What Are the Benefits of a Gluten-Free Diet?

By: 
Dr. Christopher McGowan
octubre 25, 2022

Since around the early 2000s in the United States, one food component has continued to get more and more attention, especially in social and news media: gluten. The interest in gluten has been driven, in part, by a marked increase in the incidence of gluten allergies. Once thought to be a rare condition, it is now estimated that gluten-related disorders affect around 10% of the population. Yet even beyond any actual diagnosis of a gluten allergy, millions of Americans have gone to great lengths to avoid gluten because they believe it to be fundamentally unhealthy or at odds with their weight loss goals. But are gluten-free diets really the answer for overall health and losing weight? 

What Is Gluten?      

Gluten is a broad term for a type of protein that is found in cereal grains like wheat, rye, spelt, and barley. Gluten is the substance that gives bread dough its stickiness when mixed and the stretchy quality when formed into a loaf or another form. In essence, gluten acts as a binding agent in any food where it is a component. Although gluten usually refers specifically to wheat grains, it is also found in other grains like semolina, durum, and triticale (a blended grain made up of wheat and rye). Gluten is also often added to processed foods like soy sauce, salad dressings, seasoning mixes, flavorings, and some vegan products. 

Is Gluten Actually Bad for You? 

In recent years, the perception of gluten and its effect on health has changed dramatically; many people now fear that it can contribute to the development of a wide variety of medical conditions like schizophrenia, autism, heart disease, and a host of inflammatory problems. The truth is, though, that there is little to no evidence that gluten is actually as dangerous as some make it out to be. A 2017 study of 100,000 people, for instance, found no association at all between long-term dietary gluten intake and heart disease. In fact, the same study found that people may be increasing their risk of heart disease by unnecessarily avoiding whole grains.  

Problems with gluten-containing foods actually affect only about 1% of the population, and the largest segment of this group is people with celiac disease. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that primarily affects the small intestine and is defined by gluten intolerance. With this condition, eating gluten causes an immune system response that attacks the inner lining of the small intestine. This typically manifests as numerous gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhea, constipation, indigestion, bloating, and abdominal pain. Celiac disease can also cause nutrient deficiencies and subsequent lower energy levels and fatigue. Though rarer, there are also some additional conditions associated with gluten:  

  • Nonceliac gluten sensitivity: Nonceliac gluten sensitivity (NSGC) is a term used to describe people who have similar symptoms as celiac disease but without intestinal damage and characteristic antibodies. The reason for the symptoms of NSGC is still not fully understood, and it mostly serves as a label for a condition that is still being studied in earnest. 
  • Wheat allergy: Some people have allergies to gluten or other proteins found in wheat; celiac disease, by contrast, is characterized by an intolerance to gluten exclusively. Also, a wheat allergy includes a number of non-gastrointestinal symptoms like itchiness, hives, and swelling. Wheat allergies are mostly found in children who then outgrow it by the time they reach adulthood. 
  • Dermatitis herpetiformis: Dermatitis herpetiformis is a particular type of skin rash that comes from eating gluten. While it is also an autoimmune response to the consumption of gluten, it doesn’t include any gastrointestinal symptoms. 

What Is Involved in a Gluten-Free Diet?

Based on the current research available, it’s clear that the health benefits of a gluten-free diet are really only applicable to those who have been diagnosed with a gluten-related condition (usually requiring a blood test). Following a gluten-free diet apart from these circumstances is unnecessary and may even be detrimental. For those who do have celiac disease or one of the other conditions noted above, however, switching to this diet will be mainly concerned with avoiding foods that are known to contain gluten. Below are some common examples of foods that don’t contain gluten that can be emphasized instead: 

Foods in their natural, unprocessed forms: 

  • fruits
  • veggies
  • beans, legumes, seeds, and nuts 
  • lean meats, fish, and poultry
  • most dairy products

Alternative grains and starches: 

  • amaranth 
  • buckwheat
  • cornmeal 
  • flax 
  • flour made from rice, soy, corn, or potato 
  • millet 
  • quinoa 
  • sorghum
  • tapioca 

Eating natural, unprocessed foods is an important part of a gluten-free diet, but there is also evidence that it can be beneficial for your overall health and wellness. To develop a diet that fully omits gluten, though, you need to become an avid food label reader. While there are now many gluten-free foods clearly labeled at stores all over the country, there are also many options that surprisingly contain gluten in smaller amounts.  

Eating Gluten-Free: Bottom Line

The popular perception of eating gluten-free is that it can either help you lose weight or improve various aspects of your overall health. The bottom line, though, is that there is no real benefit to adopting the diet if you don’t already have a diagnosed gluten-related condition. However, the typical American diet does tend to be particularly high in sugar and other simple carbohydrates that are known to lead to weight gain and other health problems. So even if a gluten-free diet isn’t the right answer, there can be a benefit to being more mindful about what we eat. 

New Pathways to Weight Loss

Healthy eating is an important part of digestive health, regardless of whether or not you have celiac disease or another form of gluten intolerance. To lose weight, though, it usually takes a different kind of effort. The gluten-free diet is just one example of a seemingly endless array of diets that promise big results yet rarely deliver. Even when people do manage to lose weight, most of the time the pounds end up being regained after six months or a year.

At True You Weight Loss, we are passionate about helping people find long-term success on their weight loss journey. That is why we are proud to offer a new approach to weight loss that doesn’t rely on fad diets or unsustainable exercise regimens. To learn more about our non-surgical weight loss procedures, please contact us today to solicitar una consulta. Our highly qualified team wants to hear your story and help you find a solution that’s right for you. Freedom is waiting!

Dr. Christopher McGowan
Dr. Christopher McGowan
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