Many of us are doing what we can to be healthier, and some have determined eliminating gluten from their diet is part of that new lifestyle, but K-State Research and Extension wants people to educate themselves before making that leap.

The Ellis County Extension Office will host the program “Gluten and Your Good Health” at noon Tuesday at the Extension Office meeting room, 601 Main, in Hays.

Those who attend will learn the research-based health benefits of avoiding gluten for people with specific health conditions and the nutritional consequences of this restrictive diet. Also learn why gluten avoidance is not the solution for many of today’s diet questions.

This program is presented by Erin Petersilie, Walnut Creek Extension District agent.

There is no charge for this noon-hour class. Bring a lunch to enjoy during the program, if desired. Register at the Extension Office, (785) 628-9430.

What is gluten? Gluten is a protein in wheat, rye, barley, and some related grains that provides the elastic, chewy properties in breads and other baked products. The word “gluten” comes from a Latin origin meaning “glue.” This glue-like characteristic allows bread dough to stretch, but not break, as it rises.

Bakers and food producers select flours for the amount of gluten they contain. For example, high-protein flour works well for pasta and bread, while low-protein flour is used for tender cakes and pastries.

Gluten long has been considered part of a sound diet for healthy people; however, it isn’t essential.

“The body doesn’t need gluten to be healthy,” said Sandy Procter, nutrition specialist for K-State Research and Extension. “Products have been developed that contain alternative ingredients and can accomplish many of the same characteristics we attribute to gluten, without the negative effects that some people experience when they eat gluten-containing foods.”

For some people, good health depends on the elimination of gluten and wheat foods from the diet, she said. People diagnosed with celiac disease and other gluten-related disorders must adopt a gluten-free diet to control symptoms.

“The recent popularity of gluten-free diets is due in part to increased diagnosis of such conditions,” Procter said, “and also because of the dramatic health benefits noted by some who eliminate gluten from their diet in a personal effort to relieve symptoms. Still, others consider adopting a gluten-free diet for reasons unrelated to celiac disease or gluten intolerance, as they believe it to be a healthful eating plan that helps them to lose weight and improve their nutrition.”

While it is not considered dangerous to eat gluten-free, Procter warns consumers to not omit any entire food group from their meals unless advised by their health care provider. Gluten-free diets have not been shown to be effective weight-loss programs. But, if gluten avoidance is needed, she encourages including other grains that don’t contain gluten so important nutrients such as iron, folic acid and other B vitamins are not limited in the diet.

“There are many gluten-free grain foods available,” she said, “and many of the choices are enriched with important nutrients and good sources or fiber.”

If you or a loved one is has been told to follow a gluten-free diet, or are considering making gluten-free changes in your lifestyle, the May 10th Extension program will provide helpful, factual information. The program is free, but advance registration is helpful to ensure adequate materials. Call the Ellis County Extension Office, (785) 628-9430, to let us know that you plan to attend.

Linda K. Beech is Ellis County Extension agent for family and consumer sciences.