Gluten: The Dietary Bad Guy That’s Not so Bad

When it comes to dieting, we always like to single out the bad guy. In the 80s, we swore off anything and everything with fat. In the 90s, we eschewed carbs with absolute fervor. And now, it appears that the latest dietary supervillain on the scene is gluten. This composite protein found in wheat, rye and barley seems harmless enough. So why is everyone from Bill Clinton to Lady Gaga championing the gluten-free diet?

For people with celiac disease, avoiding gluten is an absolute necessity, but in recent years the gluten-free diet has soared in popularity as a means of weight loss, treating gastrointestinal issues and improving overall health. Estimates show that 1 in 3 Americans avoid gluten in their diets, yet only 1 percent of the American population suffers from celiac disease. So is giving up gluten really the way to go?

Experts warn that while the gluten-free diet might be trendy and enticing, it probably isn’t the best option for your health. Giving up gluten without a medical reason could result in a diet that is lacking in nutrients such as calcium, iron, folate, phosphorus and zinc. Gluten-free products tend to be lower in fiber, which can place you at greater risk for conditions like diabetes, heart disease and colon cancer, and they are often higher in calories, which ultimately leads to weight gain instead of weight loss.
Contrary to the belief that gluten is bad for your health, studies have shown that gluten can actually be quite beneficial. Gluten contains the amino acid glutamine, which may boost immunity, and according the British Journal of Nutrition, may lower the risk of infection after surgery. A Canadian study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that adults with high cholesterol who increased their gluten consumption lowered serum triglyceride levels in just two weeks. Gluten also promotes a healthy balance of gut bacteria which promotes digestion and aids in immunity.

If you suffer from gastrointestinal issues that you suspect may be due to gluten, be sure to visit your doctor before starting a gluten-free diet. If you do have celiac disease, giving up gluten before visiting your doctor will normalize your blood levels, making diagnosis more difficult. It is also wise to consult with a dietician before beginning a gluten-free diet to help you identify healthy, gluten-free sources of whole grains and ensure you receive the proper nutrients for good health (Source: The Washington Post).

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