Guest post by Vivian Schemper, human nutrition & dietetics student at Metropolitan State University of Denver
Gluten-Free Movement: Fad or Fact?
Does “gluten-free yogurt” sound healthier than simply “yogurt?” Many consumers think so, and are dropping extra dollars at the grocery store to buy gluten-free versions of common foods. Yogurt is one of many foods that is naturally gluten-free, but has been advertised as a gluten-free food in order to lure consumers.
The gluten-free movement has become wildly popular in recent years with many of its proponents claiming that a gluten-free diet has the potential to cure all sorts of ailments—stomach pain, gas, bloating, acne, and inflammation. Some claim that eliminating gluten can help with weight loss, prevent cancer, and cure psoriasis. All of this sounds promising- but is there any truth to these claims? What’s the deal with gluten? Is it actually harmful? Should you eliminate it from your diet?
What is gluten and is it harmful?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat and other grains including barley, rye, and spelt. While it has acquired a bit of a bad reputation, gluten is only harmful for people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. For people with celiac disease, consuming gluten can result in an abnormal immune response that can cause stomach distress such as cramping, bloating, and diarrhea. These symptoms can lead to other problems, which is why strict adherence to a gluten-free diet is necessary for these folks.
Gluten is not harmful or toxic for people without celiac disease, and it is perfectly safe to consume. In fact, a diet rich in whole-grains such as 100% whole-wheat bread is encouraged since it can provide beneficial fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
Should you eliminate gluten?
If you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, you should eliminate gluten from your diet.
Even though you may have seen promising claims about a gluten-free diet on the Internet and/or social media, or if you were left feeling curious after you heard your neighbor or dear friend proudly say that they feel incredible after adopting a gluten-free diet, eliminating gluten will not provide miracle benefits or cures for someone without celiac disease.
The bottom line
There has been some scientific evidence showing that some individuals may be intolerant to gluten even without having celiac disease. For these people, eliminating gluten from their diets has improved overall health. If you experience stomach distress (stomach pain, bloating, diarrhea, nausea, and/or vomiting) or other symptoms every time you consume a slice of bread, then it may be worth checking with your primary care provider to determine if you should remove gluten from your diet. However, if you feel perfectly fine when consuming gluten-containing products then you do not need to eliminate it. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables in addition to whole-grains is encouraged for overall good health.
Vivian Schemper is a senior in the human nutrition and dietetics program at Metropolitan State University of Denver. Currently, she is employed with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and has a special interest in public health and preventative care. She hopes to become a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) in the near future and obtain a Masters of Public Health (MPH) in Nutrition and Epidemiology. Her ultimate goal is to work with underserved populations to promote healthy eating and active living in communities that struggle with food insecurity and lack access to green spaces. During her free time, Vivian enjoys cooking, traveling, reading (about nutrition, of course!), running, hiking, camping, snowboarding, and riding her bike.