Gluten-Free Pros and Cons

Is Gluten Free Right for You?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye and triticale (a hybrid of wheat and rye). It is most commonly found in regular breads, pizza, cereal, pasta, cake, cookies, soy sauce, gravies, canned soup, nutritional bars, barley malt, and meatless burgers. Less obvious sources of gluten include beer, croutons, marinades, salad dressing, ice cream and ketchup. It is also an additive to many foods. Some gluten-free foods, such as oats, are often contaminated by contact from gluten-containing grains during processing. Many processed foods and other products contain hidden gluten, including lipstick. Medications can also contain gluten.

Gluten-free diets are indicated for those who experience gluten sensitivity or celiac disease, an immune reaction to gluten that results in damage to the intestines. This damage makes it difficult for the body to absorb necessary nutrients, subsequently leading to vitamin and mineral deficiencies. The disease affects about one in 140 people in the United States. It is also known as celiac sprue, non-tropical sprue, and gluten-sensitive enteropathy.

In recent years, this diet has gained popularity in people without gluten allergies – resulting in a wide-range of gluten-free products becoming easily available. There have been claims that a gluten-free diet promotes weight loss and can even help to treat autism. These claims remain unproven. The National Institute of Health (NIH) states that packaged gluten-free foods are not necessarily better or healthier. Interestingly a gluten-free diet can lead to weight gain, as many products labeled “gluten-free” contain more grams of processed carbohydrates, fat and sugar.

Here are the pros and cons of following a gluten-free diet:

Pros of Eliminating Gluten
  • Improved overall health for those with gluten sensitivity or intolerance
  • Less inflammation or damage to the intestinal tract in those with sensitivity
  • May encourage label reading and more awareness of food in general
  • May lead to a healthier diet with less processed foods overall
  • Introduces higher quality grains, like quinoa, into the diet
  • May decrease carbohydrate consumption
  • May encourage more fruit and vegetable consumption

Cons of Eliminating Gluten
  • Reduced healthy carbohydrate intake
  • Lack of fiber from traditional sources can lead to digestive issues
  • Possible weight gain from eating gluten-free products
  • Possible weight gain as the intestinal track begins to absorb nutrients properly
  • Possible weight loss from a nutrient deficient diet
  • Eliminating too many healthy foods for fear of a negative reaction
  • Many gluten-free foods are not enriched with iron, fiber, or folate
  • This diet is difficult to adhere to
  • This diet is very limited
  • Gluten-free products are more expensive

Those without gluten sensitivity can find many benefits from a diet of high-fiber whole grain carbs, lean proteins, fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats. These foods have been proven to help to lower cholesterol and improve digestive health. If you think you may have gluten sensitivity, it is best to see your doctor before going on a gluten-free diet.

Resources:

Boston University School of Medicine / Boston University School of Public Health: Pros and Cons of a Gluten-free Diet
http://sph.bu.edu/otlt/MPH-Modules/PH/NutritionModules/Popular_Diets/Popular_Diets9.html

Core Performance: The Pros and Cons of a Gluten-Free Diet
http://www.coreperformance.com/daily/nutrition/the-pros-and-cons-of-a-gluten-free-diet.html

Johns Hopkins Medical Health Library: What Is a Gluten-Free Diet?
http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/healthlibrary/conditions/digestive_disorders/what_is_a_gluten-free_diet_134,183/

National Institute of Health: Celiac Awareness Campaign
http://celiac.nih.gov

Rubio-Tapia A., Ludvigsson J.F., Brantner, T.L., Murray, J.A., Everhart, J.E.(2012). The prevalence of celiac disease in the United States. American Journal of Gastroenterology, 107:1538-1544.