As the general public is getting more and more aware of medical conditions surrounding gluten sensitivity, many health-conscious people wonder if they should go on a gluten-free diet. And then again, who can blame them? Aggressive marketing campaigns promoting overpriced gluten-free products make it seem like they are the key to a long healthy life, and that gluten is the root of all evil. But before we jump the gun and go once again on a diet that promises to turn our life around, we should understand what gluten is and how it can affect our health in the light of scientific research.
Gluten is a protein naturally found in many grains like wheat, barley, and rye. The name comes from the glue-like consistency when water and flour are mixed to form a dough. It is responsible for leavening, which gives a soft, chewy texture to many products like bread, pasta, cereal, and pastries that make up a substantial part of a balanced, high fiber diet. But gluten is also added to a whole lot of unassuming processed foods to improve texture and moisture retention, some of which consist of salad dressings, processed meats, and soups. Having gluten in such a wide variety of products can make it challenging to avoid gluten entirely, and do we even have to? Continue to read the article to learn more.
Is Gluten Bad?
While gluten itself provides no essential nutrients, it is generally harmless to most people. And medical professionals agree that no evidence demonstrates a significant health benefit of a gluten-free diet for the general public. Actually, quite the contrary is the case. Research shows that people on a prolonged gluten-free diet tend to have more nutritional deficiencies, like fiber, iron, and then, of course, calcium.
However, gluten triggers some medical conditions like celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, and wheat allergy that require a diet, excluding foods with gluten as part of the treatment.
What Is Celiac Disease?
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that affects approximately 1 to 2% of the world’s population. It can cause serious discomfort, and then in some cases, real damage to your body. For celiac patients, 50 milligrams of protein found in wheat or other grains is a big deal. Why? Because it is enough to trigger the immune system to attack the small intestine cells. This causes damages in the small intestine lining. And that leads to which leads to poor absorption of nutrients, unpleasant symptoms, and other health issues. These are infertility, osteoporosis, and then seizures. While the exact cause of this disease is unclear, research suggests that genetic components play a role. The most common symptoms of celiac disease are as follows:
- Digestive issues like bloating, diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, inflammation, and then damage of the digestive tissue
- Skin rashes, eczema
- Tiredness, headaches, confusion, “foggy brain”
- Unexplained weight loss
- Nutrient deficiencies, a compromised immune system
What is Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity?
People who do not test positive for wheat allergies or celiac disease but show negative symptoms such as stomach pain, diarrhea, or bloating may experience non-celiac gluten sensitivity. While the symptoms are bothersome, it won’t cause any damage to the tissues of the small intestine.
What is Wheat Allergy?
Wheat allergy is a form of food allergy in which the immune system mistakes wheat as a disease-causing agent. It can cause congestion, breathing difficulties, or digestive issues. In contrast to celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity, the cause of the reaction is the wheat rather than gluten found in wheat and grain. Therefore people with a wheat allergy can consume other grains like barley or rye.
What to Eat on a Gluten-Free Diet
If you have a gluten-sensitivity, it is very important to stick to a strict gluten-free diet to manage symptoms. Here are some gluten foods to avoid and foods that are safe to eat.
- Avoid gluten-containing grains such as whole wheat, barley, rye, triticale, couscous, semolina, bulgur, durum, einkorn, etc.
- Avoid products made of gluten-containing grains such as pasta, bread, cereal, crackers, malt, rye beer, baked goods, soups, sauces, salad dressings, etc.
- Gluten-free foods that are safe to eat include gluten-free whole grains; fresh fruits and vegetables; proteins such as legumes, meat, poultry, seafood, and nuts; some dairy products; fats and oils.
- Look for the gluten-free label on processed foods to eliminate any possibility of ingesting gluten foods.
Is a Gluten-Free Diet Effective for Weight Loss?
Even though gluten-free is advertised as an effective diet for weight loss and overall as a part of healthy living, there is no research exploring the effects of a gluten-free diet in weight loss on people without a gluten-sensitivity. But studies exploring the long-term effects on people with celiac disease following gluten-free diets found that the gluten-free diet can cause weight gain rather than weight loss.
FAQ on Gluten
Challenging the common belief that celiac disease develops in childhood and is diagnosed later in life due to onsetting symptoms, recent research found that not only you can develop celiac disease at any age even if you have tested negative before, but also that older adults are at greater risk of developing it.
There are test kits marketed for direct consumer use at home by a stool or finger-prick blood test. Experts warn that these tests are not proven to be reliable sources to identify any food allergy, intolerance, or sensitivities. Furthermore, these tests can potentially give many false-positive results, which can cause unnecessary food restrictions and nutrition deficiencies.
This is up to you. Before you come to a conclusion, however, make sure that you understand and comprehend each and every one of these points. The decision is yours to make.
Although many commonly consumed grains are sources of gluten, there are some very nutritious gluten free-grains that you can make part of your diet if you have a sensitivity. Some healthy gluten-free grains are; quinoa, oats, buckwheat, corn, brown rice, teff, amaranth, and sorghum.
If you have celiac disease or a related sensitivity, you can see your symptoms improving around two weeks on a strict gluten-free diet. Generally, most of the symptoms are expected to disappear entirely in three months, but it can take up to six months to restore any small intestine damage.
Conclusion on Gluten
Gluten is a protein found in many grains. When ingested, it can cause symptoms ranging from discomfort to severe health issues in people with celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, and wheat allergies. Therefore people who are clinically diagnosed with any of these issues should go on a gluten-free diet. There is no evidence that a gluten-free diet has many health benefits for people not suffering from these issues and can cause more harm than good. If you think you are suffering from health issues related to gluten-intolerance, consult a medical doctor. Also, since we started talking about diet, you might be interested in the Keto Diet as well.