Gluten-Free Diet: Is it Right For You?

Does it pay to go on a gluten-free diet when you do not have gluten intolerance? What does gluten-free food actually mean, and is it right for you? These are questions that may have crossed your mind with all the “gluten-free” buzz that has been happening as of late. Along with the questions: is it actually a healthier option? Will it make me lose weight? Let’s try to answer some of them, shall we? 🙂

What is Gluten

First, let’s talk about gluten. Gluten is a protein found in certain grains as wheat, barley and rye, and triticale which is a hybrid of wheat and rye. [1] It is the protein that gives the food a gummy and elastic quality, and is important protein in making baked goods as it gives it its nice structure.

How does it affect people?

Gluten is the only protein in food that cannot be fully digested. As the food goes through our digestive system, this indestructible molecule can slip through the intestinal walls. And for people who have Celiac disease, this can cause intestinal inflammation. [2]

Our small intestines have what we call villi which are finger-like projections in the walls of the small intestines, 0.5 to 1.6 millimeters long.  These villi collectively form a “brush border” facilitating nutrient absorption from the food we eat as it passes through the small intestine. [5] In people with Celiac disease, gluten irritates the lining in the small intestine, and causes the immune system to attack the villi, damaging it over time. As a result, nutrients go through our system without getting properly absorbed. This in turn can cause malnutrition.[3]

Purpose of Gluten-Free Diet

Intolerance to gluten ranges from gluten sensitivity (non-Celiac gluten intolerance) to Celiac disease.  A gluten-free diet is essential for people with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity for its treatment. A gluten-free diet can be beneficial for other conditions, as well, like IBS or irritable bowel syndrome being that a gluten-free diet is also classified as a low FODMAP Diet ( Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols), a diet that is helpful for people with IBS.

However, an important thing to note is that worrying about gluten is not at all material to those without these conditions, since gluten doesn’t affect them in the same way.

I Don’t Have Gluten Intolerance: What’s in it for me?

Since in a gluten-free diet, one would need to eliminate certain grains, it is a risk that you could miss out on the nutritional benefits of a well-balanced diet. Wheat, barley and rye containing foods, especially in their wholegrain format offer important nutritional benefits. Gluten-free processed foods refined to make them gluten free has the disadvantage of stripping grains of their essential parts, making them have less fiber, vitamins and minerals as compared to whole grains.

However, should your choice of a gluten-free diet involve you switching to more non-processed food, opting for food that are naturally gluten-free like plain fruits, vegetables, nuts, lentils, beans, that you wouldn’t consume on your normal diet, then this might prove beneficial. However, as gluten containing food may contribute to a nice balanced diet, then a better choice would be to eliminate processed food from your diet instead, regardless of gluten content.

Will a gluten-free diet help me lose weight?

Being smart in your choices pays, especially when introduced with  diet concepts that are unfamiliar. It is very easy to fall into the trap of thinking a certain diet will help you lose weight, without proper research and effort to be informed. Since the gluten-free diet only aims to eliminate the protein gluten, properties of food that will affect your weight need to be taken into account before deciding to get into this type of diet, and any other diet for that matter, with weight loss in mind. Look at the calorie content of food, for refined carbs, for unhealthy fats in your diet instead.

Those who claim gluten-free diet helped them lose weight benefit from it by incidentally removing processed food from their diet, regardless of gluten content. Gluten-free food and weight loss are not synonymous, unless it helps you to “get rid of the junk” and eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains that are naturally gluten-free, as mentioned by Shelley Case, one of North America’s premier experts on the gluten-free diet. [4]

Bottom line: Gluten-free diet is the right diet for those with gluten-intolerance and non-celiac gluten sensitivity, and certain conditions like IBS. Gluten-free diet can incidentally be healthier if it eliminates processed food from your diet. However, in some cases it could be less beneficial if it causes one to eat more processed food stripped of nutrients. A gluten-free diet should not be seen as a weight loss diet since what is removed in the diet is mainly gluten. And depending on how much nutrients is eliminated and junk food added when it is processed, gluten-free food can either be healthier or less healthy than conventional gluten-containing food.

References:

1- Boyles, S. (2012, February 17). Gluten Sensitivity: Fact or Fad? Retrieved November 20, 2017, from https://www.webmd.com/diet/news/20120220/gluten-sensitivity-fact-or-fad

2 – Gluten-free diet: What’s allowed, what’s not. (2014, November 25). Retrieved November 20, 2017, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/gluten-free-diet/art-20048530

3 – Bradford, A. (2015, December 10). Gluten-Free Diet: Benefits & Risks. Retrieved November 20, 2017, from https://www.livescience.com/53061-gluten-free-diet-facts.html

4 – Helms, J., MS, RD. (2012, September 6). Will Going Gluten Free Help You Lose Weight? [Web log post]. Retrieved November 20, 2017, from https://blogs.webmd.com/food-and-nutrition/2012/09/will-going-gluten-free-help-you-lose-weight.html

5 – Moreau, J. (Eds.). (n.d.). Digestive System, Enzymes, Absorption in the Small Intestine. Retrieved November 20, 2017, from https://scienceaid.net/biology/humans/digestion.html

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Gluten-Free by Gerald.ph

Gluten-free delivery in Metro Manila and the Philippines. Available at glutenfree.ph and shop.gerald.ph/glutenfree

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