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Gluten-Free Diet | Pros & Cons

  •   Danielle L’Ami

Ever wondered if you might be better off with a gluten-free diet? Here are the pros, cons and considerations.

An image of gluten powder to illustrate Gluten-Free Diet | Pros & Cons

Gluten-Free Diet | Pros & Cons

In the past decade, one particular book entitled Wheat Belly by Dr. William Davis hit the public by storm. This book started everyone questioning wheat and whether or not they should be eating it. Suddenly, it seemed, everybody was claiming they had gluten sensitivities or intolerance.

But what does gluten intolerance even mean? And if you do choose to follow a gluten-free diet, what will this determine in your overall nutrition? Will it affect your weight, sleep, and how challenging is this diet or lifestyle to maintain? Let’s dig deeper into this controversial topic and answer all the questions you may have about a gluten-free diet.

What is Gluten?

When we first look at gluten, we think wheat. That means that if you are gluten-intolerant, perhaps even have celiac disease, you will avoid wheat because consuming it can lead to damage in the small intestine.

What many may not realize is that gluten hides in many processed foods and other products, even some toothpaste can contain gluten. This means that those with gluten intolerance or sensitivity will want to be careful when consuming certain products. Oats, rice, and even ice cream, for example, often say they may contain gluten, so read the label before consuming. But why is this, when these products aren’t wheat?

According to celiac.org, gluten is a general name for the protein found in wheat products such as farro, semolina, etc., this also includes rye and barley. Gluten acts like glue. It helps food to hold its shape. This is why it is found in so many processed foods.  

How to Know If You Are Gluten-Sensitive?

Chances are, if you have celiac disease, you will know it. But often, those who have sensitivities aren’t always sure, particularly if they aren’t even aware of what food they are eating that is causing them discomfort.

Healthline.com discusses signs that may indicate a person is gluten-intolerant. Signs include the following:

·         Skin problems

·         Mood changes

·         Gastrointestinal issues

·         Discomfort with bowel movements

·         Fatigue

·         Depression and anxiety

·         Unexplained weight loss

·         Iron-deficiency

·         Auto-immune disorders

·         Joint and muscle pain

·         Arm and leg numbness

It is important to note that these symptoms could relate to other conditions. But if you find yourself suffering from one or many of the above, you may want to discuss it with your doctor.

Choosing to Follow a Gluten-Free Diet

Maybe you have discovered through tests that you have a gluten intolerance, maybe you just don’t like the way gluten makes you feel. But for whatever reason you choose to go gluten-free, it’s important to have a good understanding of what this could mean to you and your body.

·         Will You Lose Out on Key Nutrients?

A lot of people wonder if they give up gluten, will they miss out on important nutrients? According to imaware.health, there are four risks to going gluten-free. While these may not affect all, as a lot depends on your original diet, it helps to be aware.

The first is fiber intake. Sadly, only 5% of Americans are getting enough fiber. Add in that the majority get their fiber from wheat, bread, cereals, etc., and cutting this out may lead to a substantial decrease in fiber intake. To make up for this, focus on high quantities of vegetables and fruit, as well as legumes, ground flax, and chia seeds.

The second involves a case study where those who ate gluten were less likely to develop type 2 diabetes. The reason? Some believe this could be related to losing out on important vitamins and nutrients. Coming in as our third risk, losing out on nutrients that are high in wheat varieties can depend heavily on the type of wheat you eat.

For example, while a whole grain bread may contain lots of fiber, iron, zinc, riboflavin, to name a few, if your diet mainly consists of white processed bread, then you may already be deficient. Lastly, a large misconception with going gluten-free is the expectation of weight loss.

We say misconception because if you give up gluten, chances are you could lose weight. The problem is, however, that many choose to replace gluten with gluten-free products. These products are often full of fillers and are higher in calories and sugars. Therefore, be mindful of what you choose to put in your body, and try to stick with whole foods.

·         How Will a Gluten-Free Diet Affect Your Digestion?

For those who suffer from celiac, going gluten-free can drastically improve your digestion. Those who suffer from stomach pain, diarrhea, and nausea have seen great results, including those who suffer from chronic inflammation. Those who don’t suffer from discomfort will need to replace the fiber with alternatives to maintain healthy digestion.

·         Can It Help with Fatigue?

As listed above, those who have celiac disease may also suffer from iron deficiency. As such, fatigue or brain fog is often associated with those who consume gluten. Studies suggest that going gluten-free can show improvement in this fatigue and boost a person’s overall energy.

·         Can It Help with Weight Loss?

As we mentioned, if you choose to replace gluten products with those that are deemed gluten-free, processed foods are still processed foods. And when a company removes one ingredient, they must find other things to replace it with to ensure that it still tastes good.

If you are conscious of what you are putting in your body and not just replacing it with sugar and chemicals, then chances are high that you could lose weight. Arguments for leading a healthy overall lifestyle far outweigh simply going gluten-free, however, if weight loss is your goal.

·         Other Concerns

Going gluten-free may lead to other questions. Will it help with sleep, how expensive is it, and even how hard is a gluten-free diet to maintain? Concerning sleep, if you find yourself often fatigued, then cutting out gluten may very well help with sleep issues. That said, more studies need to be conducted.

But is a gluten-free diet more expensive? Once again, that depends on if you are using gluten-free products as a replacement for gluten-rich foods. For example, buying gluten-free bread over regular bread is often more expensive. However, choosing to forgo a replacement and instead consume more vegetables, legumes, etc., you will find yourself likely paying about the same.

Maintaining a gluten-free diet is hard. Particularly if you are deeply committed. This is because gluten is hidden in many food products and can be challenging to avoid. This will also require you to be more prepared with your meal plans.

Have substitutes at the ready, such as gluten-free flour versus regular flour if you choose to do some baking. You will also have to speak up if you decide to go to a restaurant. Do your research first and pick places that are known for having gluten-free substitutes.

Lastly, many often wonder what will happen if they eat gluten-free for a while and then return to a normal diet. This depends on your level of sensitivity. Some people do it as a detox and find that they feel better without gluten. Others find that after giving it up, they don’t notice any change.

If you took a test that shows gluten as your enemy, chances are reintroducing it will only lead to the same old or even worse symptoms. If you are unsure, remove gluten for some time and re-introduce it; you will have your answer of how sensitive you are to it within 24 hours.

Final Thoughts

Those who can’t tolerate gluten will often feel a sense of relief when they no longer consume it. And if somehow, by accident, it creeps back into their diet, they are almost immediately aware. Some choose to give up gluten because although their symptoms are minimal, they prefer avoiding it.

Overall, if you suspect you may have a gluten intolerance, a food journal is a great tool to use to help you keep track of how food makes you feel. If you suspect that gluten may not agree with you, seek professional advice from a health specialist.

In the end, if you do choose to follow a gluten-free diet, keep in mind the following. Although concerning conditions should improve, there could be other culprits, so listen to your body. Going gluten-free works best when you are following a healthy lifestyle, one that includes a variety of wholesome food and plenty of exercise and water.

 

Author
Danielle L’Ami

Danielle L’Ami is a logophile who writes her passion and loves to connect with others through her thoughts and personal experiences. When she is not writing, you can find her watching hockey with her husband, torturing her children with new recipes, or practicing yoga to keep herself balanced.

My Toolbox Genomics empowers individuals in their healthcare journey by creating reports focused on genetic predispositions derived from published research. Test results and suggestions are intended to lead to consultation with one’s healthcare practitioner. MyTBG reports do not diagnose disease or medical conditions. Any lifestyle changes should result from consultation with qualified healthcare practitioners.