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Gluten-Free Diet Myths Debunked

Those with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity are finding a lot of gluten-free options on grocery shelves these days: In the US alone, the gluten-free industry grew by 136% between 2013 and 2015, according to market research from the Mintel Group. And while there has been an increase in celiac disease awareness, this industry growth seems disproportionate to both the number of people with diagnosed celiac disease, which is approximately 1% of the population, and to those with non-celiac gluten sensitivity, which may affect 0.05% to 6% of the population. So, why are others going gluten-free? An article in the Journal of Pediatrics sought to answer this question and to separate gluten-free fact from fiction:

  • Myth: Most people go gluten-free because they have a gluten-related health problem. In fact, this may be the least common reason: According to a 2015 survey performed by the Hartman Group, which included 1,500 adults, 35% of respondents said they went gluten-free for “no reason.” Other respondents reported going gluten-free because it was a “healthier option” (26%), for “digestive health” (19%), or because “someone in their family had a gluten sensitivity” (10%). Only 8% of respondents reported going gluten-free because they “had a gluten sensitivity.”
  • Myth: The gluten-free diet is inherently healthier. For those without a gluten-related health problem, there is little evidence supporting the health benefits of a gluten-free diet. In fact, some research points to the opposite, finding an association between a gluten-free diet and an increased risk of obesity, insulin resistance, and metabolic syndrome. This could be due to increased calorie and fat intake from packaged gluten-free foods, which sometimes contain more fats and sugars than their gluten-containing equivalents. Other research has found that people on a gluten-free diet may have an increased risk of deficiencies in B vitamins and iron, possibly because enriched wheat flour is fortified with these nutrients but many gluten-free products are not.
  • Myth: Gluten is toxic. There is no evidence showing that gluten is toxic to people without a gluten-related health problem. Gluten is a dietary protein that, for most people, is partially digested into absorbable peptides without causing a harmful inflammatory response.
  • Fact: People with a gluten-related health problem may want to avoid eating gluten. Using gluten-free products could reduce a variety of symptoms in people with certain health conditions. For example, gluten has been found to cause nutritional deficiencies in those with celiac disease; digestive issues and other symptoms in those with non-celiac gluten sensitivity; and respiratory problems in those with a wheat allergy.

The bottom line is that, despite the popularity of a gluten-free diet, it may not be a wise choice for people without a gluten-related health problem. However, if you think you may have a trouble with gluten, it’s important to talk with your healthcare practitioner to get a clear diagnosis and develop a plan that’s right for you.

Source: Journal of Pediatrics

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