The latest food trends range from going vegan to a gluten-free diet. These new ways of eating are receiving a lot of hype and consumers increasingly decide to join in. But what is behind it? Can a gluten free diet be beneficial for everybody? Do we really need to restrict our diet to this extent in order to stay healthy?
Conventional food theories tell us that whole grains are an important part of a healthy and balanced diet.1 They are supposed to provide us with fiber and good carbohydrates, which control our blood sugar and help us prevent diabetes. So why should we leave it out of our diet?
Gluten is a protein which originates from wheat, rye and barley and can be found in every day food items and medications, that do not only include bread or pasta. Foods containing gluten are cakes, oats and cereal, as well as unexpected ones, such as sauces, dressings and beer.2
Only about 1% of the American population actually suffers from the autoimmune disorder celiac disease, which causes intolerance to gluten, the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness reports.3 These peoples small intestines cannot process gluten properly, which causes a serious response in their digestive system.
Even very small amounts, such as 50 milligrams of gluten, which is how much a small crouton contains, can cause cramping, gastrointestinal bloating, headaches, or other problems.4 What happens then is that gluten in the bloodstream triggers an immune response that damages the lining of the small intestine. The absorption of nutrients from food is impeded, which causes the mentioned symptoms, and can even lead to other problems like osteoporosis, infertility, nerve damage, and seizures.5
If you want to figure out whether you suffer from celiac disease, you can make a blood test for the presence of antibodies against a protein called tissue transglutaminase or a biopsy of the intestine, which confirms the diagnosis.
However, there are people who do not suffer from this disease, but may experience symptoms when eating gluten. These people suffer from non-celiac gluten sensitivity.6
If you do not have celiac disease or are allergic to gluten, a gluten-free diet will not provide you with any additional health benefits. Dr. Leffler from the Harvard Medical School reports that “People who are sensitive to gluten may feel better, but a larger portion will derive no significant benefit from the practice. They’ll simply waste their money, because these products are expensive”. 7Even though it sounds healthier, you will not experience any differences, except of in your wallet, as these products are very expensive. A Canadian study figured that on average, gluten-free products were 242% more expensive than the gluten-containing ones. The study compared the costs of 56 ordinary grocery items.8
Does gluten-free food make us at least lose weight?
Unfortunately I have to disappoint you. It is most likely even the other way round. Gluten-free foods are full of extra calories and sugars, which are supposed to give them an as delicious taste and nice texture as the conventional products. In most cases they also have less fiber and more carbohydrates. It is even not advised to stay entirely gluten-free if not told by a dietarian, as a gluten-free diet can lack essential nutrients, as the products can be low in B vitamins, calcium, iron, zinc, and magnesium.9
In the end you should go for it, if it makes you feel better, but you can actually save a lot of money if not following the fancy “gf” – trend!