Going Gluten-Free? Buyer Beware

A new review out from the European Journal of Nutrition looks at the gluten-free diet (GFD) and best strategies for success with this way of eating.

Oftentimes, people connect carbs with a bad way of eating, and draw a connection between gluten and “bad foods.” But not all gluten-free foods are healthy, let alone nutritionally-adequate substitutes. In fact, research suggests that a number of nutrient deficiencies are possible with a gluten-free diet (such as folate, B6, B12, vitamins A and D, copper, zinc, and iron). On the other hand, sensitivity or intolerance to gluten, or having a wheat allergy, can reek havoc on intestinal tissue, causing inflammation that leads to poor absorption of nutrients. Gluten reactivity has been implicated in some inflammatory bowel diseases, autism, Down’s syndrome, arthritis, and a variety of conditions.

Identifying and treating this allergy/sensitivity/intolerance is important, but for many it is costly and time-consuming, so many people will go gluten-free without knowing if they need to, or the risks involved. Unexplained symptoms like diarrhea, bloating, constipation, headache, fatigue, and anxiety may prompt the switch to gluten-free. Ultimately, no matter your condition or health, self-diagnosed or not, it’s important to know what you’re doing if you chose to go gluten-free.

First, typical gluten-free foods are highly processed. They often contain more carbohydrates and fats, and are not fortified with vitamins and minerals compared to their gluten-acious counterparts. In fact, research indicates that obesity is on the rise among celiac patients, especially in the first year of switching to gluten-free, and many individuals with celiac’s do not see desired  improvements in nutrient deficiencies when switching to a GFD.

Second, there are lots of gluten-free foods that are natural, unprocessed, and delicious. Cereals, grains, seeds, nuts, and legumes to try instead of wheat, rye, barley and oats (well, sometimes oats as these are often contaminated during processing): think quinoa, millet, flax, chickpeas, peas, almonds, coconut, for starters.

Interested in finding out more about going gluten-free? Check out this awesome blogroll put together by Beyond Celiac to discover healthy-living tips, recipes, and more.

Published by Okay to Eat

Natasha Eziquiel-Shriro, MS, RDN, CDN

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