You have no doubt noticed the bounty of gluten free foods available in grocery stores or on restaurant menus. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley or rye. Recently, a gluten-free lifestyle has become an increasingly popular U.S. diet trend. According to a 2015 Gallup poll, approximately twenty percent of Americans are looking to reduce or eliminate gluten from their diet.
There are some people who must follow a gluten free diet for medical reasons such as wheat allergy, Celiac disease and non-Celiac gluten sensitivity. Wheat allergy is an overreaction of the immune system to protein found in wheat. Symptoms range from mild to severe and can be fatal. Wheat allergy occurs in about .4% of the U.S. population. Celiac disease is a serious genetic autoimmune disorder where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine. This digestive disease can cause serious complications, including malnutrition, if left untreated. There are over 200 symptoms related to Celiac, affecting all major body systems. It requires lifelong strict adherence to a gluten free diet. It is estimated that 1 in 100 people worldwide have Celiac disease.
A patient with symptoms similar to Celiac, but negative Celiac tests, might have sensitivity to gluten. Research estimates that 18 million Americans have non-Celiac gluten sensitivity. That’s 6 times the amount of Americans who have Celiac disease. So while the main medical reason a gluten free diet is recommended is Celiac disease, the percentage of Americans who follow a gluten-free diet is more than three times higher than the percentage of Americans with Celiac disease.
Others may choose a gluten free diet believing that gluten is unhealthy or that following a gluten free diet will help them lose weight. If you do not have a medical condition requiring you to eat gluten free, then it is important to note that gluten is found in foods that are part of a healthy diet. As for losing weight, that all depends on how you go gluten-free. Omitting refined carbs like bread, crackers and pasta and reducing processed foods and replacing them with whole grains will reduce extra carbohydrates and increase fiber. But if you replace gluten-containing products with their gluten-free substitutes, you’re likely to consume more fat, sugar and calories. Gluten free doesn’t necessarily mean healthy.
If you are thinking about going gluten free by choice, you might want to consider these tips:
Consult a doctor. A gluten-free diet cannot replace a formal consultation, diagnosis or recommendation from a physician. Be sure to consult a doctor before going gluten free, as most tests require active gluten consumption to be accurate.
Get help from a dietitian. Dietitians knowledgeable in celiac disease and the gluten-free diet play an important role in managing gluten-related disorders. Gluten free diets may need careful monitoring to ensure a healthy and adequate balance of nutrients and fiber.
Cost. Gluten free substitutes usually cost more; 242% more than regular products, in fact, according to a research study. Beyond Celiac has a helpful gluten free budget tip sheet.
Use caution. Take care when reintroducing gluten back into diet. Do so in sparing amounts as your body may have difficulty digesting gluten and fructan, a highly fermentable component in wheat.
While there are medical and other reasons to try avoid gluten, there are some important things to consider in the process. If you would like more information about gluten free eating, please visit this 30 minute webinar by OSU Extension on Gluten Free Eating and stay tuned to Live Smart Ohio… for future posts on the Food blog.