The gluten-free diet has become very popular over the past few years. And for good reason. Folks who are gluten-intolerant simply feel better when they avoid it. But for some, a gluten-free diet isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. So what’s the scoop on this fad diet?
Let’s examine the pros and cons of this diet, as well as how you can succeed on your own gluten-free eating plan.
What is a Gluten-Free Diet?
A gluten-free diet means avoiding all foods that contain gluten, a type of protein found in wheat, rye and several other grains. This means avoiding processed foods made with these ingredients, as well as whole foods like fruits, vegetables, and meat—but it also allows you to eat gluten-free breads and pastas.
Gluten is a protein naturally occurring in some foods, but it can also be added to foods during processing for texture, binding, and flavoring. Gluten is found in foods such as pizza, pasta, cereal, baked goods, and soy sauce.
When people go gluten-free, they need to remember that not all carbohydrates are forbidden. Some foods that contain carbs—such as rice, potatoes and beans—don’t have gluten in them.
Who Can Benefit from a Gluten-Free Diet?
For most people, gluten does not cause any adverse reactions. But for people with celiac disease, gluten is not well tolerated. People with other disorders—such as non-celiac gluten sensitivity and wheat allergy—are frequently advised to avoid gluten too.
1) People who suffer from celiac disease
If you have celiac disease, you have to follow a gluten-free diet for life. Celiac is an autoimmune response to gluten that causes the body to attack the small intestine, causing belly pain, nausea, and more. If you accidentally eat gluten on a gluten-free diet, you’ll probably experience those same symptoms.
2) Gluten-sensitive people
People with gluten intolerance may experience pain, bloating, or other gastrointestinal issues when they eat foods containing gluten. There is no official definition for gluten intolerance, and the symptoms vary from person to person.
If you suspect that you might have a gluten intolerance, it’s important to work with your doctor and a registered dietitian to determine the cause of your symptoms.
3) If you are allergic to wheat
For people with a wheat allergy, avoid foods that contain gluten. Although not all grains contain gluten, many also have the protein that triggers an immune response in their bodies and can cause symptoms such as rashes, headaches or sneeze. People with celiac disease can still eat grains other than wheat, including barley and rye.
Foods To Eat And Avoid
Following a particular diet means paying careful attention to what you eat.
Many naturally gluten-free foods can be part of a healthy diet:
- Fruits and vegetables
- legumes and nuts in their natural unprocessed forms
- Lean meat
- fish and poultry.
Some grains, starches, or flours that can be part of a gluten-free diet include amaranth, arrowroot, buckwheat, corn (cornmeal/grits/polenta labeled as gluten-free), flax seed, gluten-free flours (rice, soy, corn and potato flour), hominy (corn), millet, quinoa and rice (including wild rice).
Avoid the following grains: wheat, barley, rye and triticale. Oats are okay for some people but best avoided by those with celiac disease.
Many people find that they feel better when they follow a gluten-free diet, especially if they have celiac disease or another gluten-related disorder.
1) Help relieve digestive symptoms
A gluten-free diet can help people with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity feel better. Research shows that people who didn’t follow a gluten-free diet experienced significantly more diarrhea, indigestion, and stomach pain compared to those on this diet.
2) Reduces chronic inflammation
For those who suffer from celiac disease, a gluten-free diet can help decrease the chronic inflammation that results from a reaction to gluten. A study found that a gluten-free diet could help reduce inflammation markers like antibodies in the blood, and may also help treat gut damage caused by gluten in those with celiac disease.
3) May promote weight loss
Following this diet is often effective at helping you lose a few pounds. The diet requires you to eliminate many processed foods, which are usually high in calories, and replace them with fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins. Avoid processed gluten-free foods such as cakes and pastries—they add calories quickly. Instead focus on eating plenty of whole, unprocessed foods such as fruits and vegetables.
Side Effects of Going Gluten-Free
While removing gluten from your diet may help you lose weight and feel better, some people who remove gluten from their diet may have adverse effects.
Whole grains, such as whole wheat bread, are a great source of nutrients. Some products that contain gluten, such as breakfast cereal, are also fortified with vitamins. If you avoid gluten but don’t add other nutrient sources to your diet, you can be deficient in certain nutrients.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley that can cause digestive problems. It’s one of the most common food allergens. Many products that contain gluten are high in dietary fiber. It is important to get fiber from other sources when following this diet, such as beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, and gluten-free whole grains.
Despite its benefits, a gluten-free diet isn’t right for everyone. If you have celiac disease or another condition that’s triggered by gluten in your diet, avoiding it will help ease unpleasant symptoms and promote healing. But if you don’t have any issues with gluten, following this diet might not be necessary for your health—partly because most people tolerate it just fine.