Debunking the Trend: Gluten-Free Diet

Debunking the Trend: Gluten-Free Diet

gluten free warning
By Sheridan Jonas, Guest Blogger

In 2014, it was estimated that Americans would spend $7 billion on gluten free foods. But why all the hype? In some cases a gluten-free diet is necessary, but in other cases, money is being tossed away.

What is Gluten? 
Gluten-free has become one of the nation’s top buzzwords in diet trends. But what is gluten? Gluten is a protein found in grains including wheat, rye, barley, and triticale (a cross between wheat and rye). This protein acts like glue to shape and form the structures of food. Gliadin and glutenin are the two proteins that make up gluten. The gliadin protein is the part of gluten that people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity react badly to.

Who Needs a Gluten-Free Diet?
A gluten-free diet is essential for those with celiac disease. When gluten is consumed, the immune system responds thinking it is invading the body. Ultimately those with celiac disease end up with damaged villi in the intestines. These villi look like finger-like projections that line the small intestine and are vital for proper absorption of nutrients. Those with celiac disease will have a tougher time absorbing nutrients into the bloodstream when gluten is consumed, which can potentially lead to malnourishment.

Some folks may also find they are sensitive to gluten, but do not have celiac disease. Trying a gluten-free diet can help control their digestive irritation. Proper testing for celiac disease is the first step to establish whether you have an allergy or sensitivity. This test will tell if avoiding gluten is necessary.

Getting Grains Without Gluten
Many grains including wheat, rye, barley, and triticale are eliminated when following a gluten-free diet. This also limits many unknowing foods which contain gluten including beer, cookies, cereal, and soy sauce. Rice, quinoa, and oats (processed in a gluten-free facility) are gluten-free ways to get in your grains.

Most grocery stores carry gluten-free products, like pancake mixes and pastas. Popular gluten-free brands include Glutino and Udi’s, but many other brands are now offering certified gluten-free products to.

Many restaurants are diving into the trend and providing gluten-free breads, pastas, and other menu items. Gluten-free options are available at chains like Chipotle Mexican Grill and P.F. Chang’s. If you are following a gluten-free diet, make sure to check the menu ahead of time to look for gluten-free options or see if the restaurant can accommodate you.

Should You Try It?
The hype about gluten-free has caused many to turn to this diet without any real reason. For weight loss or healthy eating, going gluten-free isn’t the healthiest. Whole grains provide important nutrients, which aren’t easy to get when many grains are cut out. In realty, only about 1% of Americans need to be on a gluten-free diet due to celiac disease, NOT for weight loss.

Have people lost weight while following a gluten-free diet? Absolutely! But, this is probably because many high calorie processed foods were cut out. The increase in gluten-free snack food on the market now makes it easy to gain weight (or not lose any) when following this diet.

The Bottom Line
There’s no reason to eliminate gluten without a medical reason like celiac disease. It’s always a good idea to incorporate a variety of whole grains into your diet to add versatility and balance out nutrients. A gluten-free diet is hard to follow especially in the social settings and has not proved to have benefits in weight loss. If weight loss is your goal, invest your money elsewhere.

Sheridan Jonas is a junior at Miami University studying nutrition with a focus in dietetics. She plans on working towards becoming and registered dietitian post-graduation and furthering her passion in nutrition.

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