Gluten-free labels are everywhere these days, and you may have heard about a friend's success in losing weight by going gluten-free. But do you need to be concerned about the presence of this protein in your daily diet?
Many common foods in our diet contain gluten, a protein found in grains such as wheat, rye and barley that helps food maintain their shape. That protein is an issue for the 2 percent of the population who have celiac disease, a digestive disease that damages the small intestine and interferes with absorption of nutrients from food. When a person with celiac disease eats gluten, the immune system responds by damaging the absorptive surface of the small intestine, making it difficult for the body to absorb nutrients the way it should. While eating foods containing gluten is a problem for persons who have celiac disease, for everyone else, eliminating gluten from your diet is not needed and actually contains some health risk, said Franciscan Health Indianapolis dietitian Yu-Han Huang.
"For general population, it is definitely not necessary," she said. "If you eliminate gluten, means you eliminate the whole-grain group. The whole-grain group has a lot of plenty of vitamin B and fiber, and eliminating the whole group will make you less likable to achieve the fiber and getting those vitamins in your daily intake."
It can, but with a catch.
"Some people will say, 'Well, I follow gluten-free diet. It's claimed to have a weight loss effect,'" Huang said. "That is not true because the reason why that they achieve the weight loss is because of the elimination of the whole-grain group, and that means less amount of caloric intake. The result is having weight loss."
"If you have celiac disease or you have gluten insensitivity, definitely yes, you need to follow a gluten-free diet. But for general public, it is not necessary to follow it." Instead, look to achieve a healthier diet overall by managing portion size and being aware of foods' nutritional content.
If you need help with developing a healthy eating plan, contact a registered dietitian through Franciscan Health.
How much do you know about celiac disease? Take our celiac disease quiz.