Should You Go Gluten Free?

People with celiac disease must follow a strict gluten-free diet to prevent damage to their intestines. In some people without celiac, gluten causes digestive symptoms such as bloating, cramping, and diarrhea. These gluten-intolerant patients must avoid gluten to keep their symptoms in check. 

But if you have no known medical issues related gluten, are there health benefits linked to going gluten free? That’s a question many people ask when trying to decide whether to cut gluten out of their diets. 

Previously difficult to find and confined to health-food stores, gluten-free foods are now everywhere. Many local grocers now have entire aisles dedicated to foods sans gluten. 

Celebrities and other public figures tout the benefits of gluten-free eating, including weight loss, improved skin health, and improved energy. These claims may leave you tempted to rid your kitchen of every sign of gluten.

Before you embark on a gluten-free diet without a medical reason, let’s put the facts to the test. Here we explain what gluten is and the advantages and drawbacks of going gluten free

What is gluten exactly?

Gluten is a protein that’s found in cereal grains. It makes up most of the protein content in wheat and is also found in rye and barley. Its elastic texture makes it perfect for baking, thus you can find it in baked goods, pasta, cereals, and just about everywhere else, including less obvious foods, like soups, sauces, and salad dressings.

Unless you have an obvious gluten intolerance or celiac disease, gluten is considered harmless. So why are people dropping gluten from their diet? Purported health benefits are driving people to adopt gluten-free diets in hopes of improving their health.

Advantages of going gluten free

There are no studies showing that going gluten free results in weight loss, improved heart health, or better energy levels. However, there may be some advantages.

A gluten-free lifestyle may promote healthier eating habits

Because gluten is found in many processed foods, going gluten free may benefit those who need a nudge in the right direction when it comes to healthier eating. The easiest way to go gluten free is to stick to natural foods like fruits, vegetables, lean meats, beans, legumes and healthy fats. Of course, you don’t have to give up gluten to make healthier food choices.

It promotes mindful eating

Following a gluten-free diet requires you to be mindful of what you’re eating. Mindful eating tends to facilitate a healthier relationship with food. People who are more aware of what they’re eating tend to make better food choices and are less likely to fall into bad habits like overeating. But again, you can practice mindful eating without cutting out gluten.

Drawbacks of cutting out gluten

Despite the hype of the gluten-free diet trend, there aren’t many proven benefits backed up by science. You can obtain benefits like reducing processed foods and practicing mindfulness without dropping gluten from your menu. Meanwhile there are some very real drawbacks to gluten-free dieting.

A gluten-free diet is difficult to follow

Despite how easy celebrities and others make it seem, following a gluten-free diet is difficult. Yes, more food manufacturers are making gluten-free food, but gluten lurks in even the most unassuming of places.

Following a gluten-free diet means learning all the places gluten hides and checking labels vigilantly. Going gluten free means more than giving up pasta and bread. Foods that contain “natural flavoring” often contain gluten. Vitamins, supplements, and medicines commonly contain gluten as well.

It may not be healthier

While your intention in adopting a gluten-free lifestyle may be to improve your health, you may find yourself disappointed. Fortified breads, cereals, and other foods that typically contain gluten are a major source of B vitamins. Your vitamin B intake may decline on a gluten-free diet.

Whole-wheat is also a major fiber source, which the typical American doesn’t eat enough of. Going gluten free can significantly impact fiber take.

A gluten-free diet isn’t a ticket to better health. If you have digestive symptoms, our doctors at Illinois Gastroenterology Group can help you get answers. Reach out to our team of experts to schedule an appointment. We have clinics throughout Greater Chicagoland in Oak Lawn, Palos Heights, and Oakbrook Terrace, Illinois.

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