Within the last few years, “gluten-free” labels have been frequently appearing on various product labels, from breads to meats. The big question that most people are afraid to ask: Is gluten-free for me?
It is important to identify what gluten is in the first place. Gluten is a naturally occurring protein found in a grain’s endosperm, which is a type of tissue produced in seeds that are ground to make flour. Wheat, barley and rye are examples of grains that contain gluten. The gluten-free label is important for people with gluten intolerance/allergies, such as celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, gluten intolerance, “the gluten rash,” gluten ataxia and wheat allergies. Two of these conditions are auto-immune diseases. For example, celiac disease is when your immune system is triggered by gluten to attack the lining of your small intestine, which eventually leads to the atrophy of the lining in your small intestine. About 1 percent of Americans have celiac disease, according to the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center.
If a gluten-free diet is required for people with the conditions stated above, why is it often recommended for those without these conditions? And why have people taken it upon themselves to become gluten-free? According to Joseph Murray of the Mayo Clinic, before 2009, celiac-disease rates steadily climbed as medical professionals became more aware of the condition itself; however, most professionals are unsure why many people who aren’t diagnosed with celiac disease “feel better” without gluten. According to research done at the Monash University in Australia in 2014, non-celiac/gluten-sensitive patients who received the same diet in the baseline and during treatments (meaning both meals were low in gluten) still experienced a worsening in symptoms. What is often overlooked is that many people who are on gluten-free diets eat fewer carbs overall, which also affects how people feel.
Researchers at Harvard and Columbia recently concluded that “people without celiac disease should not be encouraged to adopt gluten-free diets.” Although whole grains are healthier than white-flour products, blindly avoiding gluten can increase your risk of heart disease, the researchers determined.
While research about gluten-free diets is still ongoing, it is important that people consult with their doctor or accredited dietitian before pursuing any diets; unless, of course, you have been diagnosed with a gluten intolerance. Gluten-free diets can be beneficial in that they help you control your carb and processed-food intake, but that can also be done by developing balanced eating habits! If you are already on a gluten-free diet, keep track of your Vitamin B and iron levels.
Megan Niño is a kinesiologist and personal trainer who trains at 12th Street Gym. She is an energetic and positive person, who prides herself on teaching others to find empowerment in their lives through fitness.