Should You Go Gluten-Free? The Truth Behind The World’s Most Hated Protein
Does it have any benefit for people without celiac disease? Here’s what you need to know
In recent years, more and more people are declaring themselves “gluten free”, exasperating dining partners, waiters, and researchers alike. Gluten is a protein found in wheat and many other grains – meaning it’s found in many common Western foods such as bread and pasta.
The gluten-free diet can be a life saving treatment for people diagnosed with genuine medical illnesses. That’s a fact.
But does it make any difference for the people who worship it as a weight loss diet? Or as a way of “cleansing” their bodies?
The gluten-free diet has been around for more than half a century, when doctors first established a link between gluten and the symptoms of celiac disease, an autoimmune condition where gluten triggers intestinal damage.
There is no cure for celiac disease or other gluten sensitive conditions, but the gluten-free diet allows those diagnosed to live comparatively healthy, symptom free lives (albeit ones without things like wheat bread).
But when carb-cutting took centre stage for people looking to lose weight, it was inevitable that some people would take it to the extreme and adopt the gluten-free diet.
After all, why cut out just wheat when you can also eliminate barley, rye, and other grains as well?
Does this strategy offer any advantage for the people who don’t have celiac disease?
According to a 2015 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, the answer is maybe, but not if you’re relying on gluten-free products to fill the new gaps in your diet.
When Is a Gluten-Free Diet Healthy?
“The gluten-free diet can be healthy if the focus is on whole foods: vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins, nonfat or low-fat dairy, seeds, nuts, legumes, beans,” says Nancee Jaffe, registered dietitian to the UCLA Digestive Health and Nutrition Clinic.
But, she emphasises, grains like whole wheat and barley offer health benefits as well. A gluten-reduced diet may be the best option.
One benefit: Reducing your intake of gluten means that you need to increase your intake of other foods. Because food manufacturers are now catering to the gluten-free demo, there’s a host of new, healthful products on the market.
For grains, work amaranth, buckwheat, millet, or quinoa, into your diet. Each variety has different vitamins and minerals that can help you round out your diet.
Related: Is Gluten Really That Evil?
When Is a Gluten-Free Diet Unhealthy?
If you’re cutting out healthy grains like whole wheat and barley and supplementing your diet with processed gluten-free products, you may be doing more harm than good.
Gluten-free snacks like pretzels and cookies are often higher in fat and sugar and lower in fibre and protein than their gluten equivalents, according to new research. They are also often not enriched or fortified with key nutrients.
That means that you’re probably paying more money for less nutritious food: gluten-free products can cost up to 200 percent more than their gluten-containing counterparts, according to research from Nova Scotia.
Focusing on whole foods is an excellent way to maintain a healthy diet, but think carefully about your overall health before you decide to cut out gluten altogether.