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Gluten: What You Should Know vs. What You May Have Heard
In the last decade, the gluten-free craze has grown exponentially. Whether or not you know someone who is diagnosed with Celiac Disease, there’s a high chance that you do know someone who has chosen to try a gluten-free diet.
But why? Why cut gluten out of your diet if you aren’t allergic? This craze has created a lot of myths that give gluten a bad rap, but there’s more to the story—gluten isn’t necessarily bad for you.
What is gluten?
The word gluten refers to the proteins that are found in grains such as wheat, rye, and barley. Gluten is widely misunderstood to be unhealthy but there is no research that indicates gluten to be bad for your overall health or contribute to weight gain.
What is Celiac Disease?
The Celiac Disease Foundation defines Celiac Disease as “a serious autoimmune disorder...where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine”. It is a common hereditary inflammatory disorder, affecting a significant amount of people in the U.S—nearly 1% of the whole population. When people with Celiac Disease eat gluten, it damages villi in the small intestine which are responsible for nutrient digestion. This makes it so nutrients cannot be absorbed properly into the bloodstream, therefore leading to serious health problems.
Celiac Disease could lead to various other serious disorders if ignored, such as neurological problems, anemia, osteoporosis, mood disorders, multiple vitamin deficiencies, or even infertility. It’s important to take Celiac Disease seriously and to modify habits as early as possible to avoid additional health-damaging problems.
What is Gluten Sensitivity?
Some people don't technically have Celiac Disease but are considered to have Gluten Sensitivity or Gluten Intolerance. According to BeyondCeliac.org, these individuals cannot tolerate gluten and experience symptoms similar to those with celiac disease yet lack the same antibodies and intestinal damage as seen in celiac disease.
Does removing gluten from your diet aid in weight loss?
The idea of gluten-free eating as a dieting technique may be a large contributing factor as to why the fad has become so popular in recent years. Avoiding unhealthy products that happen to contain gluten such as baked goods, pasta, and beer may lead to weight loss, however, gluten itself is not the harmful ingredient. However, ABC news asserts that gluten does not make you fat, and many of the gluten-free substitutes actually have more calories than their original counterparts due to added sugar.
What should you be aware of if you want to try a gluten-free diet?
Although gluten may not be considered a health food, cutting out gluten can lead to vitamin deficiencies. Fortified bread and cereals made with gluten are an important source of vitamin B and vitamin D. Furthermore, whole wheat (which contains gluten) is an important source of fiber that allows the bowels to work properly. If you are considering cutting gluten out of your diet, it could be a good idea to take vitamin supplements and focus on finding new sources of fiber so that you don’t suffer consequent health problems.
For most people, gluten is not bad for you, nor is it a leading cause of weight gain. If you do not suffer from Celiac Disease or Gluten Sensitivity, most sources show that there are no proven health benefits for cutting gluten out of your diet. Still, many people choose to avoid gluten. If you take that path, be sure to know how to supplement your diet so you are getting the appropriate amount of vitamins and minerals you need to live a healthy lifestyle.