Lately, it seems like people are avoiding gluten as if it’s the plague. While necessary for those with certain health conditions such as celiac disease, gluten shouldn’t have to be avoided by cancer patients. In fact, some foods containing gluten offer health properties that can be beneficial for cancer prevention and survivorship.
First off, let’s break down exactly what gluten is. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and hybrids such as triticale, a cross between wheat and rye. These proteins are commonly found in bread, pasta, cereals, dumplings, cookies, cakes, etc. However, gluten is also found in sources that aren’t as obvious including some sauces, toothpaste and salad dressings.
Reading nutrition labels and ingredients is the most foolproof method for consumers to assure a product is gluten-free. This is especially important for people living with celiac disease since the elimination of gluten is crucial. For these individuals, even the smallest amount of gluten cannot be tolerated and can cause damage to the lining of the small intestine. Such damage can hinder the absorption of nutrients from food, cause a multitude of symptoms, and lead to other problems like infertility, nerve damage, and osteoporosis. Thus, cross-contamination becomes a huge concern and oftentimes it can be difficult to eat at restaurants where you don’t have full control.
According to a report from National Public Radio (NPR), less than one percent of Americans have celiac disease yet 29 percent of adults say they would like to cut back on gluten or avoid it entirely. Contrary to belief, whole-grain foods containing gluten can be good sources of vitamin B-6 and antioxidant phytochemicals that can be cancer-protective. They are also are good sources of magnesium, thiamin, niacin and fiber. The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) reported that the dietary fibers in whole grains can help protect us from colorectal cancer and other chronic diseases.
The consumption of gluten only poses a threat of increased cancer rates to people with celiac disease. According to Beyond Celiac, the three types of cancer associated with celiac disease are enteropathy-associated T-cell lymphoma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and adenocarcinoma of the small intestine. However, the development of any of these cancers due to celiac disease is rare. The risk becomes even lower when following a strict gluten-free diet that promotes intestinal healing.
If you need to follow a gluten-free diet, there are many alternative grains and starches including potatoes, rice, amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat, beans and lentils. You can also find many of these options in pasta form. Spaghetti squash is also a fantastic gluten-free substitute to regular pasta and is packed with vitamins. Try it in our Roasted Spaghetti Squash Agrodolce. For a filling and hearty option, our Chicken Stew with Rice and Tomatoes is a great source of gluten-free fiber. If looking to feed your sweet tooth, try our Caramelized Apple Almond Cake with Ginger. The recipe uses almond flour which is naturally gluten-free and contains many of the nutritional benefits of whole almonds.