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Is a gluten-free diet really good for you?

If you don't have celiac disease, should you really be going gluten-free?

Going gluten-free has been all the rage lately. Enthusiasts claim benefits ranging anywhere from weight loss to treatment of ailments such as anxiety, chronic pain and general bowel distress. But if you don't have celiac disease and you are not gluten intolerant, is a gluten-free diet really helping you? Consider these points:

  • Gluten-free products are often higher in calories than their gluten-containing counterparts. Although it's true that many naturally gluten-free foods – lean meats and fresh fruits and vegetables, for example – are nutritious and generally low in calories, many of the processed gluten-free foods (cookies, crackers and breads, to name a few) contain more calories than gluten-containing ones. If you elect a gluten-free diet for the purpose of weight loss, it could potentially be counterproductive.
  • A gluten-free diet can be deficient in certain nutrients. Whether you have celiac disease or not, going entirely gluten-free can put you at risk for certain nutrient deficiencies. B vitamins are an example of this: because fortified wheat products are the most common source of B vitamins for most Americans, it can be difficult to maintain an adequate intake of them on a gluten-free diet.
  • Gluten-containing foods can be healthfully included in a balanced diet. Of course, any food eaten in excess can contribute negatively to your health. But when consumed in moderation, gluten-containing foods contribute a lot of benefits to an otherwise balanced diet. They are a source of a lot of important nutrients that are difficult to find in other sources.
  • If you truly have celiac disease, your doctor won't be able to test for it. The tests we currently use to diagnose celiac disease are only able to detect the disease before a gluten-free diet is started. If you go gluten-free before you consult your doctor, there might be no way to determine if you are actually requiring of a gluten-free diet or not.

New research is emerging all the time on the effect of gluten on the human body, but thus far there is very little evidence supporting the benefit of a gluten-free diet in non-celiac individuals. You are better off eating a balanced diet containing whole grains such as wheat, rye and barley. If you choose to give a gluten-free diet a try, consult a registered dietitian prior to doing so. They can help you build a plan to include all the necessary nutrients and do so in a healthful way!

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