Should I Cut Gluten from My Diet? Debunking the Gluten Myth
Gluten has come underfire in recent years with many people associating it with weight gain, fatigue, digestive disorder and other health problems. Food companies have even jumped on board by marketing their products as “gluten-free.” But you should think twice before eliminating gluten from your diet, as doing so could do more harm than good.
The Basics of Gluten
Regardless of where you shop for groceries, you’ll probably encounter a plethora of gluten-free foods on the shelves. According to a report published by Packaged Facts, the global gluten-free foods market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 19. through 2019, reaching a total market size of $2.34 billion. So, what is gluten and why are so many people cutting it from their diets?
Gluten, which comes from the Latin word meaning “glue,” a variety of naturally occurring proteins found in wheat, barley, rye, oat, spelt, kamut, khorasan, emmer, einkom, tritcale and other grass-based grains. It’s often added to baked foods to hold the ingredients together (hence the name). When used in flour dough, gluten improves its strength, stability and rise.
Some of the foods and items in which gluten is commonly added includes:
Nutritional Value of Gluten
While less nutritious than its “pseudocereal” counterpart, gluten grains still contains fiber and a wide range of beneficial nutrients, including, iron, thiamine, folate, niacin, vitamin B, zinc and iron.
Whole grains have also been associated with a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and obesity. Whole grains, such as those from which gluten is made, contains high concentrations of fiber. All of this fiber helps to slow the rate at which sugar is absorbed into the blood, preventing sudden spikes in blood-glucose levels.
Gluten and Celiac Disease
The problem with gluten, however, is that not everyone can digest it properly. The Celiac Disease Foundation (CDF) reports that approximately 25% of the Unites States adult population suffers from celiac disease, a chronic condition that’s characterized by an autoimmune response to the presence of gluten proteins.
When someone with celiac disease consumes gluten, their immune system responds by producing auto-antibodies that attack the small intestines and cause inflammation. During this attack, the autoantibodies damage small projections in the intestines known as “villi.” As the villi become damaged, they absorb less nutrients. This is why many people with diagnosed celiac disease struggle to gain weight.
Common symptoms of celiac disease:
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
Celiac disease is a hereditary condition. A person’s risk of developing the disease is 10 times greater if a first-degree relative (parent or sibling) has it.
Diagnosing Celiac Disease
To further compound the problem, many people who suffer from celiac disease don’t know they have it. According to the CDF, approximately 83% of all celiac disease cases are undiagnosed. Without proper diagnoses, these individuals may continue to consume gluten, unbeknownst to the damage it causes.
Symptoms of celiac disease only manifest when an individual suffering from the disease consumes gluten. While there’s no cure to celiac disease, individuals can avoid adverse symptoms by cutting gluten from their diet. If you think you are suffering from celiac disease, schedule an appointment with your primary care physician. There are several ways to test for celiac disease, the most common being a test for antibodies in the small intestines. Known as the Tissue Transglutaminase Antibodies (tTG-lgA) test, it’s about 98X accurate when tested under the right conditions. Because it looks for antibodies, however, the tTG-lgA test only works if you are currently on a gluten diet.
Even if you don’t have celiac disease, you may still suffer from a sensitivity to gluten. Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS) is a condition that’s characterized by adverse reaction to gluten without an autoimmune response. NCGS is somewhat of a mystery to health professionals, as there’s no known tests to diagnose it, nor is it clear what causes it.
Individuals who suffer from NCGS may experience symptoms that are similar to celiac disease, including bloating, heartburn, bloating, nausea and diarrhea. As a result, many people who think they have celiac disease really have NCGS.
Should You Go Gluten-Free?
Going gluten-free is typically recommended for individuals who suffer from either celiac disease or NCGS With celiac disease, gluten can cause long-term damage in the small intestines, which can lead to a wide range of other related problems. NCGS isn’t as severe, though health experts still recommend avoiding or limiting your consumption of gluten if you are sensitive to this grain-based protein.
If you don’t suffer from these conditions, however, going gluten-free could backfire. According to a study of 13 scientists from Harvard University, Columbia University and other esteemed institutions, consuming gluten does not increase the risk of heart disease. After analyzing data involving more than 100,000 people, the team of scientists concluded that gluten-free diets should not be recommended to otherwise healthy individuals who don’t suffer from celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.
Furthermore, the team explained that whole grains are associated with a lower risk of heart disease and cardiovascular mortality. If you cut gluten from your diet, you may lack the necessary whole grains to support a healthy heart. This study was published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ).
The Bottom Line
Unless you suffer from celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, eliminating gluten grains from your diet isn’t beneficial to your health. On the contrary, it could actually hurt your health by restricting your intake of whole grains.
Gluten itself isn’t bad for your health. It doesn’t contribute to weight gain, cancer, diabetes or any other adverse health condition. Gluten is just another protein that’s frequently added to bread and other foods The only time when you should be concerned about gluten is if you experience any characteristic symptoms of celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.