Going Gluten Free: Is it for You?
Going Gluten Free: Is It for You?
Gluten-free has become a buzz word lately. While some people need a gluten free diet, others seem to be jumping on the bandwagon as if living gluten free is the next fad diet. Taking a closer look at this diet so that you really understand it, and maybe a closer look at your own diet might be a good idea before you take the plunge.
The incidence of Celiac Disease (an autoimmune disorder where the body causes damage to the villi of the small intestine when gluten is ingested) has increased four or five-fold over the last 50 years. Very small amounts of gluten will illicit the damage causing response by the body, along with a myriad of GI symptoms, fatigue, and joint pain in people with this disease. It is necessary for those with celiac disease to be on a life-long gluten-free diet to prevent this damage, as well as some of the long term effects of the disease if left untreated.
Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity, also sometimes called Gluten Intolerance is also on the rise, and is thought to be under-diagnosed. People with this intolerance to gluten will have similar symptoms to those with celiac disease, however they do not have the intestinal damage that happens in people with celiac disease. This sensitivity/intolerance is likely under-diagnosed as there are no clinical tests available to diagnose it at the present time. It is usually diagnosed when a person who is having symptoms that are similar to that of celiac disease (but have a negative tests for celiac disease and a wheat allergy), remove gluten from their diet and respond well to this. A gluten-free diet is a must to get rid of symptoms.
There is mixed evidence of a gluten-free diet having positive effects on children with autism. Researchers are quite divided on this topic, and many feel there is little rigorous research to prove this. Nevertheless, some parents of children with autism feel their children have made strides with a gluten free diet, and others are willing to try it to see if there are positive effects. Lack of research and the limitations of this diet are some of the reasons why some feel this diet is not a good idea for most autistic children (unless they have gluten intolerance or celiac disease). Some children with autism have very few foods that they are accepting of as it is, and limiting their diet even more could be further detrimental to the nutritional quality of their diet.
Recently some are adopting a gluten free diet for weight loss. They are using it as the next fad diet to lose weight. While it is likely not harmful for most to use a gluten free diet as a weight loss tool, the real question is will it work?
Many people eat way too many starches and sweets in general, especially the refined type. Being on a gluten free diet will definitely limit some of those options, and maybe encourage some of its followers to try to eat more fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and less processed foods in general. The weight loss will come from the limiting of the starches, and increase in healthy foods – not because the diet is gluten free. The truth is you don’t need to go gluten free to make those changes. The amount of gluten-free options for all sorts of processed foods is increasing as the gluten-free craze grows. This is great for those who need the diet, but it’s not going to help with weight loss. Gluten free brownies are still brownies, with all the fat and calories that regular brownies have.
Another draw back for many people is that the diet is not that easy to follow. You must limit several different grains such as wheat, rye, barley, and all the ingredients that use those ingredients (which is many). It requires vigorous label reading. I considered typing out a majority of items that you would have to avoid, but since the list is several pages long, I decided not to.
A final drawback to this diet is the cost. Many of the gluten-free products hitting the market are expensive! Gluten free pasta in our local supermarket in Northern NY is about $4.00 a box and a 5lb bag of gluten free flour is often over $8.00, ouch!
Most dietitians, like myself, encourage our clients who want to lose weight to make healthy lifestyle changes they can live with. Increase exercise, drink more non-sugary beverages, eat more fruits and vegetables, have lean proteins in adequate amounts, reduce added sugars, etc. Make changes that you can stick to, and the weight will come off (and likely stay off).
If you have to follow a gluten free diet, there is certainly a lot of information to look at. I highly recommend meeting with a registered dietitian who works with a gluten free diet regularly, they can help assure that you have a nutritionally complete diet. There are also lots of new gluten-free products hitting the market everyday which will makes things a bit easier. I have found many gluten free cooking and baking websites which are great resources and tools. A fellow dietitian has a very informative web page www.glutenfreedietitian.com. Thank goodness for resources.
If you don’t have to follow a gluten-free diet, and are looking for a way to drop some pounds and keep them off, I think there are easier ways that you are more likely to stick with. Most of my clients that are on this diet because they have to be would rather not be, they do it because it is the only way they can avoid the complications.