Should I Go Gluten-Free?

gluten-free_mainOver the last few years, “gluten-free” has been getting a lot of buzz. But rather than understanding what gluten really is, most people mistakenly believe that “gluten-free” is synonymous with healthy.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the term gluten-free refers to a diet “that excludes the protein gluten. Gluten is found in grains such as wheat, barley, rye and triticale.”

Rather than being some sort of health craze, gluten-free diets are prescribed as a treatment for celiac disease. About 1% of the population suffers from celiac disase, which is characterized by an autoimmune rejection of those foods containing gluten. It can result in gastrointestinal inflammation and a number of undesirable symptoms.

But for people not suffering from celiac disease or even gluten sensitivity, does going gluten-free still make sense?

No.

Eliminating gluten from your diet can actually be dangerous – and even lead to nutritional deficiencies. According to the American Council on Exercise:

Grains are an excellent source of B-vitamins and fiber. Most standard grains such as bread, cereal and pasta contain wheat, rye or barley and thus include gluten. Complete elimination of gluten-containing grains can lead to nutritional deficiencies including B vitamins, calcium, vitamin D, iron, zinc, magnesium and fiber.

Gluten itself doesn’t have any special nutritional properties. But foods containing gluten do – like whole wheat, spelt, rye, barley and so on. These foods are definitely part of a healthy diet and contain lots of great stuff that your body needs. In other words, unless you are very careful, a gluten-free diet may not provide enough essential vitamins, minerals and fiber.

If you are suffering from celiac disease or have gluten sensitivity, eliminating gluten is a necessity. But for the rest of us, it’s an exercise in futility. Put your energy and effort into more productive pursuits – like reducing sugar, sodium or unhealthy fats.

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Comments

  1. I have a friend who needs the diet and when ever I try and eat a meal prepared gluten free I end up with stomach issues. Is this common Davey?

    • Steve –
      My dad is a celiac. He doesn’t go after a lot of the “gluten free” products. He’s had gluten free pancakes that made him feel worse than anything with gluten because some of these replacement grains are terrible. There’s a lot of people going “gluten free” but are trying to fake everything that they used to eat between cakes and pizza and stuff and a lot of the stuff is not good. My dad has been so much happier ever since he started going after good stuff he can eat and not trying to pretend like nothing has changed. So I’m not sure if you’re eating prepared “gluten free” products or if you’re eating what a celiac should eat: freshly cooked veggies, fruits, meats, rice (if they can tolerate) etc.

  2. Davey, thanks for sharing this information. I have known for a long time that those few people with celiac disease need to be on a gluten free diet. I’ve also known many people who are ‘gluten free’ for no other reason than it sounds like the healthy thing to do. It is good to see reputable information that explains the risk of being ‘gluten free’ when you do not have to do that for a medical necessity.
    –R.D.

  3. My mother, who I live with, has celiac disease, and I can tell you a couple other reasons not to go gluten-free.
    1. Cost- Gluten-free products are much more expensive than their gluten loaded counterparts. One example is a gluten-free frozen pizza is small and cost 3-4 times as much as a regular small frozen pizza.
    2. Taste- Nothing gluten-free tastes as good as regular products, with a few exceptions.

    When my mother was diagnosed 3 years ago I was with her. The doctor told her specifically that unless anyone else in the house had a problem with gluten, others shouldn’t go by her diet.

    • James Miike says:

      Replacing foods that contain wheat with a gluten free variant is not the healthiest approach. You’re looking for healthy prepackaged foods, which don’t exist. There are thousands of recipes out there that are gluten free! I never have a problem finding something healthy and delicious to make for dinner. I recommend your mother read Wheat Belly. It’s all in there.

      Food manufactures have removed the wheat, thereby removing the gluten, but in it’s place have added other flours, such as potato, rice etc. A lot of these packaged foods have added sugars as well. They can do the same thing,

      There are so many recipes out there that don’t have bread

      • Alexander Brown says:

        You should look into the new product lines out there. There are quite a few companies releasing some actually wonderful gluten-free products. As for prepackaged, it’s hard to find them, but they are out there! I’ve found a few healthy choice microwaveable meals that are gluten free and still taste reasonably well. Also I hope a certain product can make it’s way into the market :)

    • Alexander says:

      A great book with absolutely AMAZING gluten-free baking recipes is Babycakes by Erin Mckenna. There’s a truly wonderful recipe in there for homemade gluten free graham crackers. Yes it’s not healthy, but it is delicious. If you want to be safe with taste the best way to go is make it at home. Though I have had my fair share of unpleasant products, there are still some out there that are quite good.

  4. James Miike says:

    You should read Wheat Belly.

    In the book they talk about how wheat as a grain has been modified so many times that it is very different from the ancient (original) grain. Due to this modification over so many years wheat has the highest concentration of gluten than any other grain, When we consume wheat our bodies turn all that gluten into sugar. And we all know what happens next, sugar turns into fat.

    I am not celiac, but on the recommendation of my naturopath I have removed gluten and sugar from my diet. I feel amazing and have so much more energy. I think I’ll take the word of my Doctor over a personal trainer.

    Most breads are made up of sugar, bad fats, preservatives and are enriched with vitamins. So I fail to see any nutrient loss from removing breads from my diet.

    You can still eat grains and be gluten free. On the advice of my naturopath I eat oatmeal daily. There is gluten present in oatmeal, however the level is so low it’s negligible. Quinoa is an excellent grain that is gluten free and actually helps to lower blood sugar levels.

    So In summary, you can be gluten free and not celiac and still be healthy.

  5. Exactly Davey. I have been saying this for years. It’s like other foods. Some people are allergic to peanuts, for example. It doesn’t mean peanuts are bad for everyone. Or dairy, some are lactose intolerant. Again, it doesn’t mean that dairy is bad for everyone. If you eliminate everything from your diet that someone has an allergy or intolerance to, you should just stop eating.

  6. Alexander Brown says:

    You actually need to review your sources on the percentage of american’s that either have celiac or an intolerance/sensitivity. It’s actually closer to 4% rather than 1% of the national population. I’m not stating this to be scolding, but just as a “just so you know” :)

    Also I think you should discuss this with some food scientist’s (I’m a student in Food Science currently) because part of this post covers some of the areas that food scientists are trying to combat, specifically with malnutrition. I think you would learn a lot from speaking with some food scientists about these issues and know that there are companies our there that are working quite hard on developing nutrient rich gluten-free foods. On a side note I actually plan on specializing in gluten and allergen’s :) So please do not dismiss what I have to say.

  7. This is the first time I strongly disagree with Davey. There is growing evidence that gluten itself is not the issue with sensitivity/celiac disease … it is in fact the way it is prepared. As gluten sensitivity is a relatively modern development it is believed it is the quick nature of how food is prepared e.g. bread made in hours in factories instead of overnight as it was traditionally alters how our bodies handle it. And many of us simply cannot handle it in its raw form. I’ve been unable to eat gluten for years yet not too long ago I stumbled across a local bakery who makes bread suitable for celiac sufferers. The owner and baker is a qualified researcher with many letters after his name and guess what, his bread contains gluten from wheat, barley and rye! The way his bread is prepared allows people like myself to eat it with NO detrimental health effects. So actually, I would argue that what this blog should really warn people about is HOW your food is made and where it has come from. There’s some food for though :-)

    • Alexander says:

      Any chance you could divulge his name? He sounds like he might be a food scientist, so I might be able to find out more about his achievements if he is a member of the IFT.

  8. Robert Jones says:

    Interesting article, but I respectfully disagree. Many or most gluten items are highly processed foods and wheat (a major source of gluten) has essentially no nutritional value – whole wheat or otherwise – because the grain has had the vital nutrients stripped from it from the years of over production and trying to manufacture a cheap food source.

    Gluten-free grains and seeds such as millet, flax, quinoa, chia, and amaranth (among others) have higher nutritional values with more vitamins, minerals, and fiber than wheat could ever have. Not to mention, so much more flavor.

    The other problem with gluten is that we Americans tend to overindulge – pizza, pasta, subs, etc. Gluten is difficult for the normal body to process in modest amounts. The fact that most people cannot eat only 1 slide of pizza or 1 true serving of pasta further complicates the issue.

    I have yet to meet anyone who went gluten-free who didn’t feel better, lose weight, and have other health improvements like reduced fatigue and elimination of headaches, asthma, and other allergies.

    Many people will try a new fad and take it to the extreme without understanding all of the effects. Eating fat-free and sugar-free cookies will not cause you to lose weight. Consider that going gluten-free may be as much about “clean eating” (Google it) and making smarter food choices.

    • Alexander says:

      That’s very interesting Robert because after I went gluten-free by choice I actually lost my pecan, walnut, cashew, and pistachio allergies but never tied that into the fact that I was gluten-free.

  9. D-W,

    Just to throw my two cents, I did a gluten-free month in Feb, and it worked out great! I trimmed down quite a bit, felt better mentally, and it forced me to eat much healthier options. Not sure if I could do it full time, but incorporating it into a weekly routine has helped me eat healthier overall.
    Cheers
    L.A.

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