Chances are, you or someone you know avoids gluten for any number of reasons. What Exactly gluten is and why or why not it should be avoided can be confusing due to clever marketing, word of mouth games of telephone, and popular social media accounts. If you are not sure if you should be eating gluten, consulting with your doctor should be your first step, however, being educated on the matter can be valuable not only for you but for others as well.
What is gluten?
The term “gluten” refers to a protein, specifically gliadin, that can be found in wheat, barley, rye triticale, and spelt. Products containing gluten make up a large portion of the modern diet due to ease of production, high nutritional content, palatability, and versatility. Over the past 30 years, there has been a drastic increase in individuals shifting to gluten-free diets and opting for gluten-free foods. In 2016 more than $15.5 billion were spent on retail sales of gluten-free food. which not only further drives innovation for new products but it brings greater attention to eating gluten-free.
What does the science say?
Whether it is due to marketing, social media influence, one’s social circle, or medical diagnosis, gluten-free diets are becoming increasingly popular, so it can be confusing as to who truly needs to avoid gluten-containing products. Three groups have been researched and they have been shown to benefit from adherence to a gluten-free diet, individuals with Celiac disease, individuals with non-celiac gluten sensitivity, and individuals with certain types of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that is triggered by the consumption of gluten proteins and classic symptoms include gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, and weight loss or weight gain. Non-gastrointestinal symptoms can include fatigue, slowed cognitive function, dermatitis, slower than normal growth in children, and infertility. Individuals with Celiac disease have impaired gut permeability, and are positive in the human leukocyte antigen HLA-DQ2/8. That means there is a testable blood marker for Celiac disease. Celiac’s disease must be diagnosed by a healthcare practitioner and managed via a gluten-free diet to prevent long term malnutrition and other risks.
Non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) is a term that encompasses a wide variety of gastrointestinal and non-gastrointestinal symptoms to include bloating, fatigue, changes in bowel habits, bone and joint pain, headaches, and gas. These symptoms match closely with what those with Celiac disease or IBS may experience, which can create some confusion amongst the population. However, NCGS individuals do not have impaired gut permeability and they are negative in the human leukocyte antigen HLA-DQ2/8.
While there is some evidence supporting the benefits of a gluten-free diet for populations with IBS or NCGS, it is conflicting and not definitive. Further research needs to be conducted to better understand the impacts of gluten-free diets for individuals that do not have clearly diagnosed medical conditions. Thus, there is no definitive scientific evidence that shows a gluten free-diet is optimal for individuals or even beneficial for reducing body fat all else being equal. People may underestimate the cost of a gluten-free diet, as it can impose psychological and financial strain.
Due to the mounting interest in gluten-free diets and gluten-free eating practices, the number of people following gluten-free options has increased. The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) requires that food must contain fewer than 20 parts per million of gluten to be labeled gluten-free.
If you are Celiac or you have been instructed by your doctor to be gluten-free it is important that you are reading labels and asking questions if you are eating food that has not been prepared by you. The composition of products may change or cross-contamination may be a factor.
Naturally Occurring Gluten-Free Foods
Vegetables Sweet Potatoes
Red Potatoes Acorn Squash
Butternut Squash Beans
Gluten-Free Bread and Mixes
Siete Canyon Bakehouse
Udi’s Gluten-Free Bob’s Redmill Guten-Free Products
Enjoy Life Pamela’s Gluten-Free
KitchFix Simple Mills Gluten-Free
Kinnikinnick Ian’s Gluten-Free
Against the Grain Glutino
Lara Bar Perfect Food Bar
Epic Bar RX Bar
Quest Bar Macro Bar
Rise Bar One Protein Bar
Built Bar Luna Bar
- Niland B, Cash BD. Health Benefits and Adverse Effects of a Gluten-Free Diet in Non-Celiac Disease Patients. Gastroenterol Hepatol (N Y). 2018;14(2):82–91.
- Wardlaw G, Byrd-Bredbenner C, Moe G, Berning J, Kelley D. Wardlaws Perspectives in Nutrition: Updated with 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education; 2016.
- Leonard MM, Sapone A, Catassi C, Fasano A. Celiac Disease and Nonceliac Gluten Sensitivity: A Review. JAMA. 2017;318(7):647–656. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.9730