The Gluten Free Diet
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and spelt. Gluten is the component that helps bread rise when baked. For people having celiac disease or are intolerant to it, a gluten free diet is highly recommended. Symptoms from celiac disease and gluten intolerance are diarrhea, weight loss, fatigue, bloating and gas that all together result in nutritional deficiencies.
Health Benefits of Going Gluten Free
There are several benefits of gluten free diet for people who are intolerant to gluten. The diet increases their energy levels. Drop in energy is a result of the irritation to the intestines from ingesting gluten, which interferes with resorption of various nutrients including iron. It can also cause iron deficiency, vitamin B12 and folate anemias.
Because of the nutritional distress and calcium deficiency, gluten-intolerant people may have weaker bones. So going gluten-free can help them strengthen their bones and reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
The diet also helps healthy weight gain and restoring the nutritional deficiencies, as it regulates the function of the digestive system. It is also good for reducing bloating that often appears after ingesting gluten-rich foods. So the greatest benefit is reduction in painful symptoms.
The gluten free diet is popular also among people who do not have gluten intolerance. But is it really as innocent as it looks?
Health Risks of Going Gluten Free
Although people with celiac disease must follow a gluten free diet, it has its downsides. Among them are nutritional deficiencies like fiber, iron, folate, vitamin B12 and vitamin D.
This can be especially problematic for pregnant women, as vitamins B (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and folic acid) are crucial for fetal growth and development.
Foods (Not) Suitable For Gluten Free Diet
Gluten is found in all products from wheat, barley and rye. These include, but are not limited to: pasta, cakes, muffins, pastries, breakfast cereals, most types of bread, pretzels, croissants, noodles, certain types of sauces, and beer. You should also avoid durum, kamut and semolina.
A gluten free diet should include meat, eggs, dairy, fruits, vegetables, legumes, quinoa, flax, herbs and spices. From the starches and flours you can enjoy rice, buckwheat, cornstarch and corn flour, chickpea, soy, potato, almond, coconut and tapioca flour. In general oils and butter are also allowed.
In order to be safe always read the label when buying food. Some foods are naturally devoid of gluten; some are processed to remove it. Still, this has to be stated on the label. For safety, in your household keep gluten rich and gluten free foods separately. If possible, use different kitchen utensils to reduce chances of cross contamination. Also, do not toast regular and gluten free bread on the same toaster.
If you do not suffer from gluten intolerance or have celiac disease there is no need to follow a gluten free diet, since there is no evidence that it is beneficial. On the contrary, it can lead to magnesium, protein and iron deficiencies. If you do decide to follow such a diet, consider consulting a registered dietitian to make a suitable meal plan.
Most of the population can consume gluten without any problems. However, if you belong to the other group following a gluten free diet is your only option. You should share this information with your friends and family so they will know your dietary preferences when you come to visit them. If you do not want to feel left out or cause additional work when cooking, you can consider taking a gluten-free food with you when visiting.