to find some "different" ideas for you for using eggs. There are ways to freeze them too. I'll touch on that topic as well.

      Thank you all--it seems that next week's Q&A will be full.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      12 months ago from SW England

      My granddaughter (19) has Crohn's. It took ages for a diagnosis as there is such a huge variety of similar problems under the umbrella of 'allergies'. These range from IBS to Celiac to Crohn's with a few in between. It takes ages to regulate a diet to suit every individual.

      I've found it really difficult to get gluten and dairy free produce but now they are becoming more available and I've found that it's also possible to cook lovely things which cover everyone's health and taste issues!

      I do agree that many jump on the bandwagon, like going vegan or veggie just because everyone else is. All problems of course are real but only applicable to some!

      Great article setting out the reasons etc.

      How about some egg recipes out of the norm? We have just acquired chickens and we have a lot of eggs. I don't want to give away too many but they accumulate as our lovely ladies produce really well! Basic omelettes, scrambled eggs and boiled eggs, egg-fried rice are dishes we have fairly often - any ideas for something else?

      Ann

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      12 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Bill, that's a great topic--very timely of you sir. I'd be glad to help you with that. Just don't ask me about canning. Stay cool my friend.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      12 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Pamela, if your brother and his son don't get their fruits and veggies that could make them feel less than great (I'm a big pusher of produce. Perhaps I should have called myself the "Produce Princess."

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      12 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Shauna, ha! I knew that sad little face would get to you. Yes, sugar is a problem, and it's in a lot of the prepared foods that we eat (along with sodium). Sure, I've got this.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      12 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Eric, I think you've hit the nail on the head. Just eating healthier is going to make you feel better. I'd be glad to talk about MSG (actually, I think some information on that might be buried deep in my article on soy sauce). No one has asked me why game meat tastes "gamey." That one will be interesting. Thanks.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      12 months ago from Washington State, USA

      John, I'm glad you see it that way too.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      12 months ago from Olympia, WA

      How about a quick review on freezing berries and blanching veggies? Inquiring minds want to know.

      I hate heat! Just sayin'

      Stay cool, my friend!

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      12 months ago from Sunny Florida

      Happy Monday, Linda! Have a wonderfu week.

      My brother gets so sick if he eats gluten and he is good about avoiding it. His diet is not great though, maybe because he and his son live together. Neither one is big on cookng. I don't remember ever hearing about this problem for anyone when I was young. This is another very informative article, Linda.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      12 months ago from Central Florida

      Interesting information about gluten, Linda. Thankfully, I have no sensitivity to it. Just think of how many foods would have to be eliminated! I've never tried gluten-free alternatives and have no desire to. I love the fluffy, chewiness of what gluten does to dough.

      Today's kitty looks so forlorn! Let's see what we can do to lift her spirits. Here's a question/topic for you: yesterday I was watching Symon's Dinners. He made the comment that it's not fats we need to avoid (the right fats are necessary to our body's performance), it's sugar. Can you expound on that? Fats vs. sugar and their effect on our bodies.

      Have a great week, Sis!

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      12 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Thanks I needed this. pre-Covid I really watched my process food intake. Salt intake, and calorie intake. Bread was basically off the table. Boy did that help make me feel better in so many ways.

      But it had nothing to do with Celiac or wheat. I just led a healthier lifestyle.

      I have got to learn how to bake.

      But this reminds me to ask about MSG. I reckon the same as along these lines.

      And I am working on a question about the taste of gamie in game meats.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      12 months ago from Gondwana Land

      Are very good question, an even more interesting answer. It does seem too many people are jumping on the anti-gluten bandwagon, with no proof that they have celiac disease or allergy to gluten. Thanks for sharing.

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