Is Gluten-Free Good for You?

Gluten-free dining continues to be all the rage but is it actually good for you?  Gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye, gives most grain-based food its desired chewy texture.  For a small percentage of the population with celiac disease, about 1% of Americans according to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, consuming gluten can destroy the lining of the small intestine leading to disruption of digestion and poor absorption of nutrients.

If only 1% of the population suffers from celiac disease, why is everyone shopping in the gluten-free section of the grocery store?  Eating gluten-free is the latest weight loss craze.  According to NDP [Market Research] Group, a gluten-free diet appeals to 30% of Americans and these folks are NOT pursuing this strict diet out of medical necessity.  While many people do lose weight on a gluten-free diet (perhaps because they are cutting out processed foods and reading nutrition labels), others actually gain weight on a gluten-free diet!  Why?  Aren’t gluten-free foods healthier for you?  Not necessarily!

Gluten functions to improve the texture, consistency, and mouth feel of foods.  No other food or ingredient can provide quite the same results.  To make many gluten-free foods more appealing, additional ingredients are added—namely sodium (salt), sugar, and fat.  Gluten-free foods often have just as many, if not more, calories than their gluten-containing counterparts.  In addition, many naturally gluten-free foods are poor food choices from a nutrient perspective.  Potato chips and ice cream may be gluten-free but shouldn’t be part of an all-you-can-eat gluten-free diet.  Consequently, if a person follows a gluten-free diet haphazardly, they may fall short in certain B vitamins, amino acids, and fiber.

Bottom Line: While a gluten-free diet is critical for those suffering from a true gluten intolerance, it may not be the smartest health move for the rest of us.  Your best bet is to eat a whole foods diet, filled with a variety of unprocessed foods that you prepare in proper portions in your own kitchen.

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