Have you asked yourself this question, "Do I really need to eat gluten-free?"
Everywhere you look on the store shelves, “gluten-free” can be seen at all angles. Product claims and store shelf tags all boast their gluten-free status. Along with the thousands upon thousands of blogs and articles talking about the benefits of gluten-free diets, this gluten-free media can make a person think they should be on the gluten-free diet too. Read below to find out if the gluten-free diet is something you really need to do.
What does gluten-free mean exactly?
A gluten-free diet would mean avoiding any foods that contain wheat, barley, or rye, and some oats. This includes any bread, baked goods, or pasta that are made from such grains, as well as many processed food products. Flour from such grains can be used in crackers, cookies, salty snacks, as well as sauces that use flour as a thickener or stabilizer. You can check the ingredient label on foods to see if they contain wheat or have been processed in a facility that works with wheat-based ingredients.
Is gluten unhealthy?
Gluten is merely the protein in wheat, barley, and rye that provides structure to products made from such grains. There is no hard evidence that gluten poses any health risks other than for those with conditions such as celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. In fact, unless you do have an intolerance to gluten, cutting out all gluten-containing foods could mean missing out on important vitamins and nutrients such as fiber, magnesium, selenium, and iron.
Symptoms of gluten-intolerance
If you have a digestive condition such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), or celiac disease, then gluten-free may be the way to go for you to lessen symptoms. If you feel bloated, gassy, or sluggish after eating gluten-based products, and have not been diagnosed with a digestive condition, then it may be time to visit your healthcare provider to get tested. Gluten-sensitivity can be measured with a saliva or blood test, while further testing for conditions such as IBS, IBD, or celiac disease may require an endoscopy or other more invasive testing.
Symptoms of some common gluten-intolerant conditions include the following:
- Celiac disease can cause symptoms such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, bloating, gas, fatigue, unplanned weight loss. Gluten exposure in those with celiac disease causes damage to the small intestine over time.
- Non-celiac gluten sensitivity can cause similar symptoms to those with celiac disease, but with no damage to the intestines. This condition can also cause symptoms such as a “foggy brain,” headaches, rash, or constipation.
- Wheat allergy can cause common allergic reaction symptoms such as congestion and breathing difficulties. This is because the immune system of those with wheat allergies mistake wheat for an invading agent such as a virus, and in turn triggers an immune response when exposed to wheat.
- Gluten ataxia is a rare autoimmune condition in which nerves can become damaged when the body is exposed to gluten.
So, should I be eating gluten or not?
If you do not have one of these conditions, or related digestive conditions that cause uncomfortable or painful symptoms, then you should be ok eating gluten every now and then. However, like with any special diet, its all on how your way of eating makes you feel. If you do not have any of the conditions listed above, but feel better not eating gluten, then don’t eat gluten. It is important to remember though, that if you do cut out gluten for any reason, to be sure to get your fiber and other nutrients from other sources like fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based foods like gluten-free oats, nuts, and seeds.
Written by Staci Gulbin, MS, RD a Board-certified dietitian. Do I really need to eat gluten-free?