Are Gluten-Free Diets Healthy?

September 28, 2012By 7 Comments

If your grocery store seems to be overflowing with gluten-free products, it’s not in your head; however, the benefits of following a gluten-free diet just might be.

A gluten-free diet is the only known treatment for celiac disease, an autoimmune digestive disease which affects the small intestine’s ability to absorb nutrients from food in one in 133 Americans. Celiac disease is now more common than ever: A 2009 study published in the journal Gastroenterology found that the rates of undiagnosed celiac disease increased dramatically over a 50-year span. For suffers of the disease, ingesting gluten can cause significant digestive problems and malnutrition.

But what about the rest of us? Suddenly, “going gluten-free” has become a popular trend among the health-conscious. (It’s no wonder that the gluten-free food and beverage industry grew at an annual rate of 30% from 2006 to 2010, according to market research firm Packaged Facts, and that sales are expected to exceed $5 billion by 2015!)

While many stores have begun to stock entire gluten-free sections, plenty of people remain confused about what gluten is and whether they can really benefit from avoiding it. Clear up your confusion with these gluten-free facts:

TRUE OR FALSE? Gluten-free means carb-free. 

FALSE. Gluten is a protein found in certain grains, including wheat, barley, and rye. So any food product that includes these grains is NOT gluten-free. However, simply eliminating these grains from a packaged food does not mean it’s free of carbohydrates. Gluten-free grains such as rice, corn, quinoa, and buckwheat have about the same amount of carbohydrates as the grains that contain gluten. Also, many starchy vegetables such as potatoes and beans are also naturally gluten-free and have high amounts of carbohydrates, as do fruits, fruit juices, and dairy products. If you’re trying to scale back on your total carb intake, going gluten-free doesn’t necessarily do the trick.

TRUE OR FALSE? Cutting out gluten will make you lose weight. 

FALSE. Many people who go gluten-free do tend to lose weight, but only because they eliminate foods such as cake, cookies, and pasta from their diets. If you cut out these calorie-laden products, you could lose weight, too—but it won’t be related to the gluten. Don’t forget that it’s still possible to overdo it on the gluten-free products. While they don’t contain gluten, they can still contain similar amounts of fat, sugar, and calories as their gluten-rich counterparts.

TRUE OR FALSE? Gluten-free diets are healthier than those containing gluten. 

FALSE. People who follow a gluten-free diet typically re-examine their entire diet, which is why a gluten-free diet can be healthier. A balanced diet including whole grains, lean proteins, healthy fats, fruits, and vegetables should be naturally low in gluten, but when eaten in moderation, whole grains containing gluten are an excellent source of nutrients, including B vitamins and fiber, which helps us feel full, controls blood sugar, and plays a crucial role in proper digestion. If you’re a fan of grains that contain gluten, and you have no medical reason to avoid them, then there’s no reason you should. You should always watch your portion sizes when eating grains—regardless of whether they contain gluten.


TRUE OR FALSE? Gluten-free means flavor-free.
FALSE. Gluten can be hidden in sauces and dressings you’d never suspect, so gluten-free eaters are advised to avoid them. While this may sound bland, there are many gluten-free ways to add flavor to foods. Relying on fresh, whole foods (as opposed to packaged or prepared foods) is the best way to cut out gluten and maintain flavor. Homemade tomato sauce, vinegars, spices, and herbs are all gluten-free, as are foods made by brands such as OrganicVille, which makes certified gluten-free foods that taste great, such as salad dressing and other condiments. If you’re in the mood for some Asian flare, try Bragg Liquid Aminos, a gluten-free alternative to soy sauce.

[Source: healthy dish]

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Comments (7)

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  1. Tina says:

    Thank you for posting this! I have been diagnosed Celiac since I was 16 months old, and now that it has become more commonly diagnosed, it has also seemed to become a trend. What people do not know it that by avoiding these gluten products they can actually hurt their bodies by developing an intolerance to gluten. It will effect their intestines and is not necesary for anyone who does not have Celiac or an intolerance doagnosed my a doctor.

  2. Saoirse says:

    Um, Paleo diet anyone?

  3. PBev says:

    I have to object to the notion that the benefits of following a gluten-free diet are all in my head. Eliminating gluten has improved many aspects of my health. Mood swings…gone, body aches…gone, insomnia…gone. And yes, I also lost 30 pounds and have kept it off effortlessly for over a year now. Wheat contains compounds that stimulate the appetite and without that appetite stimulation, I no longer have the intense food cravings I used to have. I do eat a lot healthier and eat more REAL foods(and I do NOT eat low fat at all…quite the opposite!), simply because it’s easier to do so. I will never go back to eating gluten! Call it a fad or whatever you’d like, but for me, I know what works.

  4. Kirsten says:

    While I agree with most of this it is also not fully true. Most people assume that when you go GF you start replacing all your old food items with GF safe foods. Just because it’s GF doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Also, there is a connection with weight loss and cutting out refined grains. Adding in more veggies will give you most if not all the vitamins and nutrients your body needs. You can find all those options in foods other than those containing gluten.

  5. Ali says:

    Tina,
    If you show an intolerance to a food that you’ve avoided, that means you’ve had a problem with it all along. It’s actually a very common and safe way to test for food allergies. You don’t develop food intolerances from avoiding things that are healthy for your body. You can, however, put your body in a state of malnutrition if you avoid healthy foods and that’s how you know if something is healthy for you or not. There are varying states of allergy, and if you are eating something that your body has an intolerance for, you may not die from it right away, but your body could be in a constant state of inflammation which is dangerous and only when you give it up will you notice how harmful it has been to your body all along.

  6. CC says:

    I’ve noticed people who are diagnosed with celiac’s or true gluten intolerance resist it at first. They are in denial. Those who don’t have it but claim to be embrace it. Haha.

    If you think you are gluten intolerant have a Dr check it out because something else may be going on. I had a co-worker who insisted she was gluten intolerant. Insisted on it. Turns out that wasn’t the case. She had a 7 pound tumor pressing on her intestines.

  7. Shirley Smiles says:

    We go gluten free because of eczema. Gluten exacerbates this condition, specifically keratosis pilaris. If gluten does this to the outside of my skin, wonder what it’s doing to the lining of my gut. I do not have celiac disease, but I strongly feel that I benefit from a gluten-free diet. I have gluten very sparingly and my skin breaks out each time. So does my daughter’s skin. Not all in my head…

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