The Myth of Gluten-free

With many celebrities recently touting its health and detox benefits, you may have heard or read about the gluten-free diet and wondered if it’s a good choice for you. First, if you think you have gluten-sensitivity, you should get tested by a doctor for Celiac disease, an autoimmune digestive disorder. If you don’t have a gluten-sensitivity, there’s nothing inherently healthier about a gluten-free diet. A gluten-free diet can be healthy or unhealthy—it all depends on your food choices.

A little over 1 percent of the population have a condition called Celiac disease and as a result cannot ingest a component of wheat called gluten. If they do, an immunological reaction develops in their small intestine which causes injury and malabsorption. This results in diarrhea and weight loss. Once diagnosed, treatment consists of restriction of gluten by eliminating wheat products form the diet.

A second group of patients who improve on a gluten-free diet do not have Celiac disease but rather have Irritable Bowel Syndrome. The reason they improve on a gluten-free diet is that the bacteria that live in their colons ferments wheat fiber into gas. Eliminating wheat eliminates the food for these bacteria, and the patients feel better.

If you are one of these two groups of patients, you are eliminating a very healthy component of your diet, wheat. Although this in itself is not unhealthy, what you replace it with may be. Corn products are well tolerated by those who are trying to be gluten-free. As a result many migrate to them. Unfortunately, as we said earlier, corn can be pro-inflammatory from its high concentration of linoleic acid. You would be much smarter to replace your wheat with green vegetables.

Also, some manufacturers add extra sugar or fat to gluten-free foods to improve flavor or texture, making the products very unhealthy. Gluten-free products aren’t routinely fortified with iron, vitamin D and vitamin B that are in gluten-containing grain products. To follow a healthy gluten-free diet, choose naturally gluten-free grains like brown rice, quinoa and buckwheat, rather than just buying prepackaged products labeled “gluten-free.” Remember, these items are still carbohydrates and still need to be eaten in moderation.