Gluten-free is trendy, but could your health suffer?
Many celebrities, like Russell Crowe and Gwyneth Paltrow, have tried gluten-free diets to lose weight or to generally feel better.
And for the approximately 18 million Americans who have a gluten sensitivity or the three million who live with Celiac disease, gluten-free is the way to go.
“This diet cuts out gluten, a protein that’s found in barley, wheat, and rye,” said Tracy Warren RDN, LCN, CNSC, a clinical dietician at Cape Cod Hospital. “People who have been diagnosed with celiac, an autoimmune disease, have to eliminate the gluten because their bodies react negatively to the protein and over time can cause damage to their intestines.”
“If you have a gluten intolerance or sensitivity, some of the symptoms that occur after eating gluten can be headache, bloating and diarrhea,” said Warren. “You may want to be tested for a gluten intolerance or allergy, in which case a gluten-free diet may help.”
But, for the rest of those who follow a gluten-free diet or are thinking about it, is it really the way to go?
To follow a gluten-free diet, you will have to say good bye to foods such as pasta, conventional breads, cereals, pizza and beer. And you will need to become a detailed label reader, because gluten is also found in frozen vegetables in sauces, soy sauce and some foods made with natural flavorings. Some vitamins and minerals as well as medications and toothpaste can contain gluten.
“You’re cutting calories and losing weight by removing gluten foods from your diet. That is the main reason you will lose weight,” said Warren.
When it comes down to it, a gluten-free diet can help you lose weight and maybe even make you feel a bit better. But gluten foods can be deficient with some vitamins, minerals and fiber as most are not supplemented made from mostly refined grains, she added.
Wheat provides dietary fiber and “the average American is deficient in fiber,” according to Daniel A. Leffler, MD, MS director of clinical research at the Celiac Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston in a Harvard Health Blog Publication. “Take away whole wheat and the problem gets worse.”
He recommends other grains such as brown rice or quinoa.
“Make sure you add in fruits and vegetables,” said Warren.
Iron, which is found in fortified grains and cereals, is the most common cause of nutritional deficiency and leading cause of anemia in the United States, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Other vitamins found in fortified breads, cereals and grains that must also be replaced on the gluten-free diet are: Vitamin B1 (thiamine), Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) niacin, Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) and folate according to the Academy. These vitamins provide balance in metabolism, energy levels, and help to fight disease and infection.
Vitamin and mineral food sources
Dieters can get their missing nutrients from other natural gluten-free food sources. These include:
- Meat, poultry and fish
- Dairy products
Some good dietary sources of iron are:
- Lean beef, turkey, chicken, lean port and fish
- Dark leafy, green vegetables, such as spinach
- Pinto beans, kidney beans, soybeans and lentils
Food containing B vitamins include:
- Thiamine: Sunflower seeds, black beans, tuna, peas and lentils
- Riboflavin: Mushrooms, cooked spinach, venison and soybeans
- Niacin: Mushrooms, avocados, broccoli, tuna, salmon and chicken breast
- Folate: Green leafy vegetables (spinach, romaine lettuce, turnip green), asparagus, lentils, beets and broccoli
Eating a gluten-free diet on your own is not wise, Warren said. She recommends a visit with your primary care physician who can direct you to either an allergist or a gastroenterologist for further evaluation if you are experiencing any symptoms after ingesting gluten.