Gluten, Fat & Alkalinity: Three Nutrition Myths Exposed

July 24, 2015

Gluten, Fat & Alkalinity: Three Nutrition Myths Exposed

Food and nutrition misinformation can have very negative effects on the health of consumers, not to mention the effect it can have on their wallets. People are searching for this information in the wrong places and this leaves them, many times, vulnerable to baseless claims made by others who stand to profit from the consumer’s ignorance.

Today, everyone has information at their fingertips and many people consider themselves “experts” on what to eat, what not to eat, how to lose weight or build muscle faster, and more.

Not all approaches or dietary interventions are suitable for everyone. This is why dietetic professionals assess their clients and communicate with them to determine their needs and how to improve their health. In my practice, I hear a lot of myths about health, nutrition and weight loss. I'm going to debunk three nutrition myths right here.

3 Top Diet Myths of 2015: Gluten Toxicity, Fat and Alkalinity

  1. Gluten is toxic and everyone should eat a gluten-free diet

Gluten is a protein composite found in wheat and other grains like rye and barley. Gluten is responsible for the elasticity in dough, helping it rise and keeping the final product’s shape and chewy texture.  Gluten-free diets are prescribed to people with celiac disease. These individuals have been tested and diagnosed by their doctors and told to follow a gluten-free diet to improve their quality of life.

This has nothing to do with using gluten-free items to lose weight.

Removing gluten from your diet will not necessarily result in weight loss. Calorie reduction and choosing less processed and more wholesome foods will help you lose weight in combination with physical activity.

With that said, a new disorder has emerged in previous years: non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS). This is characterized by intestinal and extra-intestinal symptoms related to the ingestion of gluten-containing food in people who were not diagnosed with celiac disease or wheat allergies. The overall prevalence of NCGS is unknown because many people self-diagnose and start a gluten-free diet without consulting a health professional. Also, there is an overlap of symptoms between NCGS and irritable bowel syndrome, (IBS) which include abdominal pain, bloating, constipation or diarrhea, “foggy mind”, headache, fatigue, depression, and more. This makes it more difficult to diagnose NCGS.

No specific marker for NCGS has been identified so far. Since there is some degree of overlapping between NCGS and other gluten-related conditions, it is recommended that the individual be assessed by a physician and an accurate dietary interview is performed to determine the best treatment.

Other highly-controversial talking points surrounding a gluten-free lifestyle include the impact NCGS may have on the nervous system. However, studies rightly assert that these claims require much more research before the possibility of any link could be entertained. “The role of NCGS in conditions affecting the nervous system like dementia, schizophrenia and autism remains a highly debated and controversial topic that requires additional, well-designed studies to establish the real role of gluten as a triggering factor in these diseases.” [1]

  1. Low fat or fat-free diets are healthier because they deliver fewer calories

This misconception is not  part of a new trend, but it’s a belief that is definitely hanging on strong. Our bodies need fat to work optimally. In general, the best fats to consume are monounsaturated (olive oil), polyunsaturated fats (sunflower oil, salmon), omega-3 (sardines, trout), and omega-6 (nuts, whole grains).

No two people have the exact same situation in regard to the types of nutrients they need, but generally it is okay to avoid or limit products that are high in blood-clotting saturated fat as well as trans-fatty acids (products with hydrogenated oils). However, it is not beneficial to replace all fats with fat-free products. These products are filled with added sugar, artificial flavors and other chemicals to preserve taste and texture. In the end, you may be consuming more calories and definitely more processed ingredients by consuming fat-free products. It is always a good idea to turn the product around and look at the nutrition facts and ingredient list. Compare brands and items and choose the ones with fewer ingredients, less sugar, and less calories. Look for those higher in fiber and protein.

Be selective on which items you purchase low fat or fat-free. Try to stay away from highly processed foods and choose wholesome real foods found in nature with only a few ingredients.

  1. The Alkaline Diet myth

The alkaline diet is also known as the alkaline ash diet, alkaline acid diet, acid ash diet and acid alkaline diet. While it may go by many names, every version of this diet is based in the belief that certain foods can alter the pH (acidity or alkalinity) of certain bodily fluids, like urine and blood, and can be used to prevent or treat diseases like cancer.

Proponents of this diet claim that avoiding acidic foods like meat, poultry,cheese, fish and eggs, can help alkalize the body’s blood, but, based on what we know to be scientifically true about our body’s systems, this is not the case.

A quick recap on pH values: pH values range from 0-14, with a score of 0-7 meaning an item is acidic, a pH level of 7 meaning an item is neutral, and a pH level of 7-14 meaning an item is alkaline.

Different parts of our bodies have different pH values. For example, our blood is always alkaline with a pH of 7.35-7.45; the stomach is very acidic (because of hydrochloric acid) with a pH of 2-3.5 that allows it to break down ingested foods. Our bodies have a mechanism called acid-based homeostasis that regulates the pH in our blood to make life possible. If the blood pH falls out of normal range, it could be fatal. pH imbalances happen because of certain diseases (like diabetes acidosis or respiratory acidosis) but it is not regulated by the foods we consume.

The body’s pH is regulated by that internal system mentioned earlier and it is not affected by any outside factors. Our urine, however, can be temporarily (and minimally) affected by the foods we consume but this is not a reliable source because other conditions can affect urine pH (like gout).

Bottom line is that there is no scientific evidence that following an alkaline diet will have any effect in our blood pH and help prevent diseases like cancer. This diet supports the consumption of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and nuts which have already been shown to prevent certain diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.


Sources:

  1. Carlo Catassi et al, Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity: The New Frontier of Gluten Related Disorders Nutrients 2013, 5(10), 3839-3853 http://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/5/10/3839/htm



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