The latest buzzword on everyone’s lips is ‘gluten-free’. Just about every food product you see in store nowadays seems to be available in a gluten-free variety. Even restaurants and small coffee shops have gluten-free items on their menus. This is, of course, a good fortune for those who cannot consume gluten due to certain health conditions. But why is everyone else so infatuated with gluten-free?
Gluten is a complex group of proteins found in wheat, barley, and rye. So naturally, you’ll find gluten in baked goods such as pizza, bread, and cereals. While a lot of people claim they are allergic to gluten, there are actually only two ways in which your body can react negatively towards gluten. People with celiac disease cannot consume any gluten. Their body responds with an immune reaction, which is triggered by the gluten. This leads to inflammation in the body, and could result in damage to the intestines. Currently, it’s estimated that 1% of the population has celiac disease. For people suffering from celiac disease, a gluten-free diet is absolutely essential. Even a small piece of bread is enough to trigger symptoms. For them, going gluten-free is not merely a fashionable option, but a way of life – the only way of life.
Then there are a group of people that experience sensitivity to gluten (or more accurately referred to as non-celiac gluten sensitivity). Even though they don’t have celiac disease, they do experience symptoms like bloating, diarrhea, or abdominal pain when they eat gluten, although they don’t suffer similar intestinal damage. For gluten sensitive individuals, cutting out gluten can also be beneficial.
Why do so many people then claim to feel better when they exclude gluten from their diet? Well, a lot of products that contain gluten just so happen to be the ones we love to indulge in: muffins, pizza, bread, and so forth. Funnily enough, a study from 2014 showed that more than 60% of Americans believe that a gluten-free diet is beneficial for your health! But it is more likely that you feel better simply because you are replacing baked goods with healthier options, which seems quite intuitive. There is no actual evidence that suggest a gluten-free diet will have any benefit for those who don’t have celiac disease or gluten sensitivities. Thus, you might be spending unnecessary amounts of money on gluten-free products. And many of the products marketed as gluten-free have less fiber, AND high amounts of sugar and fat!
Before you plan on going completely gluten-free, consider seeing a doctor first. In this way you can establish whether you have celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, and whether or not you will actually benefit from a gluten-free diet.