You might be tempted to try going gluten-free because you’ve heard it’s healthier. Gluten-free products fill up supermarket shelves and adopting a gluten-free diet seems like a way to improve your health. But is it as good a choice as it seems?
Approximately 1% of the population has celiac disease. Their immune response to gluten, found in wheat, can damage the lining of the small intestine, making them incapable of absorbing nutrients from the foods they eat. Not all individuals with celiac disease have symptoms, but those who do can suffer with diarrhea, anemia, bone pain, and sometimes even a serious skin rash. Individuals with celiac disease or wheat sensitivity legitimately need to avoid eating the gluten in wheat.
What about the rest of us?
For many, the gluten-free lifestyle ends up harming rather than helping. How so? The perception that a gluten-free diet is healthier for everyone is more about marketing gluten-free products than about health and nutrition.
The range of gluten-free products now available are generally heavily processed. They may not provide you with the vitamins, minerals and fiber you need. Eating these foods can cause constipation and nutrient deficiency and, because tend to be calorie dense, eating too many gluten-free muffins can lead to weight gain.
Even if you don’t try many of the processed gluten-free items, avoiding gluten means restricting your diet and avoiding even nutritious, whole grain foods made from wheat, barley and rye. Going gluten-free means a total overhaul of your food choices, including no longer eating most breads, crackers, cereals, pastas, baked items and plenty of commercially prepared foods that are made with gluten.
Gluten-free grains, such as amaranth, millet, and quinoa do exist, but they are far less common in the standard Western diet. Avoiding so many grain-based foods can also make it hard to feel satiated, which can bring on the temptation to binge. Of course, some foods, like fruits and vegetables, are naturally gluten-free and are great choices for anyone, because they aren’t processed.
Bottom line, unless you’ve tested positive for celiac, a gluten-free diet is unnecessarily restrictive and can cause more problems than it cures.
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Author: Rebeca Espinoza
Rebeca Espinoza writes about health, fitness and weight loss for Spatz Medical, makers of the Spatz3 Adjustable Gastric Balloon. You can find her on Google+ or at firstname.lastname@example.org.