Going Gluten-Free: Good for Everyone?

The gluten-free diet is the gold standard treatment for celiac disease (an autoimmune enteropathy) that affects about 1 percent of the population. Now a popular food trend; many Americans follow this diet for a wide variety of reasons but most commonly based on the idea that gluten is bad for you or the gluten-free diet will promote weight loss. Sometimes, people don’t really know why they are following the gluten-free diet. Have you seen the Jimmy Kimmel skit “Pedestrian Question- What is Gluten”? If you haven’t, it can easily be found on YouTube.
The gluten-free diet has also shown to be effective in some other medical conditions such as gluten sensitivity and wheat allergy, and there is some data available that shows the gluten-free diet may improve gastrointestinal symptoms in other conditions such as lupus, irritable bowel syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, dermatitis herpetiformis, type 1 diabetes and psoriasis. Please note, this is not a “one size fits all” diet for these conditions (besides celiac disease) and is definitely not a suitable recommendation for the general public based on current scientific research.
Back to the gluten-free diet for weight loss – some people may lose weight initially because they may be eating less processed foods in general. There are many processed gluten-free foods on the market that actually have higher calorie and sugar content compared to similar gluten containing foods, which can negatively impact weight. I think of these foods as gluten-free junk foods. A gluten free cookie is still a cookie; just using different type of flour and those calories can add up quickly.
People who follow a gluten-free diet without medical necessity may be missing out on some of the health benefits of wheat, barley and rye which all contain gluten. These whole grains contain oligofructose and inulin, which are non-digestible carbohydrates that can improve the composition of beneficial gut bacteria. Barley and rye contain Beta glucan, a soluble fiber which may play a role in reducing heart disease. Despite the numerous health claims of the gluten-free diet, there is no significant evidence to suggest that the general public should follow this diet especially as they may be missing out on more than they realize.
If you are interested in learning more about nutrition counseling sessions with a registered dietitian at Noble Hospital, please call 413-568-2811 ex: 5671 for more information.

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