We hear about diet trends all the time. Low carb. No carb. Mediterranean. Low fat. No fat. It’s rare that a diet trend has any real staying power. A few decades back everyone was trying to avoid fat — all fat, in everything. People were avoiding egg yolks. Fat-free cheese, fat-free potato chips, fat-free cookies … the grocery store shelves were lined with fat-free products. Most of those products aren’t available today.
There is one diet trend, though, that certainly has had a longer life than others. There are countless people that swear by a gluten-free diet — not just for weight loss, but for overall health as well.
A recent study has suggested that although only 7% American need a gluten-free diet, more than 63% of Americans are conscious of gluten intake and try to avoid it. The most supported claim for this action is the belief that gluten would make them healthy and improve their mental capabilities. Among the most popular beliefs were how a gluten free diet would improve digestion, the immune and digestive systems, and memory as well as increase energy and reduce cholesterol levels.
AlessioFasano, M.D., director of the Center for Celiac Research at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston notes that there is very little research regarding the beneficial and harmful effects of gluten.
“Gluten free” is advertised by many brands now. Gluten is a protein that is present naturally in grains like wheat and barley and rye. This protein is beneficial for health. Through evidenced-based knowledge, gluten has positive effects on levels of carbohydrates and blood pressure and helps maintain a healthy intestinal flora and reduce inflammation.
However for those 6-7% who do require a gluten free diet, it is essentially a toxic substance that damages the intestines. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that is characterized by gluten-mediated-damage to the intestinal wall. Thus for these people, the avoidance of gluten is necessary.
For those who are not sensitive to gluten, though, researchers have found gluten free diets to actually be harmful.
Gluten free products tend to have more calories, be less nutritious, and have low levels of vitamins and other elements that are required by the body and may also be high in sodium content and carbohydrates.
Gluten free foods are generally rice products, since rice is well tolerated in patients with celiac disease. According to previous research, the highest levels of arsenic (a heavy metal poison) are found in rice. Since most products contain rice even when the label says they don’t, there is invariably some exposure to arsenic.
Weight gain is an issue when it comes to a gluten free diet. Celiac disease patients can gain weight because they are able to absorb more nutrients than when they were consuming gluten.
People who may have some other underlying condition may mistake it for gluten sensitivity and may end up exacerbating their disease.
Researchers suggest that the best way to stay healthy is by reducing carbohydrate intake and eating more fiber, since fiber promotes satiety and fruits and vegetables provide a boost to the immune system.
FoodFacts.com knows that there are many people in our own community who have experienced enormous benefits by avoiding gluten – people who have not been diagnosed with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. We ourselves have been impressed with the quality of many of the gluten-free food products becoming more and more popular in our grocery stores. There is value in other views, however, and every individual can have a different experience. Some food for thought …