Gluten-Free Diet: The Pros and Cons

illustration by Kate Koenig

Alyssa Simon, Nutrition Columnist

illustration by Kate Koenig

New weight loss diets and healthy food trends seem to be appearing constantly. Many popular and fad diets start out with an endorsement from a celebrity. Diets such as Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, Nutrisystem and Quicktrim are some of the well-known diets advertised by a few of Hollywood’s biggest celebrities. Other celebrities simply encourage trends, such as a vegan or vegetarian diet, a detox diet or an organic diet. One of the newer “diet trends” in Hollywood, recently followed by Lady Gaga, is going gluten-free.

Gluten is a protein naturally found in wheat, barley and rye, and is therefore common in bread products. Gluten-free has been deemed a healthy diet because it eliminates a lot of processed foods and encourages the consumption of more natural and whole foods.

For some, a gluten-free diet may seem like a healthy way to lose weight and for others, it is a necessity for health. Celiac’s disease is an autoimmune disorder of the small intestine. People who have Celiac’s disease have a gluten intolerance, and gluten consumption causes damage and inflammation to the small intestine. Those with Celiac’s disease absolutely need to avoid gluten, or risk intestinal damage and other health problems, like nutrient deficiencies.

Celiac’s disease has not always been recognized in those who have the disease, but doctors are finding that more and more people are actually gluten intolerant. This may be explained by the overwhelming increase in processed food over the last 50 years. Along with bread, gluten can also be found in candies, French fries, processed lunchmeats, salad dressings, sauces (including soy sauce) and soups, according to the Mayo Clinic. Because of the gluten-free trend, as well as the increase in diagnoses of Celiac’s disease, there is becoming an abundance of gluten-free products such as bread, bagels, cereals, crackers, cakes, waffles and more. For those who have a gluten intolerance or sensitivity, this is good news. However, the news is not as good for people who are following a gluten-free diet for weight loss.

Because gluten provides flavor to the foods in which it is naturally found, removing the gluten also removes the signature taste that many people love in bread products. In order to add more flavor back, some gluten-free foods are higher in fat, sodium and calories; they can also be more expensive.

Not everyone who has a gluten sensitivity has Celiac’s disease, so if you think that reducing or eliminating gluten in your diet will help your body feel better, going gluten-free may be something that you should consider. However, if you are reducing or eliminating gluten simply to get healthier or lose weight, you may want to reconsider your approach.

Symptoms of Celiac’s disease include diarrhea, abdominal pain and gas. Because it is an autoimmune disease, there can be other symptoms such as skin rashes, headaches, fatigue and joint pain. If you think you have Celiac’s disease or any gluten sensitivity or intolerance, make an appointment to see your doctor.

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