Main Nutritious Intent Website

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Diet Watch: Gluten-Free

Let me preface this one by saying that eating a gluten free diet is essential for those diagnosed with Celiac Disease (also referred to as Celiac Sprue).  Also, for those that are diagnosed with Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS), a gluten-free diet is beneficial.  However, many people jumping on the gluten-free bandwagon do not fall into either category.  (Gluten is actually the protein found in certain grains that gives texture and body to dough and baked products.)  There is a lot of hype surrounding gluten lately and hype in the media = fad-driven marketing power.  So, if you are diagnosed with either condition, please see a Registered Dietitian as following a gluten-free diet while maintaining optimal health can be challenging. 

For those interested in following it because of all the hype we hear about the majority of people not being able to digest gluten or wheat, here's my review:

Gluten-free Regimen:

Elimination of all gluten-containing products.  Gluten is found in wheat, barley, rye and triticale. 


Increased energy, improved concentration, better digestion, improvements in autism and ADHD.

Assessment from a Registered Dietitian:

Practicality rating: D+

As there are many gluten-free products out there these days as well as many naturally gluten-free products advertising this on their labels, it is easier than ever to go gluten-free.  However, when you really start to look at how many foods do contain gluten (pastas, soy sauce, salad dressings, deli meats, soups, desserts, gravies and even french fries), it becomes very tricky to maintain a truly gluten-free diet.  Think about how many social situations that become problematic: eating out, birthday parties, school lunch, etc.  It can rapidly reduce the variety in one's diet and be frustrating to try to maintain. 

Health Rating: C+

The plus part of the rating is because there are certainly ways to maintain one's health while avoiding gluten - just ask anyone with celiac disease.  But the C part of the rating comes because few people really do go to all the trouble to really balance their diet and compensate for the things they are missing.  Many gluten-free foods are nutritionally inferior to their gluten-containing counterparts and here are deficiencies that can result:
  • Calcium
  • Vitamin D
  • Fiber
  • Iron
  • Thiamin
  • Riboflavin
  • Niacin
  • Folate
So for those seeking greater energy levels, improved concentration, and better digestion - you won't find it if you are anemic (iron or folate deficiencies) and not eating enough fiber (constipation).  For this reason, it is particularly important that children get a confirmed diagnosis before following this diet. 

Sustainability Rating: C-

As I mentioned earlier - there are many people that must sustain this diet life-long due to diagnosed Celiac disease or NCGS.  But that doesn't make it easy or optimal.  As with any diet that restricts or eliminates foods or food groups, one's ability to sustain the diet decreases.  Remember that if you see claims popping up on cereal boxes or other products at your local grocery store, chances are it is a fad-based marketing ploy.  So if it is popular, and hyped up in the media - beware.  Even with the reports of medical studies etc., if you follow the money trail, you'd most likely find bias introduced by those funding or profiting from the study.  For most of us, wheat and gluten isn't a problem whether we completely digest all of it or not.  So think twice before going gluten-free without a medical diagnosis, especially if you are feeding a family and your diet might be spilling over onto your children. 

If you are following a gluten-free diet, please see a registered dietitian so that you can avoid the possible deficiencies and pitfalls inherent to the diet.  

No comments:

Post a Comment