A gluten-free diet plan has become a popular trend as of recent, and some may even consider it to be a "fad." But what is a gluten-free diet and how may you benefit from following one?
A gluten-free diet plan increases in popularity, and some may even consider it to be a "fad." Besides, people commonly adopt a gluten-free diet for weight loss.
However, avoiding gluten in the diet is particularly recommended to a certain medical condition known as celiac disease. Other populations may benefit from a gluten-free diet, too, though some can fall at a disadvantage.
A gluten-free diet plan is one that is devoid of gluten, a protein found in certain grains. These gluten-containing grains include:
• Crossbreeds of these grains, including triticale
Wheat pasta, cereals, and bread are obvious sources of gluten, though it can also be in unlikely sources. Gluten may be hidden in sauces, dressings, and frozen products. Cosmetics and supplements may also contain gluten.
Despite the broad food supply it encompasses, gluten is naturally absent in a wide variety of foods. Amongst the many, foods to eat for a healthy gluten-free diet include gluten-free grains, fresh produce, and lean proteins.
Including more of these nutrient-dense foods can be beneficial to all, which is discussed in greater detail below. But following a gluten-free diet may offer specific benefits to those diagnosed with certain health conditions.
Benefits of a Gluten-Free Diet
The benefits of going gluten-free are primarily related to those managing celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.
Also known as coeliac disease, celiac sprue, non-tropical sprue, and gluten sensitivity enteropathy, celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder. It is characterized by an abnormal response to ingested gluten.
When people with celiac disease ingest gluten, the body presumes it to be "toxic." The reaction stimulates a response from the immune system and the gastrointestinal (GI) tract is essentially attacked. Gluten-induced attacks can cause diarrhea, bloating, and other uncomfortable digestive issues, along with long-term consequences.
Recurring attacks can damage the villi in the digestive lining or the small fingerlike projections that promote nutrition absorption. Eventually, this can result in a number of nutritional deficiencies and conditions, including:
• Vitamin and mineral deficiencies
• Lactose intolerance
• Osteoporosis, or bone loss
At this time, following a strict gluten-free diet is the only treatment for celiac disease. Ridding gluten from the diet can mitigate these risks. Protecting the digestive lining by dismissing gluten can help mitigate such risks and ultimately improve the quality of life.
The research is relatively slim regarding benefits extending to those without celiac disease or sensitivity. But the health benefits a gluten-free diet in non-celiac disease patients may extend other conditions and populations.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
IBS is described as a group of symptoms affecting the digestive tract. Although structural damage is absent, individuals may experience symptoms similar to celiac disease, including abdominal pain and changes in bowel patterns. Symptoms can also potentially result in anxiety and depression along with reducing the quality of life.
The cause of IBS is unclear, though experts speculate a number of innate factors. Risks may include genetics and food sensitivities, which could become triggered by stress or environmental exposures. At this point in time, there is no cure for IBS and management primarily fixates on adapting lifestyle habits. Some show to benefit from a gluten-free diet.
Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS)
NCGS is an umbrella term associated with GI and non-GI symptoms similar to celiac disease. Despite the similarities, NCGS does not lead to intestinal damage.
These symptoms respond to a gluten-free diet and recur with gluten ingestion.
Schizophrenia is a severe, chronic brain disorder in which individuals may experience delusions, confusion, personality loss, and bizarre behavior. Though the brain disorder cannot be cured, it can be controlled with lifelong treatment. Management may include a combination of medication and psychological and social therapy.
It has been suggested that patients with schizophrenia have higher levels of antibodies relative to celiac disease than the general population. However, research is limited regarding the impact of gluten restriction on schizophrenia.
According to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology, atopy "refers to the genetic tendency to develop allergic diseases." Atopy is typically associated with heightened immune responses to common allergens, especially inhaled and food allergens.
Patients with NGCS and IBS symptoms have shown to have a higher prevalence of atopic diseases. They also have more non-grain food allergies in childhood. There is some evidence showing following a gluten-free diet reduces atopic and GI symptoms in a pediatric population.
Fibromyalgia is a complex disorder that causes widespread pain and tenderness of the body, including of the joints. It is often accompanied by fatigue and altered sleep, memory, and mood patterns.
Episodes can also come and go and may be triggered by physical or emotional stress. Following a gluten-free and low-calorie diet has shown to improve fibromyalgia symptoms.
Autoimmune & Inflammatory Diseases
People with various autoimmune and inflammatory diseases may also benefit from a gluten-free diet.
For instance, autoimmune thyroid disease is often accompanied by celiac disease and ridding gluten shows positive outcomes. There is also a connection between gluten and arthritis, an autoimmune disease that affects the joints.
Disadvantages of a Gluten-Free Diet
Despite the potential benefit of going gluten-free, there are some risks one should consider. These include, but are not limited to, nutrient deficiencies, weight gain, and financial costs.
Eliminating gluten also naturally eliminates other essential nutrients from the diet, especially if not replenished from other sources.
Wheat, barley, rye, and oats are the prominent sources of gluten and contain valuable vitamins and minerals, including:
These deficiencies can result in anemia, energy loss, diarrhea, and several others if not careful.
People often turn to a gluten-free diet in hopes to lose weight. However, taking to some gluten-free products can also lead to weight gain and prompt additional deficiency risk.
For instance, some tend to attribute "gluten-free" as healthy. However, those gluten-free cookies are often still laden in refined sugar and oils. These products tend to supply empty calories and pose the risk for weight gain.
Eating gluten-free can be cost-friendly. But those indicated "gluten-free" products can also come with a heavier price tag.
For instance, specialty gluten-free baked goods and boxed items may be more expensive than their gluten-containing relative.
Individuals should also consider the mental impact of going gluten-free. Adhering to a gluten-free diet may be overwhelming, as it can be tough to cut out gluten-containing foods. They may also feel embarrassed trying to select safe foods at a restaurant and social event.
Before starting a gluten-free diet, always consult with a primary care provider first. Receiving proper nutrition guidance helps ensure nutrient needs are being met when following a gluten-free diet plan.
How to Start a Gluten-Free Diet Plan
Instead of starting a gluten-free diet "just because," consult with a primary care provider first. They can help determine whether or not following one can be beneficial or harmful for you.
If recommended to follow a gluten-free diet plan, it is critical to do so in a healthy, yet cautious manner.
Gluten-Free Can Be Healthy with Caution
Coordinate with a Registered Dietitian prior to doing away with gluten entirely. Their nutrition expertise can help create a safe, individualized plan to ensure nutritional needs are being met while including gluten-free.
Fortunately, though, a large volume of gluten-free foods are readily available. They are also rich in nutrients and recommended in a balanced diet, including:
• Gluten-free grains, including brown rice, oats, corn, and millet
• All fruits and veggies, just be cautious of packaged veggies and fruits with a sauce or dressing
• Meat and poultry, just be cautious of breaded products that may contain gluten
• Fish and seafood, also being cautious of breading
• Beans and other legumes
• Nut and seed varieties
• Milk and dairy products, also being mindful of added gluten in ice creams and yogurts
• Soy and soy-based products, including tofu, tempeh, and soy milk
Ultimately, verify whether or not gluten is present by taking advantage of food labels. As some foods are naturally gluten-free, they may become contaminated with gluten during processing. Oats are a well-known example of gluten cross-contamination.
Also ask the servers about gluten-free options when dining at a restaurant. And if skeptical of a certain food, skip out on it.