Going gluten-free is the hot new health trend these days. Grocery stores and restaurants are offering an increased selection of gluten-free fare. With big name celebrities touting weight loss, increased energy and better digestion, the gluten-free section has become synonymous with good health. This healthy halo surrounding the gluten-free craze may not be warranted for everyone though. Find out if a gluten-free lifestyle would benefit your gut health or do unnecessary harm.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Though it is very trendy, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation, only 1 in 100 people need to go gluten-free due to Celiac disease, an inherited autoimmune disorder that damages the small intestine. When a person suffering from Celiac disease eats gluten, the protein triggers the body to attack the small intestine, which ultimately damages the small hair-like projections that line the small intestine and help absorb nutrients. Celiacs who do not treat their disease with a gluten-free diet are at risk of a host of long term health problems including Type 1 Diabetes, MS, cancers of the bowel and GI tract, and infertility and miscarriages.
Other people who benefit from a gluten-free diet include 0.4 percent of people with a doctor diagnosed wheat allergy. Countless others suffer from non Celiac gluten sensitivity, a condition that causes people to feel foggy and depressed. They experience abdominal distress including diarrhea, constipation and bloating after eating gluten but do not test positive in blood tests for Celiac or a wheat allergy. It is estimated that there are 18 million people who suffer from this condition.
Going gluten-free benefits those suffering from Celiac, a wheat allergy, or non Celiac gluten sensitivity. They find that a host of unpleasant symptoms vanish after removing gluten from their diets. When avoiding gluten all together, this group of people may find decreased abdominal pain and bloating, and an end to chronic constipation or diarrhea. Additionally, they may suddenly see an increase in energy and clearer skin.
There is very little evidence that people who do not suffer from Celiac, a wheat allergy or non Celiac gluten sensitivity benefit from avoiding gluten. Though celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Ryan Gosling tout the health and weight loss benefits of going gluten-free, dietitians actually caution against it. Spokesperson Lisa Cimperman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics told Medical News Today that there are “no beneficial health effects” to going gluten-free.
In fact, an unnecessary gluten-free diet may actually do more harm than good. When avoiding gluten without a diagnosed health reason, director of clinical research at the Celiac Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Dr. Daniel Leffler, tells Harvard Health Publications that a person “will derive no benefit” from going gluten-free. In fact, the average person may find themselves at risk of nutritional deficiencies.
The gluten-free version of the foods, like bread, are not as good for you as the hype would like you to believe. These foods are often higher in fat and calories. Plus, unlike their wheat counterparts, these foods are not fortified. Cutting out gluten removes whole wheat and fortified foods from the diet. These foods are excellent sources of major B vitamins including folate and folic acid.
Removing whole wheat from the average American’s diet also cuts a major source of fiber, which is needed to keep the bowels working properly. Most Americans do not eat enough fiber as is. Take away whole wheat from the diet, and the average person will have to work very hard to make up the fiber intake through foods like beans and quinoa that they would otherwise be getting through wheat.
So is going gluten-free good for your gut? If you suffer from Celiac, a wheat allergy, or non Celiac gluten sensitivity, a gluten-free lifestyle is the right choice for you. However, those without those medical concerns should think twice before jumping on this bandwagon. A challenging and costly gluten-free diet may be more trouble than it is worth.