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Is a Gluten-Free Diet Right for You?

May 26, 2015

Eating gluten-free has become a popular trend, but for many people this diet is necessary to maintain good health.

About 1 in 133 Americans has celiac disease, a condition in which the body launches an immune response and attacks the small intestine after someone eats gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. About 18 million Americans also have non-celiac gluten sensitivity or intolerance, making it no surprise that many restaurants and food companies now offer gluten- free options.

A gluten-free diet is the best option for people who have celiac disease and gluten intolerance. However, this diet may not be right for everyone. If you are considering switching to a gluten- free diet, here are some important things to consider.

Defining Gluten-Free

Many foods you eat every day have gluten in them. Breads, pastries, pastas, soups and even salad dressings contain wheat; beer, food coloring and malt contain barley, while cereals and certain beers contain rye. Some surprising items also contain gluten, such as medications, certain beauty products, vitamin supplements, pickles and some pre-packaged hot chocolate mixes.

A gluten-free diet entails complete avoidance of these foods or any others that contain gluten. It can be difficult to follow every day, but for those who have celiac disease, it’s the only treatment for controlling symptoms and preventing damage to the small intestine that can block the absorption of nutrients.

Celiac disease can become a more serious problem if left untreated. It can lead to anemia, lactose intolerance, nervous system disorders and gall bladder dysfunction, among other conditions. People with gluten sensitivity also may experience some of these symptoms, and may choose to eliminate gluten from their diet to better cope with these symptoms. Some people with wheat allergies also may opt for a partially-gluten free diet, avoiding wheat products and some foods that contain gluten.

What to Consider Before Transitioning to a Gluten-Free Diet

We sometimes hear people say they want to be gluten-free to lose weight, but this diet doesn’t necessarily guarantee weight loss. Many gluten-free items can be high in calories or low in nutrients, like refined white rice pastas, crackers or gluten free cakes and cookies, which can hinder weight loss. Some people may shed pounds when they go gluten-free because they abandon high-calorie indulgences and highly processed foods that normally contain gluten for naturally gluten-free foods that also are healthy, like fruits, vegetables and beans.

Those who follow a gluten-free diet also may have lower levels of certain vitamins and nutrients in their diets, such as vitamin B6, folate and vitamin D. However, the good news is that you can get these nutrients from other sources, like chickpeas, green vegetables and salmon. You just need to make a concerted effort to eat these foods.

Lifestyle changes are never easy, especially when it comes to your diet. Avoiding gluten means that you’ll need to forgo cakes, pastries and other baked goods as you’ve normally eaten them. If you plan to bake these goods yourself, gluten-free flour and other non-gluten products are great options for preparing these foods without sacrificing too much of the original flavor. However, if you happen to eat a restaurant, birthday party or other special occasion, you may have to skip the cake.

If you are not gluten intolerant or sensitive and do not have celiac, strongly consider the necessity of gluten free eating. Do your research first and talk to your doctor. Simply making small lifestyle changes may be a more realistic and achievable way to attain a healthier you.