To Gluten, or not to Gluten?- that seems to be the question these days. Odds are you have heard about Gluten, and due to the vast amount of varying information out there you may still be wondering what it’s all about.
If you are like me and a few foodie friends of mine you know it’s a protein found in foods processed from wheat and related grain species, including barley and rye. If you’re like my cousin you may be thinking, “Isn’t that a thing found in carbs that is suppose to be unhealthy for you?” And if you’re like my dad, you may think something like “that sounds like the technical term for your bum muscles…”, sorry dad, that’s a different article entirely, back to gluten:
Over the past few years there has been an increased awareness and adoption of wheat and gluten free diets. Some of the perceived benefits of a wheat or gluten free diet include, alleviation from chronic stomach pains, bloating, heartburn, joint pains, headache, skin rashes, fatigue, insomnia and brain fog. People adopt a gluten free diet for various reasons: some are diagnosed with Celiac’s or have wheat sensitivities, others are trying to lose weight, and others still claim that a gluten free diet has improved their health even though they test negative to Celiac Disease.
More and more health professionals are recognizing something called non-celiac gluten-sensitivity. The difference between non-celiac gluten-sensitivity and Celiac’s is that people with non-celiac gluten-sensitivity have celiac-like symptoms but no autoimmune reaction to gluten. This means that they may experience the exact same symptoms as those with Celiac’s from eating gluten, yet currently there is way to detect the illness except by eliminating gluten and seeing if the symptoms resolve. Assessing your body’s response to gluten is therefore best done by eliminating gluten for a few weeks and gradually re-introducing it. If the symptoms disappear and then re-appear, it could mean you have non-celiac gluten-sensitivity. In this case, you may want to talk about how to start an elimination diet with your health professional.
What about healthy individuals without sensitivity to gluten- is a gluten free diet a healthier option?
While it is often thought that the gluten free diet is healthier for the entire population, there has been no credible research on a cause and effect relationship between wheat free/gluten free diets and our health. Further, the weight loss/gluten relationship is more complex then most of us understand; individuals with a gluten free intolerance or Celiac’s typically lose weight prior to following any treatments because of their digestive issues affecting absorption, and in fact typically gain weight once following a gluten free diet. Furthermore, while there are healthy gluten free options available, many gluten -free packaged products are often high in saturated fat, sugar and sodium. Many gluten free products also have less fiber and fewer vitamins.
With that said, those who must follow a gluten free diet for medical reasons can eat healthfully on a gluten free diet with some planning and education, however, healthy individuals not needing to follow a gluten free diet for any particular reason are probably better off not adopting this diet. Talk to your nutritionist and health professional about what the best fit for you is.
- Elis Halenko, R.D
Posts inspired by the team at Platinum Health & Wellness.