Gluten has gotten a bad rap in recent years. Gluten-free diets have become quite a trendy diet fad, and food companies, restaurants, and grocery stores have jumped on the bandwagon offering all types of gluten-free choices. Many people are under the assumption that gluten-free equals healthy—but is that really true?
The dangers of gluten have definitely been oversold. Professional athletes, celebrities, and social media “influencers” have been touting the so-called benefits of a gluten-free diet for years—encouraging their fans to restrict their diets when there is no medical reason to do so. Don’t fall for these false claims; only you and your doctor, not a celebrity, should decide if you should eliminate a particular food from your diet. Restricting gluten may actually do more harm than good.
What is gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in foods such as bread, cereals, and pasta that are made with wheat, barley, and rye. Gluten itself does not contain any necessary nutrients for our bodies, but some gluten-containing whole-grain foods are beneficial to your health because they contain fiber and other vitamins and minerals that are necessary for good digestion, as well as lowering cholesterol and blood pressure.
Some individuals may have adverse reactions to gluten. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes the digestive tract and other parts of the body to become inflamed and damaged after ingesting gluten-containing foods. People with Celiac disease may experience symptoms like abdominal pain, bloating, weight loss, constipation or diarrhea, and fatigue when eating gluten.
There are also some people who may have an allergy to wheat or have gluten sensitivity and may experience distress after consuming foods with gluten. Only one percent of Americans are diagnosed with Celiac disease, while up to six percent of the U.S. population is thought to have gluten sensitivity, so it is not as common as many people think.
For most people who don’t have Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, gluten-containing foods don’t need to be avoided and can actually provide many health benefits.
Gluten fact versus fiction
There are many myths when it comes to gluten. Gluten is not the evil ingredient that it’s been portrayed to be in the past decade, and it can have many health benefits. Someone without Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity is not going to have negative reactions to foods with gluten, no matter what you may have heard.
Myth: Gluten is bad for you.
Unprocessed whole grains that contain gluten, such as whole wheat products, or barley and rye, actually provide beneficial fiber and other nutrients.
Myth: Eating a gluten-free diet will help you lose weight.
Many people mistakenly go gluten-free with the idea that it will help them drop unwanted pounds when the opposite is actually true. A 2017 study in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics found that saturated fat, sugar, and salt were found more frequently in gluten-free foods than in gluten-containing foods.
Myth: Gluten sensitivity is the same as Celiac disease.
Formally called non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), sensitivity to gluten is a completely different type of condition than Celiac disease. Both conditions do require individuals to follow a gluten-free diet, but those with gluten sensitivity may not need to worry as much about cross-contamination and strict avoidance of gluten as those with Celiac disease. Neither condition is as common as many people may think.
Myth: Gluten-free food is better for your gut.
Again, gluten is not bad for your digestion unless you suffer from Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. In fact, many gluten-free foods contain a lot of sugar and are higher in “bad” carbohydrates than unprocessed, whole grain foods.
Myth: Eating a gluten-free diet will give you more energy.
The assumption that gluten takes more energy for your body to digest and causes you to feel tired and sluggish is untrue. There are no studies to support this claim. On the contrary, many gluten-containing foods are easier and quicker for your body to digest than animal proteins or fats.