Nutrition 101: Gluten Free Diets
It seems there's always a new diet we should be following, a new 7 day detox plan on the market, and new foods we MUST "cut out" of our diets.
The hard part isn't actually finding the diet-- it's deciding which diet is the most effective for your goals.
Our registered dietician, Sarah Freytag, wants to make that decision a little easier for you by putting an end to all the diet scams and myths. On the Blog, Sarah will educate you with science-based FACTS on all of the different diets, detox plans, and "bad foods" that the health food market seems to constantly shove in our faces.
Today's lesson, you ask?
GLUTEN FREE DIET
Q: What is a gluten free diet? (in other words, what types of food contains gluten?)
Sarah: Gluten is simply the general name for proteins found in wheat, rye, and barley. Following a gluten-free diet is not quite this straight forward, however. Wheat, rye, and barley can be found in bread, baked goods, soup, cereal, pasta, candy, sauce, salad dressing, beer, food coloring, malt flavoring, and even medications and vitamins that use gluten as a binding agent. On the other hand, there are tons of healthy choices that are naturally gluten-free, such as beans, seeds, nuts, eggs, meats (not breaded or marinated), fruits, vegetables, and most dairy products. It’s important to double check that these and other products are not processed or filled with additives and preservatives though. Essentially, following a gluten-free diet requires careful attention to nutrition labels and awareness of the potential for cross-contamination.
Q: In what circumstances do you recommend a gluten free diet?
Sarah: Going gluten-free can be beneficial for many people, as it is primarily used to alleviate the effects of celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder in which the ingestion of gluten leads to small intestine damage. A related condition, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, causes uncomfortable symptoms without the intestinal damage. For people with these conditions, going gluten-free is the best treatment plan. For most people, avoiding gluten is not necessary. Many specialty gluten-free items can be more expensive, and avoiding gluten can be very time-consuming and difficult for beginners. However, if eliminating gluten leads to the addition of better overall nutrition choices, such as more fresh fruits and vegetables and less processed foods, this diet can be a healthy decision.
Q: It's often thought that gluten free diets work for weight loss. Is this true?
Sarah: Although many people believe a gluten-free diet is a road to quick weight loss, this isn’t generally true. Just because a food is labeled as “gluten-free,” it does not mean that food is any healthier than its gluten-containing counterpart. Many times, these products can be higher in calories, fat, and carbohydrates, and some people who cut out gluten actually end up gaining weight. If you simply cut out grains with gluten and don’t replace them with other gluten-free products, you’ll lose weight by reducing calories. However, cutting out grains is not something that is recommended for most people. On the other hand, mixing foods like bagels, crackers, pasta, and pretzels and replacing them with items like fresh vegetables, quinoa, and wild rice, for example, could result in increased energy and weight loss. In essence, a gluten-free diet could potentially lead to either weight gain or weight loss. It all depends on the kinds of choices you’re making and if you’re reducing or increasing overall calories.
Q: What are the benefits of going gluten free?
Sarah: For those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, eliminating gluten-containing products can resolve symptoms of digestive discomfort. Sometimes, people with a gluten intolerance may experience muscle cramping, joint pain, and even chronic inflammation by eating gluten. Recognizing these symptoms and eliminating gluten could lead to improvements in these areas, as well.
Q: Are there negative side effects to going gluten free? What are they?
Sarah: By going gluten-free, you could be putting yourself at risk for a number of nutritional deficiencies, such as with folate, an important B vitamin for pregnant women. Fiber could also pose a problem, as whole wheat is a major fiber source in the typical American diet. Taking a gluten-free multivitamin is a wise decision for those following this diet. Even more vital is proper education on reading food labels and avoiding cross-contamination, especially for those with celiac disease. Because switching to a gluten-free diet requires such diligence in choosing foods, it can be difficult at first. You could feel deprived by all of the necessary restrictions, especially when shopping or eating out. However, more and more grocery stores and restaurants are increasing their selections to include gluten-free products. Additionally, there is more than a fair share of resources online, such as celiac support groups.
Consider consulting with a registered dietitian to discuss the basics and formulate a plan to properly meet your dietary needs!