Gluten-free eating is all the rage these days. Gluten-free products are now abundantly available on grocery store shelves and at plenty of restaurants. According to research firm Euromonitor, 2011 sales of gluten-free products reached nearly $1.3 billion in the U.S. and $2.6 billion worldwide. These numbers are expected to top $5 billion by 2015. The question I (and many of you) had was: do most people really need to eat gluten-free products, or is this just another fad? In this article, I’ll answer this and several other common questions about gluten free eating and explain the truth about gluten free diets
What is “Gluten Free”?
Gluten is a type of protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. To state the obvious, a gluten-free diet is one that excludes gluten.
Who should eat gluten free foods?
The gluten-free diet is a common treatment for celiac disease, an autoimmune condition that affects around 3 million people, or 1 in 133 Americans, according to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness.
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For people with celiac disease, foods with gluten trigger the immune system to attack the lining of the small intestine. A lifelong gluten-free diet helps control signs and symptoms of the disease and prevent complications.
There are also people who suffer symptoms from eating gluten but don’t have celiac disease. This is called a “non-celiac gluten sensitivity“.
As many as 18 million Americans may have a non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
Why are so many other people eating gluten free foods these days?
Any time a food trend comes along, you’re bound to get people jumping on bandwagon. Some people think eating gluten-free foods is better for them, despite any evidence of that being the case.
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Here’s another reason: the physician-accepted definition of “gluten sensitivity” is quite ambiguous. While celiac disease is diagnosed with blood testing, genetic testing, or biopsies, there’s no gold standard when it comes to testing for gluten sensitivity. Dr. Alessio Fasano, director of the Center for Celiac Research at the University of Maryland, states, “The bottom line for gluten sensitivity is there are very little facts and a lot of fantasy.” There’s plenty of self-diagnosis among people who are looking for ways to cure their digestive issues.
The Truth About Gluten Free Diets
What does research say about gluten free eating? According to this study, non-celiac gluten intolerance may be a legitimate medical condition. Great. Since that wishy-washy conclusion didn’t do much to answer my questions, I dug a bit deeper.
Researchers in a 2012 study found that doctors “should exercise caution when diagnosing gluten sensitivity.” The study authors recommended using specific gluten challenge tests on each person individually before completely eliminating gluten from the diet. They state that “a better diagnostic test is needed to diagnose gluten sensitivities.” So now we know that most medical professionals don’t have an inexpensive, accurate way of diagnosing this condition that “may” exist. Let’s keep digging …
According to another 2012 research study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, gluten free eating offers no benefit for the average healthy adult. Plus, there’s no evidence to suggest that “going gluten-free” is an effective way to lose weight.
Here’s a quick disclaimer about these findings: my intent is not to discount those of you that may benefit from eating gluten free foods. My only goal here is to present the facts, and the facts say that eating a gluten free diet has no documented benefit for the majority of people. But if gluten free eating works for you personally and helps you overcome digestive issues, then by all means, keep doing it.
List of gluten free foods
Here’s a quick list of gluten free foods to help those of you following a gluten free diet.
|Amaranth, Arrowroot, Buckwheat, Corn and cornmeal, Flax, Gluten-free flours, Millet, Quinoa, Rice, Sorghum, Soy, Tapioca||All meat unless labeled otherwise||All fruit/veggies/herbs/spices/nuts||All vegetable oils|
Gluten free foods to avoid
The “big 3” you should avoid are:
Wheat is in a lot of products, and goes by many different names on nutrition facts labels. Here are a few ingredients to avoid:
- Durum flour
- Graham flour
Cross-contamination can happen when gluten free foods come into contact with foods that contain gluten. In general, don’t buy foods from the following list unless they’re labeled gluten free:
- Salad dressings
- Snack foods