Do you know that you can choose to follow a gluten-free diet even if you do not have celiac disease?
A gluten-free diet involves excluding foods that contain protein gluten like wheat, rye, and barley.
A gluten-free diet is often recommended for individuals with celiac disease.
However, it has a number of health benefits as well.
In some cases, individuals have gluten intolerance and celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that damages the small intestines.
On the other hand, nonceliac gluten sensitivity is a food intolerance that leads to discomfort after eating gluten.
However, a market survey suggests that up to 30% of adults in the United States are trying to reduce or eliminate gluten from their diet.
While most of them are not even suffering from celiac disease.
For individuals without a gluten intolerance, does a gluten-free diet have any health benefits or drawbacks?
Keep on reading.
When is Gluten Harmful?
If you have celiac disease, then consuming gluten can trigger your immune system to attack and damage the lining of your small intestines.
With repeated exposure to gluten, your body becomes less able to absorb nutrients into the bloodstream.
Some of the complications that can arise if you continue to consume gluten are:
Moreover, it is important to note that celiac disease affects about 1% of people in the United States or 1 in 133 people.
A large percentage of people with this disease may know that they even have this condition.
On the other hand, nonceliac gluten sensitivity is considered less severe than celiac disease.
Eating gluten will not damage your intestines in this case.
However, you may experience discomfort after eating gluten.
Symptoms of gluten sensitivity often arise outside the digestive system.
These include headaches, brain fog, joint pain, and numbness in the extremities.
Researchers are of the view that gluten sensitivity is more common than celiac disease.
Estimates vary, however, it may affect about 0.5% to 13% of individuals.
A strict gluten-free diet is not only effective for celiac disease but gluten sensitivity as well.
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Is Gluten Sensitivity Real?
Many countries recognize that nonceliac gluten sensitivity is a problem, however, this is a new area of study.
Researchers do not yet understand this condition, its risk factors, or how common it is.
Moreover, some researchers suggest that rather than reacting to gluten in foods, you may be sensitive to
- fermented oligosaccharides
- polyols FODMAPs.
These are other non-gluten proteins found in wheat.
FODMAPs are present in gluten-containing grains.
This can explain why people with IBS show improvement in symptoms when they begin a gluten-free diet, according to studies.
While there are many documented cases of possible nonceliac gluten sensitivity, more research is required.
This can help scientists understand the causes, symptoms, and effects of gluten sensitivities.
Foods to Avoid on a Gluten-Free Diet
Avoiding gluten completely can be challenging.
This is because it is found in a number of common ingredients that you add to your food.
The following are the main sources of gluten in the diet:
What-based foods like wheat bran, wheat flour, spelt, durum, Kamut, and semolina.
Moreover, barley, rye, triticale, malt, and Brewer’s yeast also contain gluten.
Furthermore, the following foods may have ingredients containing gluten that is added to them.
Bread: All wheat-based bread
Pasta: All wheat-based pasta
Cereals: unless they are labeled as gluten-free
Baked Goods: contains cookies, cakes, muffins, pizza, bread crumbs, and pastries.
Snack Foods: candy, muesli bars, crackers, pre-packaged convenience foods, roasted nuts, flavored chips, popcorn, and pretzels.
Sauces: soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, hoisin sauce, marinades, salad dressings.
Beverages: beer, flavored alcoholic beverages
Other food items: couscous, broth unless it contains that label gluten-free.
One of the easiest ways to avoid gluten is to eat unprocessed, single-ingredient foods.
Otherwise, you should always make sure to read the food labels of you food items you buy.
Oats are naturally gluten-free, however, they are often contaminated with gluten.
This is because they might be processed in the same factory as wheat-based foods.
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Foods you can Eat on a Gluten-free Diet
There are a number of gluten-free options that will allow you to enjoy a healthy and delicious meal.
The following foods are naturally gluten-free:
Meats and Fish: all meats and fish except the ones that are battered or coated meats
Eggs: all types of eggs are naturally gluten-free
Dairy: plain dairy products like milk, yogurt, and cheese.
However, flavored dairy products may have added ingredients that contain gluten.
Therefore, you will need to read the food labels.
Fruits and Vegetables: all types of fruits and vegetables are free of gluten.
Grains: Quinoa, rice, buckwheat, tapioca, sorghum, corn, millet, amaranth, arrowroot, teff, and oats.
However, make sure they have the label of gluten-free on them.
Starches and Flours: Potatoes, potato flour, corn, corn flour, chickpea flour, soy flour, almond meal/ flour, coconut flour, and tapioca flour.
Nuts and Seeds: seeds and nuts of all types
Spreads and Oils: vegetable oils and butter
Herbs and Spices: Herbs and spices of all types
Beverages: most types of beverages except for beer unless it contains the label gluten-free.
However, if you are unsure about the food containing gluten, it is best to read the food labels.
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Health Benefits of Gluten-Free Diet
A gluten-free diet has a number of benefits, especially if you have celiac disease.
Let’s discuss them as follows:
Help to relieve Digestive Symptoms
In most cases, you would want to try a gluten-free diet to treat digestive problems.
These problems are:
- fatigue, and many other symptoms.
Studies indicate that following a gluten-free diet can help ease digestive symptoms.
This is applicable for both celiac and non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
Another study suggests that if you have celiac disease then following a gluten-free diet for 6 months can help.
The diet will help to significantly reduce stomach pain and the frequency of diarrhea, nausea, and other symptoms.
Reduce Chronic Inflammation
Inflammation is a natural process that helps your body to treat and heal infections.
However, in some cases, inflammation can increase and last for weeks, months, or even years.
This is chronic inflammation and can lead to a number of health problems.
A gluten-free diet can help to reduce chronic inflammation in those with celiac disease.
Different studies suggest that a gluten-free diet can help to reduce markers of inflammation like antibody levels.
Moreover, it can help to treat gut damage due to gluten-related inflammation.
On the other hand, if you are non-celiac gluten sensitive, it can also result in low levels of inflammation.
However, it is not clear whether a gluten-free diet can help reduce inflammation or not.
Other Health Benefits
Some of the other health benefits are:
One of the important things to note that is if you have celiac disease, then you will often feel tired, sluggish, or experience brain fog.
These symptoms may be due to nutritional deficiencies due to damage to the gut.
For instance, an iron deficiency can lead to anemia, which is often common in celiac disease.
Thus, if you have this disease, then switching to a gluten-free diet can help to boost your energy levels and stop feeling tired and sluggish.
According to a study, about 66% of the participants complained about fatigue.
After following a gluten-free diet, only 22% of them still experienced fatigue.
Help Lose Weight
When you start following a gluten-free diet, it is usually to observe weight changes.
This is because following this diet means that you eliminate junk food.
These foods are often replaced by fruits, veggies, and lean protein.
However, it is also important to avoid processed “gluten-free” foods like cakes, pastries, and snacks.
This is because they can quickly add a lot of calories to your diet.
Therefore, focus on eating plenty of whole, unprocessed foods like fruits, veggies, and lean proteins.
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Drawbacks of Gluten-Free Diet
Some of the drawbacks of a gluten-free diet are:
If you have celiac disease, then there is a risk of several nutritional deficiencies.
These include deficiencies in fiber, iron, calcium, vitamin B12, folate, zinc, vitamin A, D, E, and K, and more, according to studies.
Moreover, if you are on a gluten-free diet, then it may also not help treat these deficiencies.
One of the common side effects of a gluten-free diet is constipation.
This is because this diet eliminates many popular sources of fiber like bread, bran, and other wheat-based products.
Additionally, many gluten-free substitutes are low in fiber and this can be another reason why constipation is common when on a gluten-free diet.
Following a gluten-free diet can be a little difficult as it is expensive.
Research shows that gluten-free foods are roughly two and a half times more expensive than their regular counterparts.
If you are tight on budget, try to eat more whole, one-ingredient food as they cost less.
Can make Socializing Difficult
Many social gathering involves food and it can make it difficult to socialize if you are following a gluten-free diet.
According to studies, roughly 21% of individuals with celiac disease avoid social events so that they can stick to a gluten-free diet.
However, with just a little extra precaution, you can still socialize.
There are a number of helpful tips that you can follow when on a gluten-free diet.
Some of these are:
- practice reading food labels so that you can identify gluten-free foods
- if you are on a gluten-free diet, tell your friends so that they can choose a place with gluten-free options
- buy a gluten-free cookbook that can help you to be more creative in cooking
- if you are traveling abroad, make sure to do some research on places where you can eat and shop. In some cases, however, plan your diet around plenty of wholes, single-ingredient foods.
- if you share a kitchen with friends or family members, make sure to use separate cooking utensils as it will help to avoid contamination of food
- if you are visiting your family, take foods like gluten-free bread and pasta.
On the other hand, if you have celiac disease to gluten sensitivity, you will not need to follow a gluten-free diet.
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The Bottom Line
I most cases, you can follow a gluten-free diet without any negative effects, however, if you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, then you will need to avoid gluten to avoid its harmful effects on your body.
While a gluten-free diet is restricting, there are different healthy and delicious options. Make sure to eat plenty of wholes, single-ingredient foods as they will keep your stomach happy and promote health.