Gluten-Free: Fact or Fiction

Gluten-Free Fact or Fiction

Hello, again! I hope you had a fun-filled weekend and are ready for the (hopefully) short week ahead. I can’t believe it’s almost the 4th of July! Summer is flying by too quickly, in my opinion. I have things lined up every weekend from now ’til September and it seems like the weeks just keep picking up pace, too.

This weekend I made a trip up to the Minneapolis area for a bachelorette party for one of my closest friends from college. Her wedding is in just a few short weeks and if this weekend was any indication of how the wedding will be, I know we’re in for a good time.


I arrived home yesterday completely exhausted from the weekend, so today, instead of a recipe, I’m adding another segment to my “Dietitian Ramblings” collection. This week’s topic: gluten. It’s a topic I hear about often what with the gluten-free craze/fad running rampant now. Here are my professional thoughts on the topic:

Is gluten or wheat “bad” for me? Can I lose weight if stop eating gluten? Will I be healthier if I go gluten-free? These questions and more are common concerns I hear frequently thanks to the barrage of — often misleading —information coming at us every day from the media.

It’s no wonder that sales for gluten-free food and beverages were up to $10.5 billion in 2013 and that 36% of people who eat gluten-free do so for reasons other than sensitivity and 65% do so because they think it’s healthier.

The first question should be: What is gluten? Gluten is a protein found in wheat products, including wheat, rye, and barley. The purpose of gluten is to help provide structure in baked goods and gives bread its elasticity. This makes sense since most gluten-free products are usually flat and crispy or very dense.

So, what’s so bad about proteins found in wheat? Nothing, really. Only individuals who have Celiac disease – an autoimmune disease where the body reacts to the gluten – or who have a gluten intolerance would benefit from staying away from gluten. While a gluten intolerance isn’t life threatening, the discomfort of having gluten can be enough to cause people to stay away from it.

While you may not have a gluten intolerance, the question remains on whether or not it’s a healthy switch from your wheat-based foods. That all depends on what you’re currently eating right now.

On one hand, going gluten-free may help you steer clear of the processed foods and packaged desserts that have gluten hidden away in them. A diet filled with refined grains, such as white bread and pasta, can lead to inflammation, obesity, and chronic diseases. If a gluten-free diet helps you eliminate these, then sure, maybe a gluten-free diet is what you need to be healthier. Choosing naturally gluten-free whole foods will help you start feeling noticeably better – whether you’ve made the decision to be strictly gluten-free or not.

However, because so many individuals are going gluten-free, companies are providing more products for you to choose from now, from cookies and pastries to refined grained pastas and breads. If you switch from gluten-containing cookies to gluten-free cookies, both of which are full of added sugar and refined grains, you’re not eating healthier or benefiting yourself. Not to mention, gluten-free products often times have more ingredients added in to reach the same consistency we are used to.

The same concept applies if a vegetarian ate almost only grains and carbohydrate sources, leaving out the fruits and vegetables — which hardly counts as a “vegetarian”. While the concept of following a vegetarian diet can be a good one (if followed the way it’s intended), in reality, it can do little more than leave you with an unbalanced lifestyle.

My suggestion is this: If you don’t have to eat gluten-free for dietary reasons, rather than restricting yourself to a limited number of gluten-free grains and feeling deprived in order to “be healthier”, opt for a well-balanced diet that includes whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and lean sources of protein most of the time. And your dessert – well, that can be a cookie with or without gluten. Your call.