Is gluten-free good for you?
Jacklyn Diefenbach is a registered dietitian on staff at Banner Estrella Medical Center in Phoenix.
Question: It seems like I'm hearing more and more about people switching to a gluten-free diet. Despite the increasing popularity, is a gluten-free diet really healthful?
Answer: The number of people who are adopting a gluten-free diet is on the rise. Gluten is a protein in grains such as wheat, rye and barley. Obviously, a gluten-free diet is one that excludes foods and drinks containing this protein. This means that unless labeled "gluten-free," breads, cereals, cakes and cookies, pastas, processed lunch meats, soups, certain sauces and beer, among other foods and beverages, are off limits.
For some people, such as those with celiac disease or a gluten allergy, a gluten-free diet is necessary to control symptoms and prevent health complications. So, when it comes to people who have such health issues, a gluten-free diet is a necessity. Additionally, up to 15 percent of the population may have some level of gluten sensitivity, with some reporting feeling better when following a gluten-free diet.
Of course, the recent increase in popularity suggests that many people are switching to gluten-free diets for reasons other than medical necessity. Some believe that a gluten-free diet provides benefits for a variety of conditions, such as autism, irritable-bowel syndrome, multiple sclerosis and weight loss. These perceived health benefits and the explosion of new gluten-free products help explain the rise in popularity.
However, despite the anecdotal stories about the potential benefits of going gluten-free, aside from celiac disease and gluten allergies, there is no evidence to support these claims. Actually, people who follow gluten-free diets often have lower than normal levels of essential vitamins and nutrients that are found in enriched grains, including fiber, iron, calcium and riboflavin.
Because of all of the information and misinformation floating around about the potential or perceived benefits of certain diets, it's important to speak with your health-care provider or a registered dietitian before making any significant changes to your diet.