Dr. Starpoli's Blog

I don't have Celiac Disease: what's wrong with a gluten free diet?

Posted by Anthony A. Starpoli, MD on Feb 3, 2015 11:00:00 AM

Expressions-4Sometimes, it can seem as if food companies can't wait to shout from the rooftops every time they put out a product that is gluten free. For some people, this is very important information, especially those who have been diagnosed with either Celiac Disease or some other wheat allergy. It's helpful and convenient to know where to find gluten free breads, pasta, or even brownie mix. Everything seems to be labeled these days, including eggs or f raw nuts -- foods that never included gluten in the first place. With as many as 30% attempting a gluten free lifestyle, it is a popular choice, but it doesn't mean it's right.

Celiac disease affects about 1% of the population, It is characterized by an abnormal immune system that responds to gluten by damaging the small intestine lining, and  reduces the amount of nutrients absorbed into the body. It can only be detected by being tested, and only a small percentage of those who have the disease are officially diagnosed. For those who really need it, going gluten free is very important. However, if you don't have Celiac or an official gluten sensitivity, a gluten free diet might not be the best choice.

Taking gluten out of your diet limits your overall food options. There are a lot of foods that contain gluten that are very nutritious, such as whole grain breads with wheat, barley, and rye. These foods contain essential B vitamins and fiber that most people don't get enough of anyway. While the gluten doesn't have much nutritional value on its own, foods that naturally contain it do. As for foods that are supposed to contain the protein, but have been altered to be gluten free -- like bread and brownie mixes may contain extra sugars or fats in order to compensate. While many assume that a gluten free lifestyle will lead to weight loss, for many the opposite happens instead.

Socially, going without gluten in hard as well. It's harder to order at restaurants, and even having dinner with friends and family brings a certain level of inconvenience. It is one thing to ask for accommodations when they are needed, but as many as 30% of the popular attempt a gluten free diet, and most of those really don't need to make that change. Many of those would be better off limiting processed foods and aiming for an overall balanced diet.