Gluten has become one of the largest nutrition-based debates over the last decade or so. It is one of the few nutritional topics that everyone seems to have a strong opinion about, regardless of their knowledge on the topic. You have people who are die-hard gluten-free and blame gluten for every disease and ailment. Then you have people who believe that gluten free is a fad, and has nothing more than a placebo effect on your health.
It’s not that people question the existence of celiac disease. People can understand that a small percentage of the population is allergic to grains. What the general public seems to have a hard time accepting is that gluten intolerance affects the majority of the population.
Skepticism is understandable. Dietary fads change as often as any other fad. Whether a no fat, high fat, no carb, high protein, or some other diet is sweeping the nation, these diets tend to come and go. The science itself is forgotten, and people follow what is prevalent in pop culture at the time.
Gluten free diets have become such a big joke that even Jimmy Kimmel did a segment about it back in 2014. He asked people who maintain a gluten-free diet if they know what gluten is:
This is when pop-culture does a disservice to the health industry. People start blindly following a diet because it is popular and not because it is medically shown to be the best diet for them.
We need to look at the science. What is the proof that a gluten-free diet is actually good for you?
We are going to do just that, taking an in-depth look at gluten, gluten intolerance, and if a gluten free diet is good for you.
Let’s start at the beginning and define the terms we are using:
Gluten: Gluten is a general name for the sticky proteins found in wheat, rye, barley, and triticale. Because gluten acts as glue (gluten comes from the Latin word for glue), it holds food together, maintaining its shape.
Gluten Sensitivity (non-celiac gluten sensitivity): The Celiac Disease Foundation defines gluten sensitivity as, “a condition with symptoms similar to those of celiac disease that improves when gluten is eliminated from the diet.
“People with gluten sensitivity can experience symptoms such as “foggy mind”, depression, ADHD-like behavior, abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, headaches, bone or joint pain, and chronic fatigue when they have gluten in their diet, but other symptoms are also possible. While these are common symptoms of celiac disease, these individuals do not test positive for celiac disease or for a wheat allergy.”
1 in 7 people are sensitive to gluten but test negative for celiac disease. They suffer many of the same symptoms and are known as Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitive (NCGS).
If you’re wondering if you have a gluten allergy or sensitivity, Positive Health Wellness has put together a great visual aid that outlines gluten allergy symptoms.
Several health and cognitive conditions have shown ties to gluten. The science is still conflicting. There are conflicting studies about a direct connection between these conditions and whether a gluten-free diet is beneficial.
Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is increasingly frequent in people with fibromyalgia. Studies show that people suffering from fibromyalgia have decreased symptoms and pain when on a gluten free diet.
However, while studies show that ingestion of gluten products have resulted in many common symptoms of disorders (like fibromyalgia), they have not been confirmed if it is a reaction to the gluten itself, or another component of the grain.
Going gluten-free has also been shown to benefit many people with autism. A study showed that some children with autism showed greater sensitivity to gluten.
Type 1 Diabetes
Celiac disease is more common in type 1 diabetics, but what about non-celiac gluten sensitivity? A study on mice showed that nursing mothers on a gluten-free diet resulted in fewer cases of type 1 diabetes. However, this has yet to have been seen in humans.
One study showed that a recently diagnosed non-celiac type 1 diabetic child, who was put on a gluten-free diet, stabilized his blood sugars and didn’t require insulin. However, this gluten free diet says more about cutting carbs out of his diet more than removing the actual gluten protein. A broader study would have to be conducted to show if a gluten-free diet is actually beneficial for newly diagnosed type 1 diabetics.
High levels of anti-gliadin immunoglobulin G in mothers’ blood circulation have been associated with “an elevated risk for the development of a nonaffective psychosis in offspring.”
One study showed that the number of schizophrenic patients admitted to hospitals correlated with the growth of wheat consumption. Yet, another study showed that gluten sensitivity is not a characteristic of schizophrenia.
Links have been made between gluten free diets and depression. In one study, self-diagnosed non-celiac gluten sensitive patients who suffer from depression showed no adverse gastrointestinal effects from adding gluten to their diet but demonstrated heightened feelings of depression.
Ataxia is a neurological disorder that affects the ability to control gait, balance, and hand-eye coordination. Gluten free diets have shown to decrease these symptoms in patients with ataxia.
Is A Gluten Free Diet Good For You?
Many people have cut gluten out of their diet without understanding what gluten is or does. People have also adopted this diet without questioning if gluten is good for you or not. Instead of directly answering if a gluten-free diet is good for you, we are going to look at if a gluten-free diet is bad for you.
For the most part, gluten-free diets are not bad for you. This obviously depends on what is still in your diet. The removal of gluten from your diet doesn’t make it bad. What makes it bad is when you replace gluten with unhealthy alternatives. Manufacturers are smart and have picked up on the gluten-free trend, producing many “gluten free” products. However, most of these packed foods are still bad for you. They are processed to the max and filled with unhealthy additives.
If you chose to cut gluten from your diet and maintain a good whole food diet, then for most people a gluten free diet isn’t unhealthy. You can get carbs and fibre from plenty of healthy fruits and vegetables. You don’t need grains in your diet. You just have to be smart about what you do put in your diet.
The real danger from going gluten free is when you are trying to fix a health problem without consulting a medical professional. If you have no health issues and chose to go gluten free that is fine. If you are going gluten free to try and fix a health concern like irritable bowels, brain fog, depression, or one of the other possible side effects of gluten sensitivity without consulting a doctor you can run into problems. If you are experiencing any of the signs of GS, talk to your doctor. They can put you on a gluten free diet and monitor if there is an improvement. At the same there may be another serious cause of these symptoms. Trying to fix the problem on your own may keep you from identifying another problem.
Not Everyone Thinks Gluten Is The Problem, Or That A Gluten-Free Diet Is The Solution
Gluten may be a problem for some people, but many doctors think that gluten is not most people’s problem. Yes, going gluten free may make you feel better, but that doesn’t mean that cutting gluten out of your diet was the cure. When you cut gluten out of your diet you are also cutting out all of wheat and grain products. Someone could be allergic to grain or another component of grain. OR, cutting out the high volume of carbohydrates and sugars out of your diet could be making you feel better. The constant burst of sugars from the carbs will cause energy and mood swings, as well as bloating, and weight gain.
Effects of Gluten:
Effects of Wheat:
Gluten Isn’t As Bad As We Think?:
Disclaimer: We are not medical professionals. Consult a doctor before making changes to your diet.