Eliminating gluten from your diet is not something to take lightly.
Years ago, fat-free was the food label that got everyone's attention. As low-carbohydrate diets became popular, people looked for that designation when they shopped. Now it seems like "gluten-free" is appearing everywhere, from grocery store shelves to restaurant menus.
But the decision to eliminate gluten from your diet should not be driven by weight loss. It's true that it can have major benefits for some people. For others, however, a gluten-free diet may cause you to miss out on important nutrients.
We'll show you the pros and cons of going gluten-free.
What's Wrong With Gluten?
The short answer is — nothing! Gluten refers to proteins that occur naturally in wheat and other grains. It's in a lot of breads, cereals, pasta and other foods because it improves baking quality and texture and helps dough rise.
Who Should Go Gluten-Free?
The problem with gluten is that some people's bodies cannot process it, and for them, ingesting even a little can cause problems. In someone with the autoimmune disease known as celiac disease, gluten damages the small intestine and affects absorption of nutrients. Patients who are not treated for celiac disease can wind up malnourished. They also may suffer from digestive problems, weight loss, pain, anemia, delayed puberty or infertility.
The only treatment is eliminating gluten from their diets. For them, the gluten-free labels are a necessity to avoid foods that may set off a reaction. The Celiac Disease Foundation maintains a list of foods that are safe, plus overlooked foods that may contain gluten. The foundation also warns of cross-contamination that could be dangerous.
Who Should Eat Gluten?
Going gluten-free is not about following the latest diet craze, says the FDA. It does not mean you are eating less fat, sugar or sodium. In fact, it is easier to follow a balanced diet if you do not restrict yourself from gluten, because you will have more choices. The only reason to cut gluten out of your diet is if your body is sensitive to it, as with celiac disease.
If you do choose to stop eating gluten, make sure you are not eliminating nutrients you need. Many foods that have gluten, such as cereals and breads, are also enriched with iron and B vitamins. Work with a dietitian to develop an eating plan that meets your or your children's needs.
You can read more about celiac disease and living gluten-free in our Health Library. Aventura Hospital and Medical Center also has a Food and Nutrition Services department with a variety of inpatient and outpatient services, such as nutrition counseling from registered dietitians. For information, call (305) 682-7000, ext. 7334.