The gluten-free diet trend is sweeping the nation, but what is it? Who really needs it? And will it make you healthier?
What is gluten? Gluten is a protein composite (mixture of proteins) found in foods made from wheat and related grains like barley and rye. The gluten proteins are what make dough elastic.
Who needs to go gluten-free? People who are diagnosed with celiac disease. Celiac disease is a complex autoimmune disorder that damages the small intestines after a person eats gluten. It affects about 1% of the population. For these people, a gluten-free diet is necessary to stay healthy, and to prevent dangerous consequences like gastrointestinal cancers.
Controversial research is being presented regarding Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS), which is defined as gluten intolerance. NCGS may exhibit symptoms similar to those associated with celiac disease but lack the same antibodies and intestinal damage as seen in celiac disease. The treatment for NCGS is a gluten-free diet.
Will it make me healthier and can I lose weight on a gluten-free diet? At the end of the day, the only diet that will cause weight loss is one that is reduced in calories. Gluten is not unhealthy (except for people with celiac disease), and it does not cause weight gain. However, some people who adopt a gluten-free diet might lose weight coincidentally, because they have eliminated some high calorie foods from their diet that contain gluten like bread, pasta, pastries, cakes and cookies. Because this diet is becoming so popular though, many gluten-free alternative products are popping up on shelves. Gluten-free items like breads, snack crackers and desserts have just as many calories and fat as regular items, if not more! Your best bet is to follow a healthy, varied diet with many naturally gluten-free foods, like fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy and lean meats.
If you suspect you may have celiac disease, visit http://www.celiaccentral.org/disease-symptoms-checklist/. This site provides a checklist for you to identify your symptoms and take to your doctor to further investigate.