Gluten is what gives bread its elasticity and makes it rich and chewy. It is an indigestible protein found in grains that can cause the immune system to malfunction and attack the villi in the small intestine in people with celiac disease, causing major inflammation. For sufferers, gluten-free diets not only help ease their pain but can literally be life-saving.
Yet despite the fact that only 1% of people have celiac disease, sales of gluten-free products in Canada have more than quadrupled since 2008 and now top $800 million. Even Ryan Gosling has gotten into the act. One dietician estimated that 9 million Canadians are consuming gluten-free foods. But should they be?
Benefits of a Gluten-Free Diet for Non-Celiac Sufferers
If you don’t have celiac disease, you may still have what’s known as non-celiac sensitivity. Your symptoms wouldn’t be nearly as severe, of course, but they can be painful and inconvenient nonetheless. You might simply have an allergy to gluten, or, by coincidence, to other ingredients that tend to be in products that also contain gluten, such as wheat. There’s also the possibility that a person could be experiencing a placebo effect: if they’re convinced they have gluten sensitivity, not consuming it might legitimately make them feel better.
Also Helps with IBS
If you have Irritable Bowel Syndrome, you may also find benefits to not consuming gluten. While the connection between IBS and gluten is not fully understood yet, research has shown that a gluten-free diet can help reduce IBS symptoms, including diarrhea. It’s possible that IBS sufferers may have a sensitivity to gluten. It’s also possible that a gluten-free diet simply encourages those afflicted to stay away from foods that may cause irritation and pushes them towards more easily digestible choices.
A Gluten-Free Diet May Encourage Better Eating Habits
Since gluten can be found in grains that are used to make cakes, pastries, and other desserts, maintaining a gluten-free diet can help a person avoid detrimental foods. Fruits and vegetables, on the other hand, contain no gluten. People on gluten-free diets are therefore likely to consume less sugary foods and more healthy ones. In this way, avoiding gluten acts more like a guideline that gets people to watch what they eat and to avoid sugar – the real culprit.
Gluten-Free Mistakes You Should Never Make
Gluten-Free Doesn’t Automatically Mean Healthy – As noted above, gluten itself does not cause weight gain, though consuming too many carbs or too many sugary foods can. At times the substitutes for gluten can actually make a product less healthy than the original. Like with all foods, you have to check the label and shouldn’t assume that just because something is gluten-free that it’s healthy. Some gluten-free foods may in fact contain a lot of fat. Remember: excising gluten will not, on its own, make you lose weight.
You May be Missing Out on Important Nutrients – Whole grains can be very healthy, and if you’re not consuming them, you may have to supplement to make up for the benefits you’re losing out on. Gluten-free foods lack major nutrients, such as iron, calcium, riboflavin, phosphorous, and B12. A normal, healthy diet that includes grains, fruits, and vegetables, and avoids fatty and sugary foods, would probably be a superior option. Before you embark on a gluten-free diet, it may be best to consult with a doctor or nutritionist.