Are you considering trying a gluten free diet? If so, read on to find out more about the benefits and potential downsides of following this clinical diet Rx.
This guest post is by Stefani Myers, DTR is a San Francisco-based Dietetic Technician and the Patient Services Manager at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland. She is currently pursuing her R.D. And has a passion for all things health related.
As Americans, we take eating and dieting to extremes. Colossal portions, deep fried Twinkies and Cronuts are all the rage, and at the same time people are following super strict gluten free diets intended for people with a serious health condition—Celiac disease. Proponents of going “gluten-free,” say that it will help you lose weight, help you think more clearly and will even clear up your skin.
Here, we try to get to the truth behind the hype of following a gluten free diet.
What is Gluten, Anyway?
Gluten is a type of protein found in the grains of wheat, barley and rye. These grains are found in almost everything, for starters, bread, pasta, cereal, soups, soy sauce, some salad dressings and beer. You can find gluten-free options at most supermarkets and an increasing number of restaurants offer gluten free items as well. However, when you remove gluten from your diet, you’re also removing important nutrients too.
For those with Celiac Disease, adhering to a 100% gluten free diet is the only proven way to alleviate almost all symptoms. When gluten is ingested it creates a reaction within the lining of the small intestine causing a slew of problems. Signs and symptoms of celiac disease can vary greatly from person to person, general symptoms being gastric complaints such as intermittent diarrhea, abdominal pain, and bloating. For gluten sensitivity you may experience headaches, lethargy, depression and stomach cramping. You must adhere to the gluten free diet very strictly in order to see the largest benefits.
According to the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, a life-long gluten free diet is the only recognized treatment for celiac disease. However, avoiding foods with gluten may also put you at risk for many vitamin deficiencies. A recent study assessed 55 patients who followed the gluten free diet for two years and 50 newly diagnosed patients following the gluten free diet for the first time. Nutritional intake was similar between the two groups; however, 20% of patients had inadequate thiamin, folate, magnesium, calcium, zinc, fiber, iron and vitamin A levels.
Cons: You May Become Nutrient Deficient & May Not Lose Weight
If you intend to follow a gluten free diet for weight loss, you’re eliminating essentially an entire food group. And by doing so, you run the risk of missing out on necessary vitamins, particularly B-vitamins, niacin, folic acid, iron, zinc and fiber. In addition, many dieters who try to follow a gluten free diet to peel off pounds often realize that simply eliminating gluten doesn’t always equal pounds lost. Since there are literally thousands of gluten-free foods now available in supermarkets, it’s easy to still get a diet rich in low-quality choices that are also gluten free. In any case, it is vital to speak with your healthcare provider or dietitian prior to going gluten free to ensure that you maintain a healthful diet.
How to Make Eating Gluten Free Good for You
- Remember that many wholesome foods, like fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and dairy foods are naturally free of gluten. These foods should provide the bulk of the energy and calories in your diet.
- Enjoy nutritious grain-based foods that are naturally gluten free like rice, wild rice, quinoa, millet, corn, buckwheat and amaranth.
- Look for gluten-free whole grain flours to use when cooking and baking.
- Gluten-free specialty foods, like crackers and baked goods, should be enjoyed in moderation, to keep overall calories in check.
Shepherd S.J. & Gibson P.R (2012) Nutritional inadequacies of the gluten-free diet in both recently-diagnosed and long-term patients with celiac disease.
Stefani Myers, DTR is a San Francisco-based Dietetic Technician and the Patient Services Manager at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland. She is currently pursuing her R.D. And has a passion for all things health related.