The benefits of being “Gluten Free” have been called into question numerous times over the past few months. I feel there is a great deal of confusion surrounding this topic. Many patients who come to see me erroneously assume that a gluten-free diet is the healthiest option. In my experience, I see that many who embrace a gluten-free diet end up consuming a lot more sugar, salt, corn, and refined grain than they would on a regular gluten-containing diet. Gluten-free has fallen in with a number of other trendy diets and my opinion is that most people are better off sticking with a balanced, whole-foods diet that includes most foods in moderation.
Don’t get me wrong; some people truly are gluten sensitive (which is distinct from celiac disease.) Their bodies may be producing IgG antibodies (a class of immune cells) against gluten, which is a protein found in several grains including wheat, spelt, kamut and several others. For those people, consuming gluten can result in a range of symptoms including gastrointestinal discomfort, irregular bowel movements, fatigue, irritability, mental fogginess, and more. Those who have a gluten-sensitivity do need to avoid gluten either temporarily or long-term, depending on what the underlying cause of the sensitivity is. Celiac disease, where the body forms IgA antibodies (another class of immune cells) is a condition where even more severe symptoms may be observed with gluten intake. Those with Celiac disease need to be very careful to avoid all traces of gluten.
For the vast majority, though, “going gluten-free” is just one more way of restricting, modifying or otherwise controlling food intake. The problem, however, is that many gluten-free foods are full of sugar, salt, and corn, and low in vitamins, minerals and fibre.
Instead of gluten-free, I would suggest taking a look at the grains you are consuming. Most of us consume copious amount of wheat and low levels of many other healthy grains such as oats, buckwheat, amaranth, quinoa (a seed that is often lumped in with grains) and brown rice. Limiting your intake of wheat, may be a good idea and eating more legumes and vegetables in place of some of the other grains in your diet may be an even better idea.
If you do need to follow a gluten-free diet, be wise about your choices. The gluten-free “boom” has resulted in a lot of prepared gluten-free foods that include less-than-optimal ingredients. If you are gluten-free, consider passing up the gluten-free breads, crackers, cakes, cookies, etc and opting for more wholesome choices such as legumes, fruit and vegetables.