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Sunday, October 6, 2013

Should you go Gluten-Free?

There is so much talk in the literature and at gyms, schools, meetings about people who have chosen to go gluten-free.  Not that they have celiac disease which requires a gluten- free diet but because they think it is “healthier”.  A lady friend has told me she has gone “gluten- free”.  When I asked why she was on this diet, she said, “to be healthier”.  So does going on a gluten-free diet make you “healthier” if you don’t have celiac disease? 
What is gluten?    Gluten is a protein found in certain grains, wheat, barley, rye and triticale.  .
How popular are gluten-free diets?  These diets have become big business.  Amazing how someone who does not have celiac disease pays extra money to go on a gluten-free diet they not only don’t need but may actually be less healthy.  If you do a title search on you will come up with over 7,000 books.  Some celebrities have gone gluten-free and then sell a book to go along with their new diet approach.  For example, actress Gwyneth Paltrow has gone gluten-free and then released a gluten-free cookbook.  Some estimates indicate that only about 7% of those buying gluten-free foods have celiac disease or are buying food for someone with celiac disease.
What is celiac disease?  People who have been diagnosed with celiac disease need a gluten-free diet.  This affects only about 1 percent of the population.  They have a reaction to the gluten component of foods such as wheat, rye and barley.  This reaction can damage their intestines and lead to malabsorption problems, diarrhea and other issues.  Because of their reaction to gluten, those diagnosed with celiac disease have a medical reason to stay away from gluten.  To diagnose this disease, a blood test is performed and a biopsy of the small intestine is done to verify the condition.  A person experiencing problems such as abdominal bloating, pain, unintentional weight loss should go see a doctor for diagnosis and treatment. 
Is a gluten-free diet healthier?  Basically no.  If you don’t have celiac disease there is no reason to be on a gluten-free diet.  Some say they chose a gluten-free diet to lose weight.  Others day they chose it to be healthier.  But according to Robert M. Russell, M.D., professor emeritus at Tufts Friedman School, “Although many people with celiac disease show no symptoms, there is no good evidence that a gluten-free diet will benefit most people in any way.”  (Time for a Reality Check on Going Gluten-Free, Tufts Health and Nutrition Letter.)   Will a gluten-free diet help you lose weight.   Susan Roberts, a registered dietitian and also at Tufts noted, There is no evidence that eliminating wheat helps weight loss – on the contrary, it often makes it harder.”  .”  (Time for a Reality Check on Going Gluten-Free, Tufts Health and Nutrition Letter.)   She goes on to note that giving up wheat like high fiber wheat bread help one lose weight as they contain insoluble fiber which fills you up and has staying power so you are less hungry. 
Are you missing nutrients with a gluten-free diet?   The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has issued a report on gluten-free diets and notes these diets can be low in the vitamins B12 and folate, and the minerals zinc and iron.  They noted gluten-free products were found to be lower in B vitamins,. Dietary fiber, and the minerals, calcium, iron, zinc, and magnesium.  Moreover, nutritionists have been recommending we increase whole grains in our diets.  Eating more whole grains lessens our risk of getting heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and some cancers.  Giving up wheat, rye and barley makes it harder to get the whole grains you need each day. 
What is gluten intolerance?  Can you have an intolerance or an allergy to gluten?  Some people say they fell less bloated, have less irritation in their digestive system if they go gluten-free.  However, current research indicates eating gluten if you don’t have celiac disease doesn’t lead to less symptoms.  
There appears to be no real scientific evidence to support given up gluten if you don’t have celiac disease.  Why deprive yourself of the goodness of whole grains like wheat, barley and rye if there is no reason to? 
For More Information:  To learn more about celiac disease, go to: and  Celiac Disease
Read more about gluten-free diets at:  Gluten-Free diet:  What's allowed, what's not.
Sources:  Time for a Reality Check on Going Gluten-Free, Tufts Health and Nutrition Letter, October 2013.  Image source:

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