Nutrition is an ever-changing and often misconstrued science. Dietary fads develop and then a year later, there’s a new one contradicting the previous one. Over the past few years, gluten-free diets have become really popular. Gluten-free products now dominate grocery store shelves, a dream for individuals with celiac disease and a curiosity for those without it. As consumers, whenever we see a product labeled (something)-free, we think “thank goodness!” assuming right away whatever was removed posed a great health threat. Perhaps the removed ingredient is unhealthy, but removing it does not guarantee that a product is healthy. For example, many gluten-free products can be high in saturated fats and cholesterol.
Gluten is protein found in grains such as wheat, barley, rye and triticale (cross between wheat and rye) which in people with celiac disease causes inflammation in the small intestines, creating a great deal of gastrointestinal problems. Some people who do not test positive for celiac disease but have gastrointestinal problems may suffer from an allergy or sensitivity to gluten. Clearly, such individuals are the ones that benefit from a gluten-free diet, but it is not without difficulty.
You don’t just remove gluten from your diet and continue with your life. It’s a pretty major lifestyle change. Gluten rich foods contain important nutrients such as Vitamin B, calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium and fiber that need to be compensated for in a gluten-free diet to avoid nutrient deficiencies. Practiced gluten-free people spend a great deal of time reading the nutritional info on everything they consume and must fight the temptation of the gluten rich foods taunting them from the store shelves. Basically, it’s a very strict diet that is hard to maintain. Being informed is a big part of the process. The best way to do this is to seek guidance from a dietician who can tell you exactly what you can and cannot eat, as well as where to make up for the deficit in nutrients characteristic of a gluten-free diet.
Gluten-free foods are also expensive. But manufacturers can’t make much money off the small percentage of people suffering from gluten allergies, so those with a stake in the gluten-free market extol the virtues of the gluten-free diet and convince a greater population that it is the way to go for attaining the peak physical health they long for. The irony is palpable: people with a disease forced on an intense diet lament not having the freedom to eat foods they may love while perfectly healthy people choose to change their lifestyle drastically when there are easier ways to be healthy and lose weight.
The fact is, celiac disease is still not quite understood and these other gluten sensitivities fall within a vague spectrum of celiac that still needs a great deal of research. If you think you have celiac disease, get a blood test before embarking on a gluten-free diet. If you test negative but still feel that gluten is giving you problems, try being gluten-free for a week and see how you feel. You may feel better, which could mean you have an allergy, but there could also be a number of other factors what you aren’t considering. I had an acquaintance that was misdiagnosed with celiac disease and maintained a gluten-free diet for years. Now she’s enjoying gluten without a care in the world.