The Truth About Gluten-Free: Fact vs. Fiction

posted: 09/13/16
by: Katie Morton
Gluten Free
Read more Read less

Gluten free--two words that are a hot button phrase in nutrition right now. Odds are that you know someone committed to a gluten-free diet. Perhaps you want to make improvements in your own health and you think that the gluten-free path might be for you.

As with all dietary changes, it's best to consult with your medical providers. It's important for your long-term health to make sure the changes you're making will actually yield the results you want. For some people, cutting out entire food groups can reduce the necessary vitamins and nutrients you need for a healthy body.

We've separated the wheat from the chaff when it comes to going gluten-free. Read on as we parse out fact versus fiction when it comes to the gluten-free movement.

Fiction: Gluten-free diets are a universal health panacea.

Fact: Gluten-free diets are necessary for those diagnosed with celiac disease, but may not be nutritionally sound for others.

Doctors concur that those with celiac disease should avoid gluten entirely. But what about people who don't have celiac disease, will cutting out gluten improve their health, too?

Doctors concur that a gluten-free diet isn't the magical health elixir some tout it to be. According to Web MD, "unless people are very careful, a gluten-free diet can lack vitamins, minerals, and fiber." Restricting gluten means you eliminate many healthy whole grains from your diet, which can result in nutritional deficiencies.

If your goal is better health, then reducing processed foods and boosting your fruit and veggie intake may be just what the doctor ordered. These small changes can yield big results, and result in a more balanced diet.

Fiction: Celiac disease is highly common.

Fact: Celiac disease is a rare condition.

According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, the estimated international rate of celiac disease is just 1%. The symptoms of celiac are varied, including diarrhea, anemia, bone pain, and severe skin rashes. Some people afflicted by celiac may be completely asymptomatic. Further complicating diagnosis is the fact that celiac symptoms may be confused with hundreds of other diagnoses.

The only way to know if you have celiac is through medical testing. If celiac is confirmed, then it's essential to maintain a gluten-free diet to maintain good health. Adherence to a lifetime gluten-free diet is the only way to control the symptoms of celiac and prevent damage to the digestive system.

Fiction: While celiac disease is rare, many people experience gluten sensitivity.

Fact: True gluten sensitivity is uncommon.

Experts estimate that only about six per cent of the population are sensitive to gluten. Even more interesting, a recently published medical study found that 86% of those with self-proclaimed gluten sensitivity could actually tolerate it. This study seems to indicate that there may be a placebo effect at play when to comes to the health benefits of eliminating gluten.

Fiction: Scientific studies have clearly shown the positive health benefits of a gluten-free diet.

Fact: There's little documented scientific support of the benefits of gluten-free diets for those without celiac.

There's little consensus in the medical community that gluten-free diets improve patient health. Peter HR Green, Director of the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University said, "we understand why many people look for a dietary cause for their fatigue or other symptoms; removing gluten from one's diet is a relatively easy fix, especially for those who have already sought medical help without a satisfactory result." In short, since gluten is linked to celiac: some (incorrectly) think that removing gluten will benefit everyone.

Green continues, "Some physicians and nutritionists recommend a gluten-free diet to prevent autoimmune diseases, reduce inflammation or treat depression and fatigue. Gluten-free diets are even prescribed for those with autism. None of these indications have a scientific basis. Nor is it true that removing gluten from one's diet increases energy, as is often claimed. One study of competitive cyclists found that a gluten-free diet did not increase energy output."

In short: Medical evidence and research haven't found a documented link to a gluten-free diet and improved health for the general (non-celiac) population.

Fiction: Going gluten-free means you'll have to kiss pizza, pasta, and bread goodbye forever.

Fact: Many companies now manufacture a broad range of gluten-free choices.

The good news is that if you do decide to adhere to a gluten-free diet, there's a vast range of products for you to choose from. Many restaurants are also jumping on the gluten-free train and can accommodate your dietary requests. If you like to cook at home, check out these popular gluten-free recipes.

Fiction: Gluten-free diets are a sure fire way to lose weight.

Fact: Some people gain weight on gluten-free diets.

Not all gluten-free foods are created equal. In order to make the product more palatable, certain gluten-free products may actually be higher in saturated fat, sugar, and calories than their regular counterparts. Experts recommend that you navigate your new gluten-free diet with the help of a nutritionist if your goal is weight loss.

Gluten-free diets seem to be all the rage, but before you take steps to eliminate entire food groups to improve your health, you should educate yourself on the pros and cons. As with all medical issues, it's important to consult with your health care provider to ensure you're making the right nutritional choices for your best health.