“Gluten-Free” is one of the most popular buzz-words ever created by the food industry, but how worried should you really be about gluten? Will eliminating gluten help you be healthier or is this just a giant conspiracy to keep you away from the bread basket at dinner? Let’s take a look at gluten, celiac disease, and the questionable theory that everyone should be buying gluten-free foods.

What Is Gluten, Anyway?

Gluten is an extremely common protein found in many of the foods we eat, including wheat, barley, and rye. You’ll find it anywhere wheat is, for example, in bread, pasta, and breakfast cereals, baked goods and many processed foods. While gluten provides no essential nutrients, it also doesn’t contain anything harmful to the average person.

A Brief Introduction To Celiac Disease

If it’s harmless, why are people so worried about gluten? Many years ago, scientists discovered an autoimmune disorder that makes people intolerant to gluten. They called it celiac disease, and it affects roughly 1% of the population. When people with celiac disease eat foods that contain gluten, they can become ill. Their intolerance to gluten causes inflammation in the gut that stops the absorption of necessary nutrients. Left untreated, it can lead to chronic fatigue, anemia, certain types of cancer and many unpleasant gut symptoms like bloating and diarrhea.

You can see why gluten started to get its bad reputation. For people with celiac disease, gluten is public enemy number one. The treatment is a complex and restrictive diet that eliminates gluten and other inflammatory foods. Early detection is the key, and you can order a home-based test to detect the disorder from imaware™.

Should Everyone Avoid Gluten?

If you love breadsticks, there’s still hope. While eliminating gluten is necessary for people with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity, there is no evidence to support eliminating gluten from the diets of people who have not been diagnosed with celiac disease; there are no health benefits to them. In fact, according to MedicalNewsToday, doctors have warned against assuming that “gluten-free” will lead to good health. In fact many of the gluten-free processed junk foods out there aren’t good for you at all. More importantly, there is a risk of reducing your fiber intake as well as other beneficial nutrients when you are avoiding all foods that contain gluten.

When the gluten-free lifestyle became embraced by the media, celebrities, and social platforms, the food industry saw a huge opportunity to cash in. Gluten-free labels started popping up on everything from alternative-bread options to organic apples, no matter if the food needed the label or not. It’s easy to see how average consumers got the idea that gluten was something dangerous.

How To Know If Avoiding Gluten Is Right For You

Sometimes the first symptoms of celiac disease can be so mild that people don’t report them to their doctor for years. These symptoms can include; fatigue, diarrhea, weight loss, abnormal stool, bloating, and gut discomfort. When the disease is left undiagnosed and untreated for years, more serious problems can occur such as anemia, arthritis, infertility, osteoporosis, and many more. According to a Harvard Health article, celiac disease can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms are so common and can be easily explained by other general gut disorders like IBS.

Your doctor can order blood work to help determine the presence of celiac disease or you can take matters into your own hands with a reputable home test from imaware™. This highly precise test can help you take control of your health, with no insurance obstacles getting in the way.

Here’s where it gets tricky. Sometimes people with all of these symptoms test negative for celiac disease but continue to experience unwanted health problems. Newer studies, including those mentioned by Harvard Health, have concluded that up to 3% of the population may have non-celiac related gluten sensitivity. This means they have a food sensitivity (not quite an allergy) to gluten that causes uncomfortable GI problems like gas, bloating, cramps, diarrhea, and fatigue. A lot more research on non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) needs to be done but right now the only way to determine if you have a sensitivity to gluten is to try an elimination diet, removing gluten from your diet for 30 days or more to see if the symptoms resolve.

It is possible that even without celiac disease, you could have a sensitivity to gluten and will benefit from reducing or removing gluten from the foods you eat. While not everyone needs to be gluten-free, this is really an individual decision between you and your doctor.

Foods To Eat And Foods To Avoid When Going Gluten-Free

If you decide to go gluten-free, then you’ll have to avoid any food or drink that includes wheat, barley, rye, triticale, and most oats. Because many processed foods contain wheat and wheat by-products, you’ll have to become a master at label reading. Besides labels that specifically say wheat or flour, the following foods are also forms of wheat that contain gluten; durum, einkorn, emmer, Kamut, and spelt. These grains are used to make most of the baked goods you find and also show up in many drinks including alcoholic beverages. There are even some over-the-counter drugs that contain gluten, so check with your doctor or pharmacist before taking new medications or supplements.

Luckily there are plenty of alternative grains without gluten that can be used to make bread, pasta, cereals, and other things you may want to continue eating. A few of these grains are:

  • Buckwheat
  • Flax
  • Millet
  • Quinoa
  • Rice
  • Soy
  • Tapioca
  • Amaranth
  • Cornmeal
  • Arrowroot

You can also still enjoy many whole fresh foods such as fruits and vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, eggs, unprocessed meats, fish, and most dairy products. Make sure to include plenty of iron, calcium, and fiber in your new diet since these may be inadvertently removed from your diet when eliminating gluten products. Eating more fresh foods and relying less on processed and packaged foods will help you stay on track and make it easy to find healthy foods to eat.