Celiacs disease affects about 1% of Americans (or 1 in 141), according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, and yet as many as 1 in 3 Americans would prefer to avoid gluten in their diet, often due to a misperceived gluten intolerance, or a misunderstanding of what gluten represents. Does that mean that a gluten free diet is just another fad diet created by marketing geniuses? No. But that hasn’t stopped companies from taking full advantage of the gluten scare to produce gluten free products to sell at double or triple the cost of their gluten- containing options.
A professor of gastroenterology at Monash University, Peter Gibson, published a study in 2011 that found that patients without Celiac disease complained of gastrointestinal distress when gluten was a part of their diets, which ultimately contributed to the gluten scare. However, this study did not account for many other variables that may have caused the gastrointestinal distress, including: lactose, benzoates, propionate, sulfites, and nitrites. By the time a second study was conducted, which did control for the other variables, many Americans had already decided that they were gluten intolerant.
The follow- up study suggested that gluten intolerance could be a psychological phenomenon, when patients reported physiological symptoms of bloating, pain, gas, and nausea without ever having been exposed to the gluten protein. Unfortunately, it is impossible to know if their symptoms were truly due to a physical gluten intolerance, because the study was advertised as a gluten intolerance study. More testing needs to be completed before it is scientifically proven whether gluten intolerance is a psychological or physiological condition.
According to the director if the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University, Dr. Peter H.R. Green, people who do not suffer from Celiac’s Disease or gluten intolerance, but attempt to maintain a gluten free diet are likely missing out on key vitamins, minerals, and fiber that their bodies require to function properly. Gluten alone does not carry any unique nutrients, however many whole grains that contain gluten are rich in nutrients like fiber, iron, and B vitamins, that your body needs. Cutting these whole grains out of your diet unnecessarily in an attempt to cut out the gluten can leave your diet lacking if you aren’t careful.
If you need to avoid gluten for medical reasons your best best option is to avoid all processed foods and add the lost nutrients from the whole grains back into your diet by incorporating whole foods such as: fruits, vegetables, eggs, meat, fish, and dairy. Since most gluten-free options out there are easily double the price of more convenient options, taking on such a drastic diet seems financially irresponsible unless you have a medical reason to do so. This is especially true because many of the foods that are marketed as gluten free are high in cholesterol, calories, and saturated fat, offering you very little nutrition at an unnecessary price.
Switching over to a gluten-free diet does not help to make your diet any healthier if you are simply swapping processed, gluten- containing foods for their equally processed, gluten- free counterparts. A better way to lead a healthier life, and choose a healthier diet, is to cut back on all processed foods in general. Avoid any foods that come in a box, and instead opt for whole foods; fresh or frozen. These choices will provide you with the nutrients your body craves without adding extra calories to your diet. When you do buy processed foods, it is far more important that you make sure you are getting products that contain minimal carbohydrates, and saturated fats, and have higher amounts of protein and fiber in them.
If you feel that you might be part of the 1% of Americans that are actually suffering from Celiac’s Disease it is important that you see your doctor and get tested so that you can know for sure. Cutting gluten entirely out of your diet may then be necessary but it’s important that you learn how to do it safely and responsibly so that your body continues to receive the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that it requires to function. (https://celiac.org/celiac-disease/diagnosing-celiac-disease/screening/)
“Celiac Disease.” Celiac Disease. Accessed January 27, 2016. http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/digestive-diseases/celiac-disease/Pages/facts.aspx.
“Medical Professionals.” Celiac Disease. Accessed January 27, 2016. http://www.cureceliacdisease.org/.
Pomeroy, Ross. “Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity May Not Exist | RealClearScience.” Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity May Not Exist | RealClearScience. May 14, 2014. Accessed January 27, 2016. http://www.realclearscience.com/blog/2014/05/gluten_sensitivity_may_not_exist.html.
Green, Peter H.R., M.D., and Christophe Cellier, M.D. Ph.D. “Medical Progress Celiac Disease.” The New England Journal of Medicine, October 25, 2007, 1731-1743. Accessed January 27, 2016. http://www.med.upenn.edu/gastra/documents/NEJMCeliacdisease.pdf
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