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Should I Eliminate Gluten?

Going gluten-free is trendy and we see products advertising as such on every shelf. But you might be asking, is it a good idea to go gluten-free even without a medical condition that necessitates it? When is it advisable to go gluten-free? Let’s investigate.

Gluten is a mix of proteins found naturally in grains like wheat, barley, and rye. Most flours and their derivates contain gluten, except for those marked gluten-free.

Flour is not the only product containing gluten. It is found in an abundance of thickened food products like sauces, pasta, drinks, sausages, candy, marmalades, and even gum. In short, anything containing modified starches also contains gluten. It can even be found in cosmetics and beauty products like lipstick and serums for the skin.

Is gluten harmful?

Gluten is what causes bread and cakes to be spongey and flakey. It also helps food maintain its texture longer. Gluten also provides folic acid, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, and iron. Wheat products are usually enriched with these vitamins.

Gluten is not bad for people who do not suffer from specific medical conditions. The real issue with gluten is for those who have celiac disease or are gluten sensitive, which we’re seeing more of every day.

What is celiac?

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there are about 3 million people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity in the United States (1). Celiac is an autoimmune disorder while gluten sensitivity is a digestive disorder where the small intestines react to gluten with inflammation and adverse side effects. Gluten is sticky and doesn’t allow the intestines to properly absorb vitamins, while causing symptoms like diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, bloating, fatigue, osteoporosis, and more. Celiac is a genetic and chronic condition, with no cure other than avoiding gluten. (2)

In addition to celiac, other gluten related diseases include dermatitis herpetiformis (a skin rash), irritable bowel syndrome, ataxia (impaired coordination), type 1 diabetes, and HIV enteropathy. There are also studies dedicated to the possible link between gluten sensitivity and fibromyalgia. (3)

According to one study, gluten affects the intestinal microbiota and increases intestinal permeability. In addition, it increases oxidative stress and produces inflammation. Gluten can potentially increase the risk of contracting inflammatory diseases. This is the fundamental reason why we see a sudden rise in cases related to gluten, and why so many people opt to eliminate or reduce gluten from their diets. (4)

Should I change my diet?

There is no one-size-fits-all diet. Every individual has specific needs, which need to be considered to ensure proper daily nutrition.

A systematic review of the risks of a gluten-free diet found some indicators that it may cause a micronutrient deficiency and increase the likelihood of cardiovascular issues based on increased cholesterol intake, high density lipoproteins, increased blood glucose during fasting, and a higher body mass index for people with celiac. However, it is unknown if this is at a general level that also affects otherwise healthy people who choose to voluntarily eliminate gluten. (5)

All in all, following a low-gluten or gluten-free diet without having an autoimmune or inflammatory disease could be beneficial so long as the food products consumed are healthy choices. This is so important to keep in mind: not everything labeled gluten-free is healthy.

  • If your idea of a gluten-free diet is to switch the same junk food for gluten-free options, the results could be worse. You might gain weight and increase body fat and blood glucose. This is because gluten-free products tend to compensate flavor and texture by adding extra sugar, salt, and fats.

  • Although we are seeing more and more products advertised as gluten-free, most contain trace amounts of gluten due to cross-contamination. The only products that are 100% gluten-free are naturally, including fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs, lean meat, dairy, and nuts (1). Replace cereals and flour with quinoa, amaranth, teff, or rice. Most of these are also natural sources of minerals, protein, and fiber.

  • A good recommendation for people with celiac and gluten sensitivity is to consume probiotics to help support the microbiome.

  • If you have a gluten related condition, follow your doctor’s dietary guidelines. If you choose to voluntarily limit gluten, be sure to listen to your body and try a balanced diet like the Mediterranean, to consume all the necessary nutrients your body needs.

Let’s be healthier, together.

Your Santo Remedio Team

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