Should You Go Gluten-Free?
Two years ago, “whole wheat” and “whole grain” were the must-have labels in the food industry. From whole-wheat pasta to whole-grain waffles and tortilla chips, consumers couldn’t get enough of it. Now, “gluten-free” is sweeping the nation and eclipsing its predecessor as the latest healthy diet.
But is it right for everyone?
If you’re wondering what gluten is in the first place, here’s a little Gluten 101: Gluten is a natural protein of grains, such as wheat, barley, and rye, that gives dough the elasticity it needs to rise and give food a more substantial and chewy texture. Until recently, it was believed that only a tiny percentage of Americans were unable to properly break down the protein.
However, the now-popular aversion to gluten all began with one little study that revealed celiac disease, a digestive issue triggered after one eats food containing gluten, is fairly common among Americans (1 out of every 133 has it)—and it’s on the rise.
Those who are unable to digest gluten and don’t adhere to a strict diet that eliminates it not only risk common GI tract issues, such as abdominal pain or diarrhea, but also other problems that can impact the rest of the body. Since gluten causes the body to attack itself in those with celiac disease, it can damage the inner surface of the small intestine, which makes the body unable to absorb important nutrients, and lead to malabsorption and vitamin deficiencies among other organs in the body.
If you’re thinking this sounds more like an unpleasant medical issue than a diet-fad, you’re right. But as celebrities openly endorse the diet, and brands like General Mills and Anheuser-Busch capitalize on going gluten-free, the line between a necessary diet and a way to lose weight becomes a little blurry.
Contrary to popularized belief, gluten is not unhealthy. If you’ve already forgotten the health benefits that sustained the whole grain and wheat fad, here’s a quick reminder. Gluten exists in wheat and grain-filled foods, which are praised for their nutritional benefits if included in a healthy and balanced diet. The protein is only a threat to your health if you’re diagnosed with celiac disease or heightened sensitivity to gluten, and you should then stick to these foods.
We should also dispel the myth that going gluten-free is your golden ticket to losing weight. For one, those who actually have trouble digesting gluten will likely gain weight, since omitting gluten from their diet will help their digestive systems work better and absorb nutrients. Also, some manufacturers of prepared gluten-free food will add sugar or fat to improve taste, which is a major no-no for dieters. If you’ve never had celiac-approved food circa 1990, you’re in luck. To put it nicely, gluten-free food was known for being extremely bland.
So unless you’ve already been diagnosed with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, gluten-free isn’t necessarily the way to be.
If you’re simply trying to lose weight, stick to a balanced diet, which can include whole grains and a surprising amount of enjoyable foods. And if you’re concerned about a possible disorder in your digestive system, visit your doctor who will help identify the problem.
Crozer-Keystone offers a range of board-certified physicians who are trained in the latest technologies and procedures to comprehensively diagnose, manage and treat gastrointestinal and liver conditions. For more information or to make an appointment, visit http://gi.crozerkeystone.org or call 1 1-877-CKHS-GI1 (254-7441).
To learn more about nutrition counseling offered by Crozer-Keystone hospitals, visit https://www.crozerkeystone.org/services/nutrition/