The Gluten Free Diet: Bad or Good?
Diet is known to affect the gut microbiome, the ecosystem of helpful bacteria that lives in our stomach and intestinal tract. Certain foods can promote diversity and multitude of “good” bacteria, improving energy metabolism, boosting immune response, reducing inflammation, and affecting many other areas of physical and mental health.
Gluten, a wheat protein naturally occurring in rye, farro, barley, oats and other grains, is found in hundreds of popular foods, from pasta, to beer, to salad dressing, to candies. For those with a gluten intolerance, gluten can harm the gut microbiome, increasing inflammation and damaging the intestinal tract. Others report having a “gluten-sensitivity,” which is accompanied by stomach pain, diarrhea, bloating, and cramping.
The gluten-free diet has gained enormous traction in recent years, not just as a treatment for chronic gluten-intolerances such as celiac disease or wheat allergies, but as a way to lose weight and be healthier. In a survey conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, 63% of Americans thought that following a gluten-free diet would improve physical or mental health and 25% thought that gluten-free foods were higher in vitamins and minerals. For many, a “gluten-free” label has become synonymous with healthfulness.
Unfortunately, food retailers have weaponized this phenomenon by using the nutritional authority of the “gluten-free” label to sell products that aren’t necessarily healthier, at higher prices. This infographic by Consumer Reports compares products with and without gluten. Gluten-free products often have more calories, sugar, sodium, and fat, as well as less beneficial nutrients like fiber and protein. Wheat flour, which contains gluten, is often replaced with rice flour and other less-nutritional alternatives.
While the widespread accessibility of gluten-free products has been life-changing for those with gluten-sensitivities, the influx of processed, less-nutritional gluten-free foods has arguably been harmful for many. Like other food trends, the gluten-free diet should be approached with mindfulness and skepticism.
Is The Gluten-Free Diet Right For You?
For those suffering from celiac disease, a gluten sensitivity, gluten ataxia, a wheat allergy, IBD, or another condition tied to gluten-intolerance, a gluten-free diet is crucial for managing symptoms. If you suspect that you may be suffering from a gluten-related medical condition, consult a doctor for testing. Diagnosing yourself, or choosing to eat totally gluten-free for weight loss without consulting a nutritionist is not recommended. Receiving adequate nutrients on a gluten-free diet can be difficult for many.
For those of us who don’t suffer from a gluten-related medical condition, gluten is recommended in moderation. Ultimately, avoiding processed foods is far more effective than cutting out gluten altogether. As discussed, many gluten-free products are highly-processed and can be harder to digest, less nutritional, and harmful for the gut microbiome. Consuming more naturally-occurring gluten-free foods, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, certain whole grains, fish, dairy, and meat, is the best way to cut out gluten, get plenty of vitamins and minerals, and avoid sneaky branding.
As with any medical condition, it is always best to seek assistance from a qualified medical professional if you are experiencing symptoms that are causing you difficulty. If you need a gastroenterologist in Southern Indiana, or in the Louisville or Lexington Kentucky-area, contact Gastroenterology Health Partners today for more information or to schedule an appointment.