The Gluten-Free Craze is Still Going. Healthy or Fad?
The gluten-free diet has been popular for many years and has embraced supermarkets, restaurants, and just about everywhere food is sold. There is a vast array of food products now available that do not contain gluten. Should we be worried about gluten? Is it harmful to our health? Is it a good choice for everyone?
What exactly is gluten?
Gluten is a protein composite of the proteins glutenin and gliadin that can be found in barley, rye, and wheat grains. It aids in raising dough and in creating a chewy type of texture in foods such as baked goods, loaves of bread, cereals, flour mixes, and pasta.
Depending on the food, gluten content may be high or low. For example, pastries contain lower amounts while bread will contain more. Numerous dairy products contain no gluten, but there are exceptions such as chocolate milk, or processed cheeses. Gluten is also found in numerous food products that you wouldn’t imagine. Beers, sauces, syrups, lunch meats, dressings, jams, French fries, and even potato chips all have additives that may include gluten. It can be found in vitamins, medicines, and cosmetics.
For those that follow a normal diet, there’s a good chance you’re eating quite a bit.
Celiac disease and who must follow a gluten-free diet
People that are diagnosed with Celiac disease should avoid eating gluten. Often, however, people are misdiagnosed as having this disease. Science has been aware of gluten’s links to Celiac disease since the 1950s, while gluten sensitivity was identified in the 1970s. Although impossible to define the genesis of the gluten-free diet fad, it appeared much later most likely due to numerous celebrities and books advocating for a gluten-free menu.
The most secure method for a correct diagnosis is through a blood test that tests for specific antibodies. When a blood test is positive, doctors will usually take a biopsy of the upper gastrointestinal tract to verify if the small intestine has been damaged.
If a person is affected by celiac disease and eats food containing gluten, the immune system attacks and damages the “villi” that line the small intestine. These hair-like bodies aid in the body absorbing essential nutrients. When they are damaged, there is a significant risk of nutrient deficiency. People who suffer from Celiac disease have an increased risk of other auto-immune diseases like lupus or rheumatoid arthritis among others.
Celiac symptoms often vary, so diagnosis can be difficult. This disease can manifest itself with diarrhea, gas, abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, vomiting, nausea, and more. Left untreated, depression, cramps, hair loss, numbness, fatigue, and seizures may follow. While no cure for Celiac disease exists, eating a gluten-free diet can help the intestines heal and eliminate symptoms.
Some people manifest sensitivity to gluten in their diets even if they do not have Celiac disease. They may still experience similar symptoms to those with Celiac disease, but their small intestines are not damaged. When they follow a gluten-free diet, symptoms disappear. To date, however, there is no specific test for gluten intolerance although it is a recognized condition. A doctor will prescribe a gluten-free diet and evaluate if a patient’s health improves after removing gluten from the diet.
Those that decide to follow a gluten-free diet may fear they will have to give up beer, gravies, crackers, pastries, muffins, cereals, couscous, pasta, bread, cakes, and cookies! But luckily there are some great gluten-free snacks available on the market nowadays.
Is eliminating gluten from your diet healthy if you do not have gluten intolerance or celiac disease?
While gluten is known to harm those with celiac disease and be problematic for those affected by non-celiac gluten intolerance, what about the rest of the population? The gluten-free craze has taken the general population by large, including those that have no specific diagnosed problem with gluten.
Many people decide to embrace a gluten-free diet because it is the trend of the moment, or because they think this will help them lose weight. Still, there is no solid scientific evidence that eliminating gluten will result in weight loss.
Yet the food market has exploded with gluten-free products. Undoubtedly, these products are essential for those suffering from celiac disease or a medical problem made worse by consuming them. Fortunately, many food manufacturers have invested in the production of these foodstuffs.
Nonetheless, when attempting to lose weight, gluten-free is not the same as sugar-free. It also is not a valid substitute if you must follow a low-fat or a low-sodium diet. Often food manufacturers will substitute sugar and fats for gluten, resulting in weight gain. Many people embrace a gluten-free diet with no scientific motive for doing so. A diet with reduced sugars and carbohydrates, and water instead of sugary beverages may prove to be much more effective to achieve weight loss than simply eliminating gluten.
The gluten-free diet: Healthy or fad?
For those people diagnosed with Celiac disease or with gluten intolerance, a gluten-free diet is healthy and necessary. For those that merely want to lose some weight, a gluten-free diet is not a credible alternative. It is often difficult to follow, can be expensive, and may even result in some nutrient deficiencies including iron, niacin, zinc, carbohydrates, fiber, B vitamins, and trace minerals.
Is a Gluten-free diet a craze or a fad? Both, unless you have a specific medical condition that requires eliminating gluten from your diet. One of the healthiest diets in the world is the Mediterranean diet which features grains that are rich in fiber. Eliminating fiber from the diet can lead to constipation as well as reduce important beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract.
Should you follow a gluten-free diet? Only if your medical health care professional prescribes it.