Is a gluten-free diet right for you?

Sandra May  |  1/23/2017 3:21:33 PM

January is the time of year when many people set goals to start anew. If your goal for 2017 is to eat better and lose weight by eating a gluten-free diet, then you may want to read on.

Gluten is the name of a protein found in cereal grains, such as wheat, rye, barley and triticale (a cross between rye and barley). Gluten gives dough its elasticity which affects the chewy texture of baked foods. It is the component that gives bread its structure.

Some people cannot tolerate gluten, namely those who have celiac disease. Celiac disease is a serious genetic autoimmune disorder. When gluten is ingested, the body produces an immune response that attacks the small intestine. These attacks can lead to long-term damage to the small intestine, which can seriously affect nutrient absorption. Some symptoms of celiac disease include stomach bloating and pain, chronic diarrhea, vomiting, weight loss and fatigue. According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, it is estimated that one in 100 people worldwide are affected by the disease. Those who have celiac disease must adhere to a gluten-free diet for life.

Some people suffer from gluten sensitivity or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, which is less severe than celiac disease. Those who are sensitive to gluten experience diarrhea, fatigue, bloating, and nausea but don’t have the immune response that leads to intestinal damage.

The gluten-free diet that those with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity must follow is now the trend for weight loss. Many food products labeled gluten-free can be easily found on grocery store shelves everywhere. Also, many restaurants offer some gluten-free items on their menus.

Eating gluten-free can help with weight loss to some extent. Replacing processed foods containing refined carbohydrates (i.e., crackers, pasta, muffins) with whole grains that don’t contain gluten, such as oats, quinoa or brown rice, can lead to some weight loss. The truth is that foods labeled gluten-free may contain additional fat and sugars, and thus more calories, to make gluten-free products tastier. This could actually lead to weight gain.

Removing products that contain gluten can cause nutrient deficiencies. In general, whole grain foods are rich in vitamins and minerals, including B vitamins, vitamin D, iron and fiber.

As with any trendy diet, eliminating foods or entire food groups, especially foods you enjoy, can be difficult to maintain. If you are trying to lose weight in a healthful way, follow the recommendations of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the USDA MyPlate: make half your plate fruits and vegetables, vary your protein routine, move to low-fat or fat-free dairy foods, and make half your grains whole grains. If you feel you have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, contact your doctor for a clear diagnose.

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