Diet Buzzword: Gluten-free

If there’s one diet buzzword you can’t get away from in today’s advertising, it’s “gluten-free.”

From cookies and crackers to cereal and bread, there’s no escaping the special sections of grocery stores filled with gluten-free products.

Even though this lifestyle has exploded in the health market, a lot of confusion still lingers among both consumers and food companies.

What is gluten?

Gluten is a protein found in grains such as barley, wheat, rye and oats. To fully commit to a gluten-free lifestyle, one must swear off any products containing these ingredients.

Why do people chose this lifestyle?

For those with Celiac disease, a digestive and autoimmune disorder, eating gluten destroys the lining of the small intestine. Unfortunately, for those with this disease, cutting out gluten is virtually their only option. Another common reason for a gluten-free diet, which has been highly promoted in the advertising world, is weight loss. It is commonly known that eating too many starchy foods can cause a weight gain.

Human Environmental Studies professor Anna Most said this diet may not always yield the healthy results that dieters are looking for.
“Some people who follow a gluten-free diet lose weight, due primarily to the vast changes made in their diet and cutting out foods they would normally be eating,” Most said. “For example, no more cookies, baked goods, bread or pasta, which automatically removes many calories from a person’s diet.
Most said that for those following a gluten-free diet for weight loss purposes – or those not related to Celiac disease – no strong health benefits have been proven from going gluten-free.
“There are no health benefits to being on this diet for people who do not have Celiac Disease or a gluten intolerance; it is hard to follow, very restrictive and often not palatable.”
Is the gluten-free diet right for me?
Since this diet should not be a student’s first choice when looking for a quick way to lose weight, Most recommends switching to whole grains and monitoring portion sizes.
Portions of pasta, for example, are ½ cup – not the 2 cups that many of us indulge in. These types of carbohydrates that are eaten in excess can contribute to that freshman (or sophomore, junior or senior) 15 we all dread.
“Students with Celiac disease who completely eliminate gluten benefit because it alleviates the symptoms of their disease,” Most said. “This diet is very restrictive, though, and greatly decreases variety in the diet, which can lead to nutrient deficiency.”


Rebecca Vander Sluis prepares a batch of gluten-free black bean brownies. (Photo courtesy of Rebecca Vander Sluis)
Whether it be because of a gluten sensitivity or other dietary reasons, if you decide to take on the gluten-free lifestyle, you will never be without options. Below are a few places in Mount Pleasant that are altering their menus with gluten-free options:

  • Dharma Mojo Tea Bar & Grill: A wide variety of plant-based foods are offered.
  • Olive Garden: A  gluten-free menu has been added.
  • Pisanello’s Pizza:  A gluten-free pizza is available on the menu.
  • Mountain Town Station Brewing Co. & Steakhouse: Gluten-free products are available.