Pros and Cons of a Gluten-Free Diet

A gluten-free diet is a diet that may include all foods except those with gluten in them (e.g., grains). Gluten free foods are available to consumers who choose to adopt this diet, and alternative food options are provided to them when possible.

However, gluten free may not be the best diet for everyone. In recent years, the gluten-free diet has gained popularity among consumers in the general population, namely those for whom the diet is not a medical necessity. This diet is primarily for managing medical conditions such as celiac disease, and may cause problems for those who do not need to refrain from eating gluten.

The following sections detail gluten foods and products that you must avoid while maintaining this diet, as well as the risks and benefits of this diet. If you are considering a gluten-free diet, then you are encouraged to review the information provided in the sections below and to contact your healthcare physician to ask about safe dietary practices.

Gluten Products

While on a gluten-free diet, you cannot consume foods that contain or may contain gluten. For some, even gluten free meals that are in contact with food items that have gluten may suffer from gluten-related symptoms. Therefore, it is essential to monitor the ingredients in your food, especially when products do not specifically state that they are gluten free or have no gluten by default. The following grains and food products contain gluten:

  • Wheat and derivatives of wheat
  • Rye
  • Barley
  • Triticale
  • Malt
  • Brewer’s yeast
  • Wheat starch
  • Pastas
  • Noodles
  • Breads and baked goods
  • Crackers
  • Cereal and granola
  • Breading and baking mixes
  • Sauces and gravies
  • Flour tortillas
  • Beer

However, you may find gluten-free products and brands that enable you to eat cereals, pastas and baked goods. For example, General Mills cereals are all gluten free, and Snyder’s Lance provides gluten-free snacks like pretzels and chips. Fresh produce like fruits and vegetables are always safe to eat on this diet, but packaged food items should be carefully checked for gluten as an ingredient.

Risks of Going Gluten-Free

A gluten free diet can be harmful to your health if you do not replace your grain intake properly. If you consume gluten free meals only, the following issues may apply to you:

  • The loss of essential nutrients. Gluten foods like grains are valuable sources of fiber. According to The New York Times, the amount of fiber you consume on this diet often drops, and a daily recommended intake of 20 to 40 grams of fiber is an essential for maintaining your digestive health. Additionally, you will not experience potential health benefits associated with whole grains such as improved heart health.
  • The potential for weight gain. Gluten free foods usually have a higher fat, sugar and salt content than foods containing the nutrient, so you may gain some weight while on the diet. By consuming extra-processed foods without gluten, you may be disrupting your balanced diet and harming your nutritional health. If you do try this diet regimen, seek out fresh foods and high-quality products when possible.
  • The possibility of upsetting your stomach. Because a gluten free diet eliminates the fiber found in grains–a prominent source of your daily fiber intake–your digestive system may be lacking in healthy bacteria. Your immune system may also suffer without enough fiber.
  • The inability to detect celiac disease. If you assume a gluten free diet before you are tested for celiac disease, then your test results may be inaccurate. The damage caused by celiac can normalize within a few weeks of assuming the diet, leading to misleading diagnoses.

In addition to the health effects that may affect individuals who assume a gluten free diet, they may dislike the extra cost the diet tends to involve.

Benefits of Going Gluten-Free

The gluten free diet can be a tremendous help to those with gluten intolerance and individuals suffering from certain conditions. With the adoption of a gluten free diet, the following health conditions may be alleviated or improved:

  • Gluten sensitivity
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Schizophrenia and other mental health disorders
  • Atopy
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Endometriosis
  • Obesity

Eating gluten free foods can also improve your cholesterol levels, help you eliminate some unhealthy foods from your diet and increase your overall energy levels. The reduction of some symptoms including digestive issues, muscle inflammation and arthritis have also been reported to occur. By incorporating a gluten free diet into your lifestyle, you may experience some personal benefits as well including a greater awareness of your food choices and how foods affect your body and the environment.

Should you start a gluten free diet?

After weighing the pros and cons of gluten free diet, you must reconsider your motivations for wanting to adopt the diet. While there are great health benefits of assuming a gluten free diet, you should wait until you are tested for gluten intolerance before starting the diet. This way, you will know what you are treating and receive accurate test results. Though, consumers without a gluten intolerance may still wish to start the diet to help with other issues they may have. You can also adjust the gluten free diet to your specific needs regarding your gluten intake.

However, the final decision on whether you should go gluten free or not depends, primarily, on your medical history. If you do not struggle with gluten intolerance, then this type of diet may not be recommended to you by medical professionals, but that does not mean you may not experience any benefits from it. You are encouraged to contact your primary care physician before changing your diet dramatically. Your doctor can recommend the types of foods you should eat to accommodate your health issues.

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