Gluten-free: The truth behind the diet

The gluten-free craze has swept through America in a whirlwind, and new health trends now suggest limiting or cutting out gluten from your diet entirely. Dieticians and health gurus praise the gluten-free way of life, citing that following the diet could alleviate headaches, solve digestive problems, manage and lose weight, and contribute to overall happiness.

But what exactly is gluten? Gluten is defined by the Celiac Disease Foundation as a broad term used to cover certain proteins found in wheat, barley, rye, and triticale. Gluten is common in foods such as breads, pastas, beer, soups, and food coloring.
Could simply cutting out foods containing gluten really be the cure-all for the aforementioned ailments? For approximately 1% of the population, the answer is a firm yes.

Celiac disease is a rare illness in which a person cannot consume gluten without suffering adverse side effects such as digestive problems, headaches, and extreme weight loss. The treatment is fairly self-explanatory—cut gluten out of the diet.
For others with similar symptoms who test negative for Celiac disease, Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS) may be a factor. While lacking a firm diagnosis or means of testing, those with NCGS claim cutting gluten out made their negative symptoms disappear.

However, the majority of the population are not afflicted with these diseases. Does the gluten-free diet still do wonders for these people? Recent studies say no.

Scientist Peter Gibson of Monash University suspected a specific set of sugars may actually be the cause of certain problems, so he set up groups with some on a gluten-free, low sugar diet and others with low sugar with varying amounts of gluten. His subjects reported “no difference…suggesting gluten is not in fact the root cause of their problems.”

As for addressing claims that avoiding gluten helps you lose weight, a dietician at Imperial College London Gary Frost says, “wheat is no more fattening that any carbohydrate… it’s a very commonly consumed cereal, so it’s hardly surprising that if you start to miss it from your diet then you start to lose weight.”

Additionally, not only may going gluten-free have little effect on your health, but it may actually have adverse side effects. Gluten-free diets are often higher in fat and lower in zinc, iron and folate, which are all necessary components of a healthy diet. Avoiding gluten also makes one avoid whole-grain foods, which are unarguably beneficial in a complete diet.

Maintaining a healthy diet is crucial to one’s health, and making the decision to cut out gluten is a big one. While it may be tempting to accept that this fad diet may lead to instantaneous weight loss and better health, empirical research points away from the average person going gluten-free.

Gluten-free diets may actually be higher in fat and calories, while lacking nutrients. All this for a cost that research doesn’t even show exists. When considering how to fuel your body, remember that going gluten free may not be the best choice for you.