Almost everyone has heard of the term “gluten-free”, but is it just another buzzword? Thanks to the internet, we are exposed to a lot more information about food, nutrition, and diets than ever before.
Understandably, a lot of consumers are concerned about which diets are actually healthy and which are simply passing by.
Lately, this attention has been turned toward the gluten-free diet. But is it a fad, or is following a diet that is gluten-free healthy?
What is the gluten-free diet?
The gluten-free diet was invented for those who have celiac disease. Celiac disease causes gluten intolerance in individuals, causing extreme discomfort if gluten is consumed. In worst-case scenarios, this can cause damage to their intestines.
If individuals with celiac disease continue to eat gluten the resulting intestinal damage can lead to failure when absorbing nutrients or minerals from food. This can induce other serious health problems.
Going gluten-free is a necessity for those with celiac disease.
What is gluten?
Gluten is a type of protein that is found naturally in cereal grains like wheat or rye. Gluten can also be found in other foods and beverages like vinegar, soy sauce, or broth.
Gluten is usually used as an ingredient to thicken foods, so avoiding gluten can be tricky.
With that being said, gluten is not inherently bad for those without celiac disease. But some may choose to stop eating it for other health reasons. If you aren’t allergic to gluten, you can still choose to go gluten-free.
Here are the pros and cons of going gluten-free:
Pros of a Gluten-Free Diet:
Helps Those with Celiac Disease and Gluten Sensitivities
The biggest pro of going gluten-free is that it allows those with celiac disease to live a pain-free life. Avoiding gluten can also help reverse any of the damage that was caused by it.
It is also used to treat non-celiac gluten sensitivity, which has been recognized by medical professionals since the 1980s. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity refers to individuals who suffer from similar symptoms of celiac disease but have ruled out the disease through a medical diagnosis.
Pushes us to Eat Higher Quality Foods
Foods that contain gluten, like pasta, bread, and others that are high in carbs aren’t generally good for us. Staying away from these types of foods can help us choose more healthy alternatives.
Alternatives to gluten can be high-quality sources of food and lead us to eat more whole, unprocessed foods like fresh fruits and veggies, nuts and seeds, and gluten-free grains like quinoa.
Sticking with gluten-free whole foods can contribute positively to our general nutrition and help us achieve a healthier diet.
Brings More Awareness to Food Labelling
Looking for gluten-free foods will train our eyes to read labels on food products before adding them to our cart. This is a great habit to have, as it encourages us to become more aware of what goes into the food we eat and its nutritional properties.
Cons of a Gluten-Free Diet:
Low in fiber
According to the American Heart Association, women should be consuming 25g of fiber per day, and men should consume around 35g. Many of us struggle to hit this target, whether we are following a gluten-free diet or not.
Unfortunately, many foods that contain gluten are also great sources of fiber such as whole wheat bread or whole-grain cereals.
Can Cause Nutritional Deficiencies
Besides fiber, a gluten-free diet can be deficient in other nutrients if not managed properly. This is because most wheat-based foods are fortified with essential vitamins and nutrients, while their gluten-free counterparts are not.
The overall process of taking gluten out of your diet can be a challenge, especially when trying to navigate everyday things like grocery shopping, going out to restaurants, and other social events.
A gluten-free diet has a learning curve and requires more planning. But the more that you practice, the better you will get at navigating these situations.
If you are diagnosed with celiac disease then you must make a life-long commitment to going gluten-free. Similarly, those with gluten sensitivities may attempt to fully or partially eliminate gluten from their diet. However, for individuals who are neither celiac nor sensitive, going gluten-free in itself does not necessarily provide direct health benefits.
However, some studies have shown that individuals who take on the task of going gluten-free also tend to put more focus on nutrition at the grocery store and dinner table.
Can a DNA test diagnose me with celiac or gluten sensitivity?
No. A DNA test will not be able to diagnose celiac disease. However, specific genetic variants have been linked to gluten sensitivities and a DNA test may be able to shed some light on your sore stomach after eating a large bowl of pasta.
To learn about your own genes and their connection to sensitivities such as gluten, caffeine, and alcohol, order our safe at-home nutritional DNA kit. After you’ve sent us back your pain-free saliva swap, we’ll be able to recommend specific foods matched directly to your genetic makeup. By having this information in-hand, you’ll be able to make smarter, healthier food and nutrition choices.
1. van Berge-Henegouwen, G. P., & Mulder, C. J. (1993). Pioneer in the gluten free diet: Willem-Karel Dicke 1905-1962, over 50 years of gluten free diet. Gut, 34(11), 1473–1475. https://doi.org/10.1136/gut.34.11.1473
2. Wieser H. (2007). Chemistry of gluten proteins. Food microbiology, 24(2), 115–119. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fm.2006.07.004