In recent years, gluten-free foods have taken up more space on menus and grocery store shelves. In response to a growing number of Americans with celiac disease, many restaurants, cafeterias, and grocery stores have responded with gluten-free versions of popular foods. But it’s not just those with celiac disease who are eating gluten-free. As the craze continues, more and more Americans without celiac disease are choosing to forego gluten, too.
Surprisingly, most people on a gluten-free diet are on it by choice. A number of talk show hosts, celebrities, and other public figures attribute a slimmer figure and less health problems to cutting gluten out of their diet. But is going gluten-free when you really don’t need to a healthy choice?
“Eating gluten-free can be problematic, because gluten-free foods often lack essential nutrients,” says Keith Laskin, MD, Medical Director of the Celiac Center at Paoli Hospital, Main Line Health.
Among the deficiencies that can develop on a gluten-free diet? Too little fiber. Gluten-free versions of common foods contain barely any fiber, an essential ingredient for maintaining cholesterol levels, managing your weight, and preventing colon cancer, among other purposes. To replenish the fiber you’re passing up by eating gluten-free, try beans and popcorn, as both are excellent sources of the nutrient.
In addition, a gluten-free diet can often be low in certain vitamins and nutrients.
“Gluten-free foods typically lack B vitamins, and may be low in iron,” explains Dr. Laskin. “Fortunately, there are naturally gluten-free foods that can provide these missing nutrients, so it is always a good idea to work closely with a knowledgeable dietitian to help you with this.”
So while going gluten-free isn’t the worst nutritional decision you can make for your body, it’s still not something that should be taken lightly. Before you decide to cut out gluten in your diet, consider the reasons for why you’re making the change. Is it because of how you feel after eating gluten products? Are you looking for a quick way to shed a few pounds? Discuss your motivation for the change with your doctor, and if gluten-free truly is the way to go, they can help you make the change.
“Don’t make a decision to go gluten-free just because you’ve heard it on the news or in a magazine. Everyone’s nutritional needs and body is different, and making the change might not be the right choice for you,” says Dr. Laskin.
He adds that anyone considering going gluten-free should get screened for celiac disease first before changing their diet.
If you are struggling to maintain a balanced diet or have questions about nutrition, visit our website for an archive of nutrition articles or to make an appointment with a Main Line Health doctor.