A Grain of Truth
Many Americans are considering cutting back on the amount of gluten in their diets or avoiding it altogether. However, nutritionists say that if this is not done carefully, the resulting diet can be unhealthy.
What is gluten? Gluten is a protein found in many grains, including wheat, rye, and barley. It is found in most loaves of bread, cereals, kinds of pasta and many processed foods. The fear of gluten began when Celiac Disease, an immune reaction to gluten that damages the intestine, became more well known.
For most people, a gluten-free diet would not provide a benefit, said Katherine Tallmadge, a dietitian and the author of “Diet Simple”. What is more, people who unnecessarily shun gluten may do so at the expense of their health, Tallmadge said. That is because whole grains, which contain gluten, are a good source of fiber, vitamins and minerals, Tallmadge said. Gluten-free products are often made with refined grains and are low in nutrients.
If you embrace such a diet, you will end up eating a lot of foods that are stripped of nutrients, according to Tallmadge. Studies show gluten-free diets can be deficient in fiber, iron, folate, niacin, thiamine, calcium, vitamin B12, phosphorus, and zinc, she said.
“There is nothing magical about eliminating gluten that results in weight loss.”
“You can eat a healthy diet without gluten, but you have to be very knowledgeable, and most people are not,” Tallmadge said. People who go gluten-free may feel better because, to avoid the gluten, they end up cutting out desserts and junk foods, thus losing weight. “They mistakenly attribute that to their gluten-free decision,” Tallmadge said.
Heather Mangieri, a nutrition consultant and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, agreed. “There is nothing magical about eliminating gluten that results in weight loss,” Mangieri said. “Any of us that eliminates or removes cookies and candies from our diets, and replaces them with fruits and vegetables is going to feel better.”
Before you switch to a gluten-free diet, you should be evaluated by your family physician and a specialist who can determine if you have Celiac Disease. Other people who may need to cut back on gluten are individuals who have a wheat allergy. They need to avoid wheat, but not all grains.
If you want to go gluten-free, “Do it the right way,” Mangieri said. If you eliminate wheat from the diet, make sure to replace it with a healthy, naturally gluten-free grain, such as quinoa or buck-wheat. You should also balance the diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, according to Mangieri. “Lean meat and low-fat dairy products such as yogurt are also good for a gluten-free diet,” Tallmadge said.
Pass it on: If you do not have celiac disease, a wheat allergy, or a gluten sensitivity, you are unlikely to benefit from a gluten-free diet.