They say the best things in life are free – but what about gluten-free? Since food producers are creating umpteen products for consumers who are going giddy for gluten-free, one could assume that gluten-free is synonymous with healthy.
But that’s not necessarily the whole truth.
While a gluten-free diet can benefit certain conditions, it might not be right for everyone. Before jumping on the gluten-free bandwagon, discover what gluten is, who should avoid it and some common myths.
What is gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye and spelt. At least 1 of these ingredients is present in most baked goods. But they can also be found in dozens of other foods – soy sauce, soup, pasta, beer, cereal and French fries. Gluten is even used in some kids’ toys – like molding doughs and stickers – and in lipstick or lip balm.
Who should avoid gluten?
A gluten-free diet is crucial for those who have celiac disease, an autoimmune digestive disorder. When someone with celiac disease eats gluten, their immune system responds by damaging their small intestine. Celiac disease left untreated may also lead to other autoimmune diseases, thyroid disease and even cancer.
Some people who do not have celiac disease might still be intolerant or sensitive to gluten. Studies have shown that a gluten-free diet may also benefit those with arthritis and inflammation, autism-spectrum disorders, Crohn’s disease, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and more.
Discover 5 Common Myths About Gluten
MYTH: Everyone can benefit from a gluten-free diet.
FACT: Actually, those who are not negatively affected by gluten may miss out on essential nutrients found in wheat. It is imperative to talk to your physician or healthcare provider before starting a gluten-free diet.
MYTH: Eliminating gluten from your diet can help you lose weight.
FACT: It is possible to lose weight while avoiding foods like bread, cookies and cake due to a decrease in your calorie intake. However, substituting snacks like crackers or donuts with gluten-free versions is not necessarily healthier. Gluten-free snacks often make up for the lack of gluten with other ingredients – like fat or sugar – that add even more calories.
MYTH: You should stop eating gluten to see if you feel better or if you have celiac disease.
FACT: While you may start to feel better if you are sensitive to gluten, you need to have gluten in your system to test for celiac disease. If you have already been on a gluten-free diet for more than a few weeks, it is recommended that you eat 1 serving of gluten – 1/2 a slice of bread or a cracker – every day for 12 weeks prior to a blood test and 2 weeks prior to a biopsy. Talk to your health care provider before adding or eliminating gluten from your diet.
MYTH: If you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, you will feel better when you eat gluten-free foods.
FACT: Actually, you may experience symptoms from cross-contamination, which occurs when you eat food prepared on equipment that has been in contact with gluten. Be cautious of using a community toaster that has been used for gluten bread. Watch out for foods such as oatmeal that have been manufactured in the same facility as wheat products. Even wearing makeup that contains gluten can cause a adverse reaction.
MYTH: If you had celiac disease, you would have obvious symptoms.
FACT: Some people have symptoms commonly associated with other conditions, while others do not notice any symptoms. More than 83% of those with celiac disease go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. If you think you might have celiac disease, it is important to speak to a medical professional and get tested.
How do you know if you should get tested for celiac disease or gluten intolerance?
Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity can be tricky. The symptoms are broad and vary from person to person. They can also begin at any time in life. Celiac disease can also be genetic, so if someone in your family has it, you might consider getting tested.
Here are 7 of the most common symptoms:
- Stomach issues, including bloating, gas and diarrhea
- Depression, irritability or fatigue
- Itchy skin rash
- Delayed growth or poor weight gain in children
- Thin bones or joint pain
- Pale mouth sores or discolored teeth
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, consider being evaluated by your healthcare provider, to see if you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. Once you know what is causing your symptoms, you can be on your way to being healthier.
Consider sharing this article with a family member or friend who may benefit from learning about gluten, its effects or the gluten-free diet.