Gluten-Free Diet: What You Need to Know

Gluten-free diet misconceptions debunked

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Gluten-free diets, considered a medical treatment to manage celiac disease, have become popular. However, a recent survey found that those without a celiac disease diagnosis purchase the most gluten-free items.

Those diagnosed with celiac disease, an autoimmune disease, cannot consume gluten because it can damage their small intestines.

But a recent survey of more than 1,500 Americans found that 36 percent adopted a gluten-free diet for no medical reason. The survey also revealed the following reasons participants cited for adopting a gluten-free diet:

  • Healthier option: 26 percent
  • Digestive health: 19 percent
  • Someone in my family has a gluten sensitivity: 10 percent
  • Gluten sensitivity: 8 percent

But is adopting a gluten-free diet healthier? A recent article in The Journal of Pediatrics set out to answer that question and debunk some common misconceptions about gluten-free diets.

Misconception 1: The Gluten-Free Diet Is Healthier and Doesn't Have Any Risks

There is actually no data to support the health benefits of a gluten-free diet in those without celiac disease, wheat allergy or nonceliac gluten sensitivity. And adopting a gluten-free diet may actually lead to a vitamin and nutrient deficiencies.

Furthermore, foods that do not contain gluten typically contain more fat and sugar than foods that contain gluten. That could lead to a higher intake of fat and calories than expected in those who go gluten-free.

There's also evidence that gluten-free foods may expose consumers to toxins like inorganic arsenic, which is often found in rice, a common ingredient in gluten-free processed foods.

Then, of course, there's the potential for higher costs — products marketed as gluten-free are often more expensive than their gluten-containing counterparts.

Misconception 2: Gluten Is Toxic

There is no data to support the idea that gluten is toxic.

If you believe you have celiac disease, a wheat allergy or a gluten sensitivity, speak with your doctor. Your doctor will determine the cause of your symptoms and, in turn, the best course of action for you.

Misconception 3: A Gluten-Free Diet Is Warranted for At-Risk Infants or if You Have a Close Relative with Celiac Disease

Individuals at risk for celiac disease are not recommended to adopt a gluten-free diet without getting tested for it first.

There is no data to support a gluten-free diet in children who have no symptoms and who do not have celiac disease. Furthermore, there is no data to support delaying the introduction of gluten to infants to prevent celiac disease.

If you are looking to adopt a gluten-free diet to alleviate symptoms or you have already switched over, speak with your doctor. Your doctor will perform the correct testing for celiac disease.

If you have celiac disease, a wheat allergy or nonceliac gluten sensitivity, or if you are looking to adopt a gluten-free diet, speak with a dietitian. A dietitian can ensure you are receiving the correct amounts of vitamins and minerals.