When I worked at the Minnesota State Fair gluten free booth last month, I received that very pointed question from a few folks asking why they should go gluten free. It was like they wanted me to sell them on the diet. I think they were surprised by my answer….
Who should go gluten free?
People with the autoimmune disease, called celiac disease
1 in 133 Americans have celiac and the only treatment for them is 100% elimination of gluten, which is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. It is estimated that 83% of the people with celiac disease in the US, are undiagnosed.
Gluten is toxic to the gut, flattening the villi in the small intestine which doesn’t allow you to get nutrients from your food. When you live with undiagnosed celiac or you have a diagnosis and don’t consistently eat gluten free, the damage to your gut can lead to a host of other health problems, including osteoporosis, infertility, bad teeth and cancer. Or in general you might just feel sickly all the time.
People who receive another medical diagnosis of a gluten-related disorder
This would include non-celiac gluten sensitivity. In many cases, these folks test negative for celiac blood tests, but improve on a gluten-free diet. They often have stomach pain, diarrhea, achy joints, brain fog…and more. In fact many symptoms that NCGS patients have are the same as folks with celiac. NCGS patients, however, don’t have the autoimmune response in the small intestine, like folks with celiac do.
Wondering if either of these are you? Maybe you have not yet been tested. Just go to your general practice doc and ask for a celiac blood panel to get this process started.
So….Why should YOU be gluten free?
If your doctor doesn’t give you a diagnosis for a gluten-related disorder, then you probably don’t need to be gluten free. Sheila Crowe, M.D., spokesperson for the American Gastroenterological Association and a professor in the division of gastroenterology at the UC San Diego School of Medicine told the HuffingtonPost earlier this year, “there’s little evidence proving going gluten-free means good health”.
Nutrition consultant and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Heather Mangieri told the Scientific American last year, “There’s nothing magical about eliminating gluten that results in weight loss.” I have heard doctors say people often feel better or losing weight when they go gluten free because they simply are eating healthier; eliminating processed foods and perhaps eating more fruits and vegetables.
There are a lot of folks who think everyone should live gluten free. That is okay. In fact I will add that if you still want to be gluten free, then fine. It won’t hurt you. I must add two important notes:
- You should get tested for celiac disease before going gluten free, to rule the disease in or out. Your body must have the gluten in it in order to make the most accurate diagnosis. I had a lot of people at the fair tell me “well I don’t have celiac so I don’t need to get tested”. You truly don’t know until you at least get the blood test.
- Many gluten-free foods like breads and cereals lack the nutrients with which their gluten-filled counterparts may be fortified. Mangieri explained in SciAm article, “Studies show gluten-free diets can be deficient in fiber, iron, folate, niacin, thiamine, calcium, vitamin B12, phosphorus and zinc.”
Here are some resources to help you find real foods to supplement your nutrients when/if you go gluten free. Search your food under the USDA’s National Nutrient Database and you will find a host of information on it’s nutrients, protein, fiber etc…. SELF Nutrition Data has a searchable nutrient database where you can search your nutrient and it will come up with a list of foods that are high in that nutrient.
Best of luck in your gluten-free journey.