What you need to know about gluten-free diet

You’ve heard of athletes and celebrities raving about the health benefits of the gluten-free diet. You’ve heard them say staying gluten-free has helped them with weight loss, has given them more energy, or has made them feel better overall. You may have also witnessed more and more restaurants and groceries with shelves filled with gluten-free products. What does a gluten-free diet do to the body? Is it for weight loss? Is it just a passing diet fad?

To understand what a gluten-free diet is, let’s define the term gluten. Gluten is a protein you can find in wheat, barley, rye, and triticale. Gluten is a common bread ingredient that gives the dough a gooey texture. Gluten is not only found in bread; it can also be found in everyday foods such cereals, pasta, salad dressings, sauces, soups, chips and cookies, processed meats, and candies. Drinks like beer and even medications may contain gluten.

Gluten-free diet, therefore, is a type of diet that eliminates gluten from all the foods and drinks that you take each day. It is a diet that does not include gluten.

How did the gluten-free diet become so popular?

Now, you may wonder why the gluten-free diet became as popular as it is today. What actually gave rise to the gluten-free diet is a condition called celiac disease. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder wherein the small intestines get inflamed whenever a person eats something with gluten. Gas and bloating, weight loss, weakness, and changes in bowel movements are some of the symptoms of celiac disease.

A gluten-free diet is a proven and valid treatment for people with celiac disease. If left untreated, celiac disease may increase risk for lymphoma, anemia, or osteorporosis. Not getting diagnosed and treated sooner would also mean you are putting other body systems at risk. When a person has an autoimmune disorder like celiac disease, the immune system is triggered not just to attack invaders like gluten, but also healthy cells and tissues in the body.

Going gluten-free is also a treatment for people with gluten sensitivity or intolerance. Gluten intolerance is different from celiac disease. People with gluten intolerance may experience symptoms associated with celiac disease but unlike the latter, it does not damage the tissues or the intestines.

Gluten-free diet is here to stay

According to Celiac Central, about 1 in 133 Americans have celiac disease. WebMD says about 1 in 100 people in the world have this condition. Because gluten-free diet is the only existing and proven treatment for celiac disease to date and considering the number of people who have celiac disease, the gluten-free diet is here to stay. It is not just another diet craze.

Gluten-free foods are also not necessarily healthy. Some gluten-free foods can be processed foods containing gluten-free alternative ingredients that are packed with sugar and calories. They can just be as unhealthy as foods with wheat.

Gluten-free diet comes with nutritional risks. American Dietetic Association reports that most gluten-free diet lacks essential nutrients like Vitamin B, iron, magnesium, calcium, niacin, folate, and fiber. So when going gluten-free, you also have to watch out for the nutritional value of what you are eating.