While they might be trendy, gluten-free diets may not be appropriate for all people.
“They’re unnecessary for most people,” said Dr. Tom Barringer, the co-medical director for Novant Health Heart & Vascular Institute. “It’s a fad.”
Over the last few years, food companies have seized on the diet trend to create many gluten-free products. More than 20 percent of Americans follow a gluten-free diet with many believing the claims that gluten can cause obesity, joint pain, low energy, depression and migraines.
Barringer said the gluten-free craze is driven in large part by unscientific literature that blames gluten for a whole host of illnesses. “People will say ‘Gluten in my diet is causing my headache or my fatigue, so they go on these restrictive diets but there is no objective evidence that gluten causes these conditions,” he said. “It is implausible that a single substance found in certain grains is the cause for such a wide variety of diseases”
In fact, a new study has found that unless you have celiac disease or have a sensitivity to gluten, going gluten-free might actually harm your health. How? By depriving yourself of the benefits of whole-grain foods that are excluded in gluten-free diets.
What is gluten? It is a type of protein found in grains such as wheat, rye and barley. It can be found in many types of food such as breads, pasta, cereals, soup and even salad dressing. The grains in these products are essential to overall health.
However, in people with celiac disease, an autoimmune condition that affects about 1 percent of Americans, gluten causes inflammation and can damage the intestine. Weight loss, diarrhea and indigestion are common symptoms of the disease. People with celiac disease are prescribed vitamins to replace the nutrients they are missing in gluten-free diets.
Barringer said an additional 5 to 6 percent of people may also have “a nonceliac sensitivity to gluten that is poorly understood, but warrants doing more research in this area.” A diagnosis of celiac disease or gluten sensitivity is determined by your physician.
The aim of the study was to determine whether long-term consumption of gluten among people without celiac disease increased the risk of heart disease. Researchers found that gluten is not linked to a higher risk of heart disease, but in avoiding the beneficial whole grains, people may actually affect their heart health.
Whole grains are a good source of fiber which not only help maintain bowel health, but also lower cholesterol and help control blood sugar levels.
Additionally, Barringer believes that the study’s other goal was to tackle at least one aspect of the misinformation that exists about gluten in the diet.
“If you must avoid certain grains, there are healthy alternative grains and it is important that the rest of the diet includes foods that protect against heart disease, such as fish, vegetables, fruits, nuts and legumes,” he said.
Whole-grain alternatives that do not contain gluten include amaranth, buckwheat, brown rice, millet and quinoa.
Do you need a second opinion on your diet? Find a provider who can help you get your diet on track.