The gluten free craze has hit America hard. Just a few years ago it was difficult for individuals with gluten intolerance and celiac disease to find many foods that most people enjoy on a daily basis. The first time I remember hearing about a wheat allergy was my freshman year in college where I watched one of my guy friends chow down on a pile of lunch meat and I jokingly asked him what he had against bread. He explained how sick he’d get if he had wheat or gluten of any kind and I patted him on the back as I realized how much beer he’d have to give up.
In all seriousness though, gluten allergies are serious. Celiac disease is a condition where the body reacts negatively to gluten and damages villi, which are what line the intestines and help absorb nutrients. When people with this allergy eat gluten (found in wheat, rye, barely, and even oats) their body attacks these villi and can make them extremely malnourished over time. Gluten allergies can also cause extreme bloating and uncomfortable stomach problems. So make no mistake, a gluten-free diet is important for people with the allergy.
But what about the rest of us? Is eating gluten-free actually healthier? Can it benefit us, too? Actually no. Going gluten-free and eating more gluten-free products can actually cause you to gain weight since most products contain added fats and sugars. Currently, there is not any scientific research showing that eating gluten-free when you aren’t allergic will create any real benefit.
Also – look at the current market for food products. Upwards of 7 billion dollars in sales are estimated to be made in 2012 alone due to the popularity of eating gluten-free. While more cases of celiac disease are being diagnosed, doctors are now more aware of the condition than ever before. A lot of people are diagnosing themselves with an allergy they probably don’t have and don’t know much about. And with celebrity endorsements and people claiming that eating gluten-free is a great way to lose weight, many American’s are jumping on board without doing much research. Just because your local supermarket is selling more of a product (and at higher prices) doesn’t mean it’s the healthiest option for you.
Going gluten-free can also back fire on individuals trying to lose weight who aren’t allergic. Not only is it expensive to eat gluten-free but as stated earlier, most of these products add in excess sugar, fat, and salt. Eating a gluten-free diet also drastically limits your food options and can make dieting harder and people more likely to overeat in the long run.The key to losing weight isn’t found in any “miracle” diet. Just because you eat gluten-free pizza doesn’t make you any healthier – you’re still eating pizza. Losing weight is about eating less calories, getting enough fiber, and not drastically eliminating anything from your diet in an attempt to lose weight faster. This goes back to my post about carbs and how they are still important. Whole wheat grains provide many nutrients. Without these it can be harder for individuals to sustain blood sugar levels which can induce headaches, make you moody, and extremely lethargic.
Gluten-free foods aren’t a solution to eating the same foods you love without the guilt. In most cases, you’re not only eating the same calories but they are also packed with less nutrients (and more fat calories). In comparing gluten free bread to regular – regular bread continually has more fiber, less sodium, and more protein. Proponents may argue that gluten-free has less calories, which may be true, but those calories are “empty” and lack important nutrients. If you are going to eat a piece of bread, you might as well eat one that’s 110 calories and chalked full of the fuel your body needs instead of eating a 70 calorie piece that will leave you feeling hungry and more likely to overeat or grab something sugary.
So what’s my ultimate message here? It won’t seriously hurt you to eat a gluten-free product, but if you don’t HAVE to, there isn’t a real benefit to buying and eating these products. The only thing that will get smaller from eating gluten-free if you’re not allergic is your wallet.