Gluten-free foods continue to be seen by many as superior to gluten-containing foods. According to Food Navigator, in the 5 years leading up to 2014, gluten-free food sales grew 34% each year. While gluten sensitivities and Celiac disease do affect a growing number of individuals, for the majority of people gluten does not need to be avoided.
Celiac disease is a diagnosable condition, an autoimmune reaction to gluten, which is a protein in wheat, barley, and rye. It is estimated that 1 in 133 Americans have Celiac disease, many of whom do not know it. Others may be gluten sensitive without being celiac and this makes up about 6% of the U.S. population. A third group have self-diagnosed themselves as either celiac or sensitive to gluten or avoid gluten simply because they feel gluten is unhealthy for reasons such as it causes undesirable weight gain or decreased energy levels.
For those of you who don’t fall into the Celiac or gluten sensitive categories, here are some reasons why not to fear gluten:
- Gluten-free products are more refined in order to remove the protein, gluten. This means they lack the whole grain, which provides tons fiber and other beneficial nutrients.
- Many gluten-free seeking individuals will avoid grains all together. This can lead to deficiencies in many essential nutrients like calcium, iron, thiamin, folate, niacin, and riboflavin.
- Attempting to follow a gluten-free diet may cause a decrease in the beneficial bacteria in the gut. These bacteria thrive on the beneficial fiber found in whole grains. Maintaining healthy gut bacteria leads to a stronger immune system.
- Packaged and processed gluten-free foods are typically more expensive than whole fods. Unless you really depend on a gluten-free diet, you can easily save money by purchasing conventional whole grain products.
- Currently, no studies show evidence that eliminating gluten leads to an increase in energy. Gluten aside, consuming more fruits and vegetables and less processed foods may cause feelings of increased energy due to healthy food choices.
- Gluten free does not necessarily lead to weight loss. However, making healthy food choices can lead to weight loss. For example, choosing quinoa over white bread. On the contrary, many gluten-free products use potato starch instead of wheat flour, which lacks the beneficial fiber and nutrients found in wheat flour.
While it’s always a good idea to cut back on packaged and processed refined grain foods, if you don’t have a medical necessity, don’t fear gluten if it comes from whole grains!
Special thanks to dietetic intern Brittany South for her contributions to this post.