Vitality

Gluten-Free Diet Does Not Make You Healthier: Only People With Celiac Disease Should Go Gluten-Free

Gluten-Free Diet
A gluten-free diet does not make you healthier if you have no gluten allergy. GLUTEN FREE EXPO, CC by 2.0

For people with celiac disease, around seven percent of Americans, adhering to a gluten-free diet is their only way of ensuring an immune response does not attack their small intestine. Some people without celiac disease or gluten intolerance, however, think the restrictiveness of a gluten-free diet means it’s healthy. A survey conducted by Consumer Reports has revealed that over 60 percent of Americans think that by going gluten-free they can improve their physical and mental health.

“We commonly see patients who go on a gluten-free diet and feel better for a week or two,” Dr. Joseph Murray, a gastroenterologist at the Mayo Clinic, told Consumer Reports. “It may be the placebo effect or simply because they’re eating less. For some, their symptoms come back, so they decide to drop another food group, and then a few weeks later, when they’re still not feeling any better, they make an even more drastic change, like going completely vegan. By the time they enter my office, they’re on a severely restricted diet and still have symptoms.”

Gluten refers to a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. Cutting gluten out of your diet means cutting out gluten-containing bread, soup, pasta, cereal, beer, and virtually any food or drink containing wheat, barley, rye, or triticale — a newer grain with a similar quality as wheat. When starting a gluten-free diet, consumers may not realize that cutting gluten means spending more money. Dieticians say the added costs that are needed to meet certification and labeling regulations affect the price on the shelf.

The Consumer Reports National Research Center issued surveys to over 1,000 Americans who were asked about their attitudes and beliefs regarding a gluten-free diet. Sixty-three percent of respondents were under the impression that going gluten-free was healthier for their body and mind. Most said that by avoiding gluten they would have better digestion and gastrointestinal function, healthy weight loss, higher energy, lower cholesterol, and a stronger immune system.

Most Americans who voluntarily give up gluten may not understand some of the protein’s beneficial effects. For example, research suggests that a healthy balance of gluten can improve triglycerides and blood pressure. Gluten also supports healthy bacteria in the digestive system, which helps reduce inflammation. Cutting out gluten from your diet also means adding more fat and sugar.

“Gluten adds oomph to foods — wheat, rye, and barley all have strong textures and flavors,” said Angela Lemond, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

When it comes to the top expectation among all dieting trends, over a third of respondents think that a gluten-free diet will help them lose weight. However, due to more calories, sugar, and fat, the opposite tends to be true. A review of studies published in the Journal of Medicinal Food revealed that a gluten-free diet “seems to increase the risk of overweight or obesity.”

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