Is Gluten Bad for You?
According to the Consumer Reports National Research Center, 62 percent of Americans believe that a gluten-free diet would benefit their health, and 30 percent of them are putting those theories into action. But the gluten-free fad didn’t start as a means of healthy living, and the numbers of those who actually require a gluten-free diet are far less than those making the change. Can removing gluten from your diet make you healthier overall?
What is Gluten?
In order to understand the gluten-free diet, it’s essential to understand what gluten actually is. Although it has commonly been referred to as a single protein, “gluten” actually acts as a collective term that refers to many different types of proteins typically found in wheat, barley, rye and triticale. Gluten proteins are unusually elastic, which is why they’re found in pretty much every form of bread or baked good.
Gluten Intolerance and Celiac Disease
There are a few different forms of gluten intolerance, but the most severe (and perhaps most universally recognized) is Celiac Disease. This condition, which affects approximately 1 percent of the U.S. population, indicates a severe inability to digest gluten proteins, even to the point of damaging intestinal cells. The disease can be life-threatening, so a gluten-free diet is imperative to maintaining a healthy body.
The less severe condition in this same vein is referred to as non-celiac gluten sensitivity. This essentially means that it is not a life-threatening condition, but may cause uncomfortable symptoms such as stomach aches, unusual bowel movements and joint pain.
Still others have been recognized as having a wheat allergy that is not attributed to gluten but may still cause discomfort. Because of its disconnection to gluten, this intolerance is far easier to maintain.
It’s safe to say that gluten-free eating has seen a steady rise over recent years, especially as celebrities like Jessica Alba, Miley Cyrus and Scarlett Johansson have backed it. But despite its increase in popularity, there has yet to be research showing its benefits for individuals who don’t suffer from gluten intolerance.
In fact, while some have purported that gluten is damaging to your health, the opposite is probably true. Traditional breads and cereals that you’ll find in the supermarket are fortified with Vitamin B and act as a major source of fiber, meaning that cutting them out of your diet can actually cause nutrient deficits that are more harmful than helpful. More than that, multiple studies have found a correlation between gluten-free diets and weight gain, likely because they tend to have more sugar and fat than their glutenous counterparts.
The Bottom Line
Obviously, persons with gluten intolerances require a gluten-free diet. For that reason, the uptick in availability of gluten-free products is a huge benefit to this minority group. However, there's no evidence yet suggesting that gluten is harmful at a fundamental level, or that cutting it out of the average person's diet would be beneficial in any way. If you think that you may be gluten intolerant and are considering going gluten-free, consult your doctor before changing your diet.
- Lifestyle Staff