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Gluten: To Eat or Avoid Like the Plague?

Updated on December 30, 2019
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Fredda Branyon has dedicated her life to the advancement of complementary medicine.

Gluten is a form of protein found in wheat, barley, rye, graham flour, and a multitude of other derivatives. Despite the exaggeration of Hollywood fads, gluten is not an infectious epidemic. However, it is a leading cause of food intolerance among men, women, and children who suffer from a hypersensitivity called celiac disease.

The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (now known as Beyond Celiac) noted that approximately 1 percent of the American population (about 3.19 million people) has celiac disease, and that 83 percent (2.6 million people) of these individuals remain undiagnosed. Further, DMR Business Statistics revealed that the percentage of people who go gluten-free, despite having no history of intolerance or celiac disease, is at a whopping 72 percent.

What are the Benefits of a Gluten-Free Diet?

Why the extreme aversion to gluten, you ask? The primary purpose of a gluten-free diet is to manage celiac disease — an autoimmune and hereditary disorder that provokes inflammation in the small intestines.

Going gluten-free can minimize or eliminate the symptoms of celiac disease, including:

  • Excess lower intestinal gas

  • Chronic diarrhea or constipation

  • Pale, foul-smelling stool

  • Persistent abdominal pain and bloating

  • A low number of red blood cells (anemia)

  • Weakness and fatigue

  • Unexplainable bone and/or joint pain

  • Muscle cramps

  • A tingling sensation or numbness in the legs

  • A painful skin rash

  • Unintended weight loss

  • Missed menstrual periods among women

  • Delayed growth among children

  • Loss of dental enamel or tooth discoloration

In addition, according to Medical News Today, if someone with celiac disease does not stop eating gluten, complexities such as osteoporosis, multiple sclerosis, infertility or impotence, and neurological conditions can develop.

Do You Have Celiac Disease or Gluten Intolerance?

Unlike celiac disease, gluten sensitivity causes short-term discomfort. Shayna Komar, who is a registered and licensed dietician at Piedmont Cancer Wellness, says that there are varying levels of sensitivity and not all have an association with celiac disease. In her own words, “If a client thinks he or she has gluten sensitivity, I recommend trying a gluten-free diet." In most cases, going gluten-free relieves gastrointestinal issues.

What are the Risks of a Gluten-Free Diet?

A growing number of people go gluten-free to trim inches off their waist. Unfortunately, if you cut out gluten without a valid reason like suffering from celiac disease, you are also cutting out vital vitamins and minerals from your diet. Remember, going gluten-free does not always mean you are healthy. For instance, while some pastries are gluten-free, they can still be high in fat, sugar, and calories.

Bottom Line: Is It Just a Fad?

No. Going on a strict gluten-free diet is necessary for health reasons, especially for people with celiac disease. For 3.19 million Americans, consuming gluten harms their intestinal cells, which can cause serious health problems and complications. Conversely, do not remove gluten from your diet because you think it is a "great" weight-loss fad or a way to eat healthier. Unless you are going gluten-free to manage a medical condition, ridding all things wheat from your diet is not recommended. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, carbohydrates should make up 45 to 65 percent of a healthful diet, and gluten is one of its best sources. So, take a bite of that bread with no regrets!

© 2019 Fredda Branyon


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