Gluten Free Diets: Facts vs Fabrications

Gluten free diets are all the rage these days. According to a report from packaged Facts, the gluten free food and drink market had a 30% growth rate from 2006 to 2010 reaching $2.6 billion in retail sales last year. They also mention that the products are often consumed by people who do not suffer gluten intolerance. I’m sure you know someone who avoids gluten in their diet or have heard this topic discussed by celebrities. To think 10 years back barely anyone was talking about this protein found in wheat, rye and barley.  The fact that gluten free diets have become more popular is apparent at grocery stores and on restaurant menus and the growing population of these foods available at stores is staring to make consumers wonder if they too should be avoiding gluten. While there is a real need for gluten free diets and the awareness has helped those people who have to medically avoid it, there is also a lot more for people to learn about gluten before following the trend.

Most people who require a gluten free diet have a disease called Celiacs and when gluten is consumed it causes and immune reaction that destroys the vili that line our small intestines which leads to symptoms and possibly malabsorption. There are also another group of people who avoid gluten because of an intolerance causing symptoms after digestion. I do see some benefit to avoiding  gluten for those people who have family members with Celiacs who are asymptomatic but carry the antibodies. But, for the rest of the population who haven’t had issues eating gluten for years why cut it out?

Fact, false or fabrication of Gluten Free diets for people without Celiacs or intolerance

Gluten free diets lead to weight loss: Fabricated

The idea that gluten itself will lead to weight loss has never been scientifically proven for people who don’t have Celiacs or a gluten intolerance/sensitivity. Yes, people who cut out gluten may eat less cakes, cookies, crackers, breads and sweets if they don’t go looking for the gluten free version, but the weight loss that would accompany this would be from a loss of calories not from the digestion of gluten itself.

Gluten Free diets will give give you more energy: Fabricated

Often times when people go gluten free they cut out a lot of processed foods and eat more fresh fruits and vegetables. Having more fresh foods in your diet vs processed will often give your body more energy since the foods being consumed are needed by the body not in excess. This can occur for anyone weather they eat gluten or not if they being to follow  more well balanced, healthy diet.

Gluten Free diets are healthier for everyone: False

Eliminating gluten from your diet can lead to eating less fortified and enriched food and if not done properly can lead to iron, calcium, thiamine or folate deficiencies. In addition, if a gluten free diet is being followed and a person isn’t eating the required servings of fruits and vegetables they be lacking on fiber intake.

Facts about gluten intolerance

(from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinalsee link)

• Prevalence of gluten intolerance for average, healthy people is 1 in 133
• Prevalence for people with first-degree relatives (parent, child, sibling) who are celiac is1 in 22;
• Prevalence for people with second-degree relatives (aunt, uncle, cousin) who are celiac is 1 in 39.
• Celiac disease affects at least 3 million Americans.
• A significant number of people with celiac disease – 60% of children and 41% of adults, according to one study – do not exhibit any symptoms, which include but are not limited to diarrhea or constipation.
• The average length of time it takes for a person with symptoms to be diagnosed with celiac disease in the United States is four years.
• Once diagnosed, gluten intolerance is for life, and the only treatment is elimination of gluten from the diet
• Gluten intolerance is not the same thing as wheat allergy or gluten sensitivity, neither of which is an autoimmune disorder. There is currently no diagnostic test for gluten sensitivity, though researchers, including those at the Celiac Disease Center in Chicago, are working to develop one.
• Celiac disease and type 1 diabetes often run together. There is about an 8% to 10% overlap. Some research suggests that untreated celiac disease might even cause type 1 diabetes, she said.
• Upon diagnosis, people with gluten intolerance are often intolerant of milk. With healing of the intestinal surface, the lactose intolerance often goes away.

So what should you do if you feel you have a gluten intolerance or sensitivity. See your doctor and get screened and assessed for Celiacs. I recommend doing this before cutting out gluten on your own as cutting it out can make it very hard to go back to a diet with gluten in it again and the change requires a lot of dedication and label reading.

2 replies
  1. nancy postorino reeves
    nancy postorino reeves says:

    Great piece Sina! Having lived with someone who truly is gluten-intolerant, I often wonder why anyone would choose to eliminate gluten from their diets with no medical reason, as it's a pretty difficult regime to maintain. I have become quite skilled in gluten-free cooking though!

  2. Sina Teskey, RD, LD
    Sina Teskey, RD, LD says:

    Nancy- I agree it's a lot of work at home and eating out and if you don't like to cook even more work. I feel for everyone including Maddi who have made these diet changes for intolerance issues.


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