Myths and Facts about Gluten

Gluten free baked goods


Food trends come and go, but it seems the gluten-free (GF) trend is here to stay. Let’s separate a few facts about gluten from the myths.  

For most individuals, consuming gluten occurs without consequence.  However, for 3.2 million individuals with celiac disease (CD) and 6.5 to 19.5 million individuals affected by non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), consumption is more problematic. CD is a genetic, autoimmune disorder that occurs in reaction to the ingestion of gluten. NCGS, while not well understood, is not an autoimmune disorder yet causes discomforting gastrointestinal symptoms similar to CD. Adherence to a GF diet is the sole treatment for both conditions.  While adherence for many is essential, the decision for others to choose GF may be clouded with a bit of confusion.  Below are a few myths and facts to help clear the air. 

Myth – A gluten-free diet helps with weight loss

Fact – Not necessarily. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and triticale. Gluten helps food maintain shape and is added to emulsify, stabilize or add texture. To compensate for the absence of gluten-free products, higher amounts of sugar and fats are added. Substituting processed products on the basis that GF is healthier is misleading as they often contain more sugar, fat and calories.  While there is no evidence to support the avoidance of gluten for weight loss, choosing GF may increase the consumption of whole, unprocessed foods such as fruits, vegetables, and legumes for overall health.

Myth – A gluten-free diet is expensive.

Fact – It can be. Regardless of medical necessity, many individuals launch into a GF diet with little knowledge of what foods contain gluten. The rise of gluten-free merchandising has paralleled the growth of CD and NCGS; it is wonderful to see such a vast variety in the supermarket.  However, to start out many individuals choose these products to replace their gluten-containing foods and often have a bit of sticker shock.  GF eating can be quite affordable with these simple tips. 

  • Buy bulk.  Stock up on GF whole grains such as quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth, and millet. Add in beans, legumes and nuts too.
  • Don’t skimp on produce!  Fruits and vegetables are a terrific way to add variety, seasonality, and nutrition to your menu. Compare flyers and shop around. 
  • Make your own flour.  Throw a few cups of those whole grains in a food processor and pulse until pulverized. Store in the freezer for longer use. Great for making homemade GF bread.

Myth – A gluten-free diet only benefits those with Celiac Disease

Fact – It depends. The GF diet was initially anticipated for individuals diagnosed with CD. However, as emerging research continues to discover overlapping symptomology among the various inflammatory conditions and a sensitivity to gluten, the diet also proves beneficial for those with non-celiac-related conditions. With elimination of dietary gluten, symptoms have been shown to improve among individuals with conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome or small intestinal bowel overgrowth. 

The decision to choose a gluten-free lifestyle may be a considerable modification, but with the support of a dietitian, the transition can feel seamless. For a personalized dietary assessment, make an appointment

By Ashley Judson, MS, 2017-2018 Dietetic Intern



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