Is a Gluten-free Diet Healthier for You?

Gluten and or/wheat free diets are another very popular fad these days.  Gluten is a protein commonly found in wheat, barley, and rye therefore if you eliminate wheat from the diet, you also eliminate gluten (or vice versa).  The gluten-free market in the US is predicted to be worth $24 billion by 2020 with 1/3 Americans expressing a desire to reduce gluten in their diet.

Why?  The belief that wheat (and/or gluten) is somehow responsible for increases in obesity and obesity-related conditions has been propagated so greatly by the lay-press, internet, social media, etc., no one seems to care that the scientific evidence suggests otherwise.  There is no evidence that a wheat or gluten-free diet is beneficial for the general population.  In fact, eliminating wheat products from the diet makes it much harder to meet your daily requirements for vitamins and minerals.

However, there is a small subset of people (much less than the Gluten-free food market would suggest) who do benefit from wheat-free diets.  These include people with celiac disease, which is a diagnosable autoimmune disease characterized by intestinal inflammation in response to dietary gluten.  Celiac disease affects about 1% of most populations. In addition, a subset of the population has an allergy to wheat (which is also diagnosable).  Finally, there is (somewhat controversial) evidence that some people suffer from non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS).  This is harder to diagnose but becomes evident when elimination of gluten relieves gastro-intestinal distress (e.g. diarrhoea, bloating).

If none of the above apply to you, save your pennies (gluten-free products have been shown to be almost 250% more expensive!) and eat a well-rounded diet including whole wheat and grains.

That’s it for today!  I hope you feel your knowledge is growing and you are better equipped to make nutrition-related decisions.  Remember, you can’t fail if you just focus on eating a well-rounded diet full of real (unprocessed) food.

Best

Tara

Stevens L and Rashid M (2008). Gluten-free and regular foods: a cost comparison. Can J Diet Pract Res. 69  (3) 147-50.

Fasano A et al. (2015). Nonceliac gluten and wheat sensitivity. Gastroenterology. 148: 1195

PR Shewry and SJ Hey (2016).  Do we need to worry about eating wheat? Nutrition Bulletin. 41:6-13

Topics: Science, Smart Eating, Nutrition, Food, Education, Weight Loss

Dr. Tara Coletta, PhD

Written by Dr. Tara Coletta, PhD

Tara's research focused on obesity and metabolism. She studied exercise science (MS, UMass Amherst) before earning a PhD in nutritional biochemistry (Tufts University). Wellness remains an integral part of Tara’s life as she works to balance being a mother of three.