Going Gluten-Free Just Because Can Have Serious Consequences

Approximately 1% of Americans suffer from celiac disease, making gluten-free a way of life. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder which can result in over 300 symptoms when gluten containing products are consumed. Gluten is a protein that is found naturally in all barley, rye and wheat products. It can also be found in soy sauce, salad dressings, soups and many processed foods. Some of the most prevalent symptoms of celiac disease include diarrhea, constipation, skin rash, bloating and fatigue. Celiac disease can affect both men and women and can be diagnosed at any age. There is no cure for celiac disease and the best way to manage symptoms is by following a strict gluten-free diet.

Recently, gluten-free has become a new health craze and many people are turning to a gluten-free diet in an effort to promote weight loss and live healthier lives. Unfortunately, unless you’ve been diagnosed with celiac disease, a gluten-free diet is not backed by scientific evidence and can increase your risk for a number of serious health consequences. Many naturally containing gluten foods that have been modified to be gluten-free, are higher in fat and sugar than their gluten containing counterpart. This increases caloric intake and promotes weight gain rather than facilitating weight loss. Those following this diet are also at risk for many nutritional deficiencies. This is because foods like whole-grain bread and pasta are fortified with important nutrients including B vitamins, iron and calcium. Unfortunately, both these foods are avoided by those choosing to be gluten-free. An increasing number of gluten free flours are on the market, however, those that are used to make gluten-free breads and pastas are not fortified with these essential micronutrients.

Eliminating gluten from your diet is also likely to decrease fiber intake, causing a less regulated digestive system. Whole-grain breads and pastas are an excellent source of dietary fiber, and without making a conscious effort to consume gluten-free whole grains like quinoa or brown rice, some people may begin to feel constipated. Research has also shown that following a gluten-free diet can potentially harm the natural gut microbiota and decrease the resiliency of the immune system. This is because many gluten-containing foods contain probiotics which feed the good bacteria in the gut. Without consuming these probiotics, the number of good bacteria decreases and the immune system can become weak.

Food companies are using this new health trend as a marketing opportunity, and have started labeling the front of their packages as “gluten-free” as a way to attract consumers. These labels come with a high price-tag. In fact, one recent study compared gluten-free and regular foods and found that gluten-free foods cost an average 242% more than regular foods. For all consumers, this is a significant difference and should be considered when thinking about following a gluten-free diet. It is important to recognize that a healthy diet looks differently for every individual. Depending on food intolerances or allergies, some foods may have to be avoided. For those that do not have any of these conditions, a well-balanced diet consisting of all foods is imperative. With the proper education and support, a well-balanced gluten-free diet can be possible depending on the types of gluten-free foods consumed. Choosing to consume more fruits, vegetables and gluten-free whole grains are all part of a healthy lifestyle, but choosing to consume more gluten-free processed foods is not. Dr. Hyman, Medical Director at Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Functional Medicine, illustrates this idea by saying that a “gluten-free cupcake or cookie is still a cupcake or cookie.” The nutritive claim “gluten-free” does not make these products any healthier than their regular counterpart. As a consumer it is important to stay educated and seek the advice of a Registered Dietitian before implementing any nutrition trend into your daily lifestyle.

Resources:

Harvard Health Publications

Gluten Intolerance Group

Nutrition Facts

Dr. Hyman Blog

University of Wisconsin Madison Health

Beyond Celiac

U.S. National Library of Medicine


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