More gluten-free products than ever are popping up on supermarket shelves and they may have you wondering if this diet is right for you. So what is gluten and why are people trying to avoid it?
Gluten is a kind of protein that is found in common grains. Bread, cereal, cookies and crackers are some obvious places gluten can be found. But there are a lot of other foods that may have gluten that you might not suspect, such as soups, deli meats, sauces and beverages such as beer. It even sneaks its way into medications and cosmetic products, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Gluten and celiac disease
People who have a genetic condition called celiac disease need to avoid eating gluten because this protein actually damages their intestines. In these individuals, gluten actually triggers their immune system to attack. But instead of attacking an invading germ, it actually attacks the body’s own tissue, namely the little villi inside the small intestine. Without villi, the person can’t absorb nutrients effectively. This means that no matter how much the person eats, they could end up being malnourished, according to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC).
People with celiac disease might have chronic gastrointestinal symptoms, such as diarrhea, abdominal pain or bloating, among others. Children with celiac disease may also be very irritable and they may not be growing normally.
In adults, celiac disease might not always cause digestive problems. Instead, they might have problems with their bones or joints, anemia, depression or anxiety, seizures, reproductive problems, canker sores or skin problems, according to the NDDIC.
Not everyone who has celiac disease has symptoms. Even if they don’t have symptoms, they may still have damage to their intestines, resulting in malnutrition that can lead to long-term problems, including anemia, osteoporosis, and even certain cancers.
Reasons you may not want to go gluten-free
While it’s clear that people with celiac disease need to avoid gluten, what’s not as clear is what this diet does for the rest of us. Some people may be sensitive to gluten, and going gluten-free may help them avoid symptoms. However, this diet is not for everyone, according to the Harvard Health Blog. If you’re not sensitive to gluten and you give it up, it may just be a more expensive way to eat.
Going gluten-free can actually cause you to miss out on necessary nutrients, in particular folate, which found in fortified grains. Most gluten-free foods are not fortified with folate, according to Fitness Magazine. Deficits in folate can lead to birth defects and heart risks. A gluten-free diet might also be low on other nutrients, including iron, calcium, fiber, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and folate. If you do want to go gluten-free, be sure to take a gluten-free multi vitamin.
Avoiding gluten is a challenge, but it can be done. You still have the option to choose from a host of foods, including beans, seeds and nuts, most dairy products, eggs, meat, fish and poultry, and, of course, fruits and veggies. There are a number of gluten-free grains such as quinoa, flax and cornmeal. And today, more gluten-free products are on the market than ever before, giving you more choices while still protecting your health.