Is gluten-free really healthier?


Going on gluten free diets is something that people suffering from celiac disease have little choice but to do in order to keep from triggering attacks in the small intestine that come from eating the proteins found in wheat, rye and barley.

However, in recent years going gluten free has been increasingly regarded as a healthier option as celebrities take it up as part of their healthy regimens.

So the question that begs to be asked is whether or not a gluten free diet is really a good way to stay healthy.

For those suffering from celiac disease, it's a given that eliminating gluten from their diet is a good course of action. But for all others, there are things that need to be considered. Here are just a few of them: 

  1. Losing out on vitamins and minerals from whole wheats that contain gluten. A 2005 report from the American Dietetic Association found that gluten-free items are low on viotamin B vitamins, calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium and fiber so going on a gluten free diet even if you don't have to means that your body is losing out on the opportunity to get these nutrients from natural foods.
  2. There is no evidence that going gluten free actually helps people lose weight. There are other factors to consider when measuring the effectiveness of a gluten free diet. Cutting back on fiber does not immediately translate to losing inches off your waistline. "If people lose weight on a gluten-free diet, it might be because they're cutting calories, eating less processed food or sweets, or cutting portions of starchy foods like pasta and bread. Instead of a cookie, they're eating an apple. Instead of pasta, they're eating a high-fiber, gluten-free whole grain like quinoa. Eating more fiber helps satiety and may aid in weight loss," said Samantha Heller, R.D., senior clinical nutritionist at NYU Langone Medical Center.
  3. Gluten free products are more expensive. Expect to make a bigger dent on your wallet when you opt for gluten free products. Most of the extra cost usually goes to securing certification and meeting food standards from regulating bodies.  So people shouldn't make the mistake of thinking that buying more expensive food products necessarily equates with buying better health.
  4. Gluten free products may not always be gluten free after all. Based on a study published by the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 5 percent of 158 products they looked at that were being marketed as gluten free failed to meet the standards set by the FDA and may were manufactured using the same equipment used for wheat or other gluten-containing products. Some products like energy bars also use malt, malt syrup or malt extract which is more or less sourced from barley because of the mistaken notion that selling the product as gluten free only means that they need to test less than 20 ppm gluten.

As such, health experts have warned that there is no basis to say that gluten is bad for people's health much in the same way as carb has been vilified among dieters.

"Unfortunately, talk show hosts and celebrities are able to amplify such messages while having little to no health or nutrition credentials. There is no research to support gluten-free diets for anyone other than those affected by celiac disease," Lisa Cimperman, a clinical dietitian at the University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, said.

In other words, the jury is still out on this one.