Going Gluten-Free: More Beneficial or Newest Fad?

One of the newest trends we have seen recently is the gluten-free diet.  Used originally to treat the condition celiac disease, cutting gluten out of your diet has become widely popular for not just the 1% of population actually having the disease but numerous others as well.  So before we all go out and jump on the bandwagon, let’s first get the facts, shall we?

First off, celiac disease is a condition that is caused by an abnormal immune response to gluten.  In people who are celiac, the gluten in everyday foods causes the white blood cells in the small intestine to start attacking the villi, which are those little fingerlike projections on the intestine wall that help with digestion and nutrient absorption.  Some symptoms include diarrhea, anemia, bone pain and a skin rash, but sometimes the symptoms are non-existent.  In fact, 3 in 4 people who have celiac disease would never even know it.  Because of this, you should pay close attention to your family’s medical history; when celiac disease goes untreated, it can cause malnutrition, osteoporosis, increased risk of gastrointestinal cancer, depression, schizophrenia, anxiety, neuropathy, severe headaches, problems with pregnancy, and the list goes on.  Yikes!  So even if you don’t feel the negative effects, those you don’t feel can be much worse.  All the more reason to go to your doctor and get tested to know for sure if you need to change your eating patterns!

There is a certain percentage of the population that can be categorized as gluten sensitive.  Up to 15% of people may feel better by eating a gluten-free diet or consuming less gluten in their daily foods.  Doctors aren’t completely sure as to the cause of the gluten sensitivity in some of their patients, but it is recommended by most to just avoid gluten all together rather than just consume less.

So what exactly IS gluten?  It is a protein found mainly in wheat, barley and rye, but can also be found in many different types of whole grain foods.  All of these are nutritious foods for people who don’t have celiac disease, but a major health risk for those who do.  Luckily, the market for gluten-free products has absolutely exploded with new options, making shopping (not to mention eating) for those who need these types of products much more enjoyable.  Not that all whole grains are off limits, however, on a gluten-free diet.  Amaranth, millet and quinoa are good options to get creative with if you need to.  While you don’t hear about amaranth and millet much, quinoa has become extremely popular, and finding recipes on how to use it is never a problem.  And if you are a Pinterest junkie like me, it is more often than not that at least 40% of the recipes on Pinterest have something to do with quinoa.  Am I right fellow Pinterest users??

Coinciding with this topic, I feel it necessary to address the fact that more and more people who don’t have celiac disease are frequently eliminating some or all gluten from their diets.  Some think it will help them lose weight and others think it is just plain healthier for you.  I’m here to tell you that neither of those reasons are valid.  If people are losing weight from going gluten free, it’s mainly because the types of foods they have to give up include many desserts and junk foods.  Anyone would lose weight from giving up that stuff; you don’t need to get rid of gluten to do it!  Also, as far as a gluten-free diet being healthier for you, this is a myth as well.  As a matter of fact, it can be the opposite.  The whole grains not only contain gluten, but also fiber, B vitamins, calcium, iron, zinc and magnesium.  So for those of us who can have gluten, cutting it out entirely can cause us to be deficient in essential nutrients our bodies need.  Many gluten-free products can also be higher in sugar or fat to make them taste better.  In addition, the gluten-free products out there have a tendency to be much higher in price.  Of course, that’s a small price to pay for someone whose health is in the hands of these foods, but quite the unnecessary increase in your grocery bill for those who aren’t getting any health benefits from it.

The bottom line…celiac disease is a serious matter.  If you feel like you may have problems with gluten or someone in your family does, you might as well be safe rather than sorry and go find out for sure.  On the other end of the spectrum, unless you have a medically diagnosed reason to go gluten-free, stick to the foods you know.  Going gluten-free is not a magic way to drop some weight, nor is it a healthier way of living for everyone.  It’s a treatment for a medical condition that should not be taken lightly.  So save your money and focus on the healthy foods you have on your program to get exactly what you want out of your weight loss.  RESULTS!!