Gluten-free diets have been very trendy for several years now for weight-loss and detoxification purposes. But is gluten-free right for you? The true answer depends on your gut. No, not your instincts but rather how you digest gluten.
Gluten is a set of proteins found only in wheat, barley and rye. Most typical breads, cereals and pastries contain gluten, which helps dough rise when combined with yeast. Gluten-free diets eliminate all foods and products containing these grains, and either focus on direct alternatives made from other grains (often alternative flours) or naturally gluten-free foods like fruits, vegetables, meats, eggs, cheese, beans and nuts, among others.
While gluten-free is a choice for some, others must be completely or mostly gluten-free for health reasons. People with celiac disease have an autoimmune disorder that attacks and damages the digestive tract, including the inner lining of the intestines, with chronic inflammation. It is marked by an upset stomach, bloating, cramping, gas, and even skin rashes. Those with celiac disease may start experiencing malnutrition and nutrition deficiencies as the disorder prevents food from properly being absorbed and used within the body. Celiac disease affects approximately 1 in 133 people, according to the National Institute for Health. However, it often goes undiagnosed. A study in the American Journal of Gastroenterology showed up to 80% of people who have celiac disease don’t know it.
Gluten intolerance or wheat allergies may have similar symptoms to celiac disease but are less life-threatening. Those with gluten intolerance may not have to be completely gluten-free but can handle small amounts of gluten up to a certain threshold. Gluten intolerance or sensitivity may cause more cases of diarrhea as well as headaches. It is estimated that up to 10% of the population may have gluten intolerance or sensitivity.
People with these medical conditions have a clinical need for gluten-free diets. It will make them feel better and improve their quality of life. However, in recent years, more high-profile figures have spoken up in favor of gluten-free diets as a lifestyle choice because it can be a cleaner and healthier way of eating. Many claim they feel better, have more energy and lose weight by eliminating or reducing gluten from their diets, even without a medical reason to do so.
The benefits of a gluten-free diet may lie in the natural choices people make when not consuming gluten. Many naturally gluten free foods – produce, lean meats, oils, pure dairy products, etc… – are healthy dietary options. These natural choices help cleanse the diet (although aren’t really considered detoxifying foods for those without celiac disease or gluten intolerance because gluten is otherwise not toxic). However, simply replacing foods and products that contain gluten with gluten-free alternatives probably will not have the same effects, especially for weight loss. After all, even gluten-free cakes, breads and cereals have carbohydrates and sugar.
Also, gluten-free diets may be lacking in essential nutrients, such as iron and calcium. Making a conscious choice to go gluten-free may require a rebalance in other areas of the diet by adding in these key nutrients either through foods or supplements. Gluten-free products are generally more expensive too, which may be cost-prohibitive for some.
Before beginning a gluten-free diet, talk to your healthcare provider to make sure it is a good choice for you. Your doctor may want you to undergo tests first to determine if you have celiac disease, gluten intolerance, or allergies. He may also want to make sure you are not already calcium-deficient or anemic before recommending this drastic change in diet and lifestyle.
The good news for those who do decide to go gluten-free is that there are now more gluten-free choices than ever. Gluten-free products line grocery store aisles and many restaurants cater to the needs of gluten-free diets. So sacrificing taste and indulgence aren’t necessary anymore, however all of the factors of a gluten-free diet should be weighed before making a decision.