Gluten-Free Diet – Helpful or Not?

4 mins
July 5, 2016

Hello! I am Bezalel Adainoo, the author of Stay Well Now. My friends call me Bez. As a professional food scientist, I have been asked many questions by people from different walks of life seeking the right information on what food to eat and how that will affect their health.

Gluten is a mixture of proteins (gliadin and glutenin) found in wheat and other cereal grains like barley, oat, and rye (and foods that contain these cereals). The elastic texture of dough (containing the cereals mentioned above) is as a result of the gluten present in the dough. 

In recent times, this protein complex has become a health concern because it causes an abnormal autoimmune response in some people which can result in the damage of the lining of the small intestine consequently impairing absorption of important nutrients which could lead to infertility, nerve damage, osteoporosis, and seizures. 

This happens in some people because when foods containing gluten reach the gut, the cells of the immune system which comes into contact with the gluten ‘mistakenly’ attack the gluten as if it were bacteria. This invasion on the gluten not only affects gluten but the immune system cells in attacking gluten also attack the walls of the intestines. This autoimmune condition is what is called celiac disease.

The prevalence of celiac disease around the world is 1% and gradually increasing. However, there’s a disproportionate growth in the gluten-free section of the food industry even to the point where healthy people are opting for gluten-free foods. The food industry is now teeming with gluten-free products. Now, almost every shop you walk into has gluten-free this, gluten free that; even restaurants have gluten-free options…it’s a fad now! For people with celiac disease, gluten-free products are a blessing. But for those who have not been diagnosed with celiac disease, is this fairly new trend doing good or harm?

In a study involving 1500 participants, one of the most common reasons for choosing gluten-free foods was ‘no-reason’. There’s also the misconception that gluten is toxic, thus gluten-free is healthier. This fallacy has contributed to a pattern nutrition experts warn could be unhealthy if you have not been diagnosed with celiac disease.

Going gluten-free means forgoing conventional foods like bread, cakes, muffins, couscous, biscuits, cereals, pizza, pasta and several others. You can also find gluten in some unassuming sources such as soy sauce, salad dressings, frozen vegetables in sauces and even some vitamin and mineral supplements. So if you have celiac disease, you might want to be more careful reading food labels.

People with celiac disease will derive the benefits of gluten-free products. Nonetheless for those who do not have celiac disease or any wheat allergy, there’s no substantial evidence proving that gluten-free is healthy. In fact, scientists say there’s a very high chance of you eating more sugar and fat (hence, more calories) when you start going gluten-free. It is clear that going gluten-free for the purpose of losing weight is not plausible. Even people with celiac disease find that they gain weight because; as they eat gluten (before diagnosis) they could overeat without noticing (because the walls of the intestines have been damaged). But once, they switch to a gluten-free diet the walls of the intestines heal and the excess food they may have eaten begins to make them gain weight.

Another concern with going gluten-free when you do not have celiac disease is the risk of nutritional deficiencies and difficulty in the diagnosis of celiac disease when you actually develop one.

It is always advisable to consult a nutritionist or a dietician when deciding to go gluten-free because if you do not have celiac disease or some other wheat allergy, gluten-free diet may be detrimental to your health. What have your experience with gluten and gluten-free products been? Don’t hesitate to share them in the comments section below.