Is a gluten-free diet really for you?

Is a gluten-free diet really for you?

Throughout the last decade many fad diets have come and gone, but experts say one that is here to stay.

The gluten-free lifestyle has launched into mainstream society thanks to celebrities swearing by their new found energy and numerous health benefits. Many people find themselves partaking in this diet without asking the basic questions like what is gluten and how can it be harmful.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), gluten is the proteins that occur naturally in wheat, rye, barley and crossbreeds of these grains. So how can these be harmful?

The FDA reports that nearly 3 million people have what is known as celiac disease, which occurs when the body’s natural defense system reacts to gluten by attacking the lining of the small intestine. Without a healthy intestinal lining, the body cannot absorb the nutrients it needs.

Jamie Portnoy, a registered dietician with Advocate Medical Group in Libertyville, Ill., says, “Avoiding gluten is absolutely essential for people with celiac disease, who can’t tolerate even small amounts of the protein gluten, which is found in grains such as wheat, rye and barley.”

Gluten can even show up in items one would not expect, she says.

“There are several hidden sources of gluten that we don’t think about such as colorings, preservatives, and spices,” Portnoy says. “In addition to food containing gluten, postage stamps, glue on envelopes, and play dough also contain small amounts of gluten. If you have celiac disease it is important to look out for these products.”

According to the New York Times, researchers believe the gluten-free market will skyrocket to $15.6 billion by 2016.

The FDA recently passed a labeling law for gluten-free products enacted last fall.

So why are so many joining the trend to live a gluten-free lifestyle?

Some individuals who pick a gluten-free diet report loss of weight, less fatigue throughout the day, reduced inflammation and have seen improvement in other health conditions. Another advantage many found was avoiding highly processed food. Overall many people reported that eliminating gluten in their diet simply made them feel better.

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  1. For those with celiac disease, of course avoiding gluten is a necessity. But for the rest — avoiding protein seems counter-productive; if you just want the fiber, there are easier ways to get it. Besides, I don’t see why those advocating more fiber wouldn’t do better just to avoid simple carbs and go for the complex ones instead. You can also avoid highly processed foods without avoiding gluten. Besides, how much of this self-reported ‘feeling better’ on a low-gluten diet by those who aren’t celiac is placebo effect?? That’s the problem with self-reporting: you don’t know what’s a real phenomenon and what isn’t. I wouldn’t put too much stock in that without documentation of some sort. For the non-celiacs, it sounds very much like another diet fad.

  2. I actually have this tried this way of eating a couple of times and it has made me feel better overall! But I love my bread and other gluten filled things so instead of completely avoiding it I try to just limit my intake.

  3. The functional medicine profession is all-over this idea for non-celiacs!!

  4. Katie Renz

    Gluten free diets can be tricky because some of the food doesn’t tastes so good and a lot of junk food is gluten free. It’s important for people who are eating gluten free to find healthy options.

  5. I have heard about gluten and did think it was a “fad” diet to lose weight. This article explains why it’s more than that. Might have to check it out!

  6. Lynn Hutley

    Even if you don’t have Celiac, you can have a sensitivity to gluten and therefore, feel much better if you remove it from your diet. I have seen this in a member of my extended family who was experiencing significant GI issues. Personally, I have met very few carbs that I don’t love so I don’t think I will be following this trend any time soon.

  7. While I wasn’t diagnosed with Celiac, I do have a high sensitivity to gluten. The GI doctor also diagnosed me with mixed IBS so not only am I avoiding gluten but am on the FODMAP for a period of time to test trial what my stomach can tolerate and what cannot. I have to say my energy is higher, my skin looks healthier and I feel pain free in my stomach. I have to say my stomach is thanking me for the changes to my eating habits.

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.