Over 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?
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.