While some celebrities and athletes claim it is the secret to their new figure or great performance, you may be wondering if the gluten-free diet is right for you. However, a gluten-free way of eating may not be all it is cracked up to be. Consider the following information before you throw away your morning slice of whole grain toast.
Celiac disease, gluten intolerance, and the gluten-free diet
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. Oats that have come into contact with these other grains also contain gluten. Foods that contain gluten include bread, pasta, cereal, some sauces, marinades, condiments, and deli meats, as well as many other processed foods. For individuals with celiac disease or diagnosed gluten intolerance, eating gluten can cause bloating, cramps, diarrhea, fatigue, and in the case of celiac, damage to the small intestine. For individuals diagnosed with either of these conditions, the only option is a gluten free diet. But what about a gluten free diet for those of us who do not have these medical conditions?
The truth about gluten-free for health
For the general public, there is no evidence that a gluten-free diet will help with athletic performance, weight loss, ADHD, mental health, diabetes, disease prevention, or increased energy. Avoiding gluten-containing foods for infants and young children will not prevent them from developing food allergy.
A gluten-free diet is not a low carbohydrate diet, nor does it contain extra nutrients that gluten-containing foods do not have. For those who can tolerate gluten, it is safe and healthy to include whole grains such as wheat, barley, rye, and oats that provide many nutrients our bodies need to stay healthy such as fiber and B vitamins.
For some people, when a food is “free” of something, it sounds like a good idea. And many foods that are naturally gluten-free offer many great health benefits. Legumes, for example, have a type of fiber that is preventive for colon cancer. But it is not the lack of gluten that is health promoting – it is the natural components that help prevent disease.
Like many restrictive diets, going gluten-free can be very difficult to follow as well as being more expensive. A loaf of gluten-free bread can range from 2-3 times higher in price than regular bread, as do many boxes of gluten-free crackers and breakfast bars. A gluten-free diet may be less healthy over time if you simply eliminate gluten-containing foods without replacing them with healthy alternatives. The majority of gluten-free products on the market are not fortified with the same nutrients as traditional products. Refined flour is the main ingredient in many gluten-free products, which lacks fiber, iron, B vitamins, and other key nutrients.
Filling up on gluten-free cakes, cookies, or crackers is not a healthy snack alternative. Many of these products are actually higher in carbohydrates and sodium compared to gluten-containing alternatives. Empty calories, gluten-free or not, will not make us healthier.
The bottom line
The gluten-free diet is not a quick answer to a healthier you. The more effective approach to becoming healthier is to keep active and follow a balanced eating plan. This includes gluten-containing whole grains as well as whole foods that are naturally gluten-free, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes meat, fish, and poultry.
For more information on gluten-free diets go to EatRight Ontario.