Gluten Free: Hype or Health?

By Allison Mars, Dietetics Student, Sargent College

Walking down the grocery store aisles it’s hard not to notice all the new health claims in bright lettering on some packaged foods “Low fat!” “No cholesterol!” but lately there’s been a new label that’s been gaining a lot of attention, “Gluten-Free”. Almost every product that is gluten free, is labeled as such. Many people have adopted a gluten free diet, for various reasons. Is it healthy? Should we all be eating this way?

Gluten free diets are the only treatment for symptoms of Celiac disease. According to a new statistic, 1 in 133 people have Celiac disease, the increasing number of people being diagnosed have caused the increase in the popularity of gluten free products. But what is Celiac exactly? It is an auto-immune reaction to gluten in foods. When people with the disease eat products that contain gluten (wheat, barley, rye, and possibly oats), their immune system responds by attacking the villi of the small intestine. The villi are part of the lining of the intestine and they help absorb nutrients. One of the main problems associated with Celiac disease is insufficient nutrient absorption due to the damage to the villi. When people with Celiac disease eat gluten they experience some uncomfortable symptoms such as bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhea, lactose intolerance, nausea and vomiting, and unexplained weight loss. These symptoms are resolved once gluten is eliminated from the diet.

Certified_Gluten_Free_Logo

People can also experience ‘intolerance’ to gluten. Food intolerances are not thought to be auto-immune responses, and are slightly less severe than Celiac. GI symptoms with gluten intolerance may include gas, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. These symptoms are usually transient, and are thought NOT cause permanent damage.

So gluten free diets are a good thing right? Many people have been caught in the hype of gluten free diets, and are associating “gluten free” with healthy. Unless you suffer from Celiac disease there is no reason to follow a gluten free diet. It’s important that more gluten free foods are available but consumers are jumping on the band wagon for the newest diet craze. Gluten free diets are very restrictive, they totally eliminate pasta, bread, cookies, pastries, breakfast cereals, beer, and many other processed foods. It also eliminates whole wheat foods, which have proven health benefits. Many non-Celiac people who take on a gluten free diet experience some weight loss and may feel more “energetic” but this isn’t due to no gluten, according to Dee Sandquist, MS, RD, it is often due to an overall decrease in their intake of both calories and fat. Sandquist also points out that some of the “safe” grains in gluten free diets, such as corn, amaranth and rice have less fiber than the gluten containing grains. How can it be healthy to adopt a diet that provides less fiber?

Overall, the availability of gluten free products is impressive, and it’s good that Celiac disease is gaining attention, but people should be weary of adopting a gluten free diet if they have not been diagnosed.

Sources:

For anyone with celiac disease living in Massachusetts, be sure to check out Healthy Villi’s list of support groups around the state!

 

6 Comments

someone to sell my stuff on ebay posted on March 17, 2012 at 9:38 am

You completed a number of good points there. I did a search on the matter and found nearly all folks will go along with with your blog.

Celeste posted on August 15, 2012 at 3:01 pm

Many more people are discovering that following a gluten-free diet makes them feel better overall. It may not be the answer for everyone but for many people eliminating gluten from their diets can benefit their health and may be the root cause of many illnesses.

nando@lip cancer posted on August 24, 2012 at 4:01 pm

I think it’s okay to have this diet. although we can’t eat certain foods, at least it is good to get a healthier body

Gluten Intolerance test? posted on January 3, 2013 at 8:18 am

I know a lot of people who are gluten senstitive by varying degrees. I also know that finding gluten free products is hard and expensive and can be a big pain and limit your lifestyle – what about eating out for example. IMHO if you think you have gluten sensitivity or intolerance get it checked out before you do anything, go to your doctor or buy a kit on the high street at Boots or online http://www.checkmybody.co.uk before launching into to some hugely difficult and depressing life stlye changes. If you just want to lose weight eat less do more – simple as!

Grace posted on March 13, 2013 at 7:54 am

Many of my sport-engaged friends, especially triathletes are on gluten-free diets and the say it helps to raise performance and the state of health significantly!

Eric Carb posted on May 12, 2013 at 11:55 pm

Great article, Allison. You make an excellent point that I think a lot of people miss: while some people need a gluten-free diet to remain healthy, following a gluten-free diet isn’t necessarily any healthier for most people.

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