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Should You Eat Gluten-free if You Don’t Have Celiac Disease?

Scientists are working to create gluten-free wheat
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You have probably noticed that your grocery stores have started offering a variety of gluten-free options in the last several years. There are gluten-free cereals, pastas, salad dressings, desserts, and more. However, only 1% of Americans have celiac disease, which is an inability to properly break down the gluten that is present in grain products. People with celiac disease can be at risk for small intestine damage.

What is Gluten?

may21-4Like many health conditions, celiac disease is our body’s abnormal reaction to a normal item (in this case, gluten). Gluten is a protein found in rye, triticale, barley, and wheat, which is the grain most commonly used in our food. It helps give food its shape and texture, and is a binding agent. Simply, gluten is one of many elements found in grain products that a minority of the population react to, or cannot digest.

Should You Eat Gluten-Free?

For those who have a confirmed diagnosis of celiac disease, it’s a simple answer that a gluten-free diet is the best way to avoid symptoms such as abdominal pain, nausea, chronic diarrhea, bloating, gas and constipation.

Even so, it is always different from one person to the next. Some people’s reactions to gluten can be severe, while others can still consume lesser amounts of gluten without suffering noticeable symptoms. It is of utmost importance that you partner with your doctor to find out whether you are reacting to gluten because of celiac disease, a wheat allergy, or a non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Check back for our following article about the difference between these different gluten-related conditions.

Whatever type of gluten sensitivity you have, a limited to strict gluten-free diet can help avoid digestion and health complications. However, it is important to ensure the vitamins and nutrients from gluten products are being consumed elsewhere. You still need the healthy fiber, minerals and vitamins that are found in the gluten products you will be eliminating.

For the final category, which is those of you who definitely do not have celiac disease or a gluten allergy or sensitivity, eating gluten-free very simply means you are avoiding foods that your body can break down. It would be more helpful for you to shift the categories and lens you view food through. Gluten-free does not mean “more may21-1healthy” since our bodies need healthy grains, and you do not have a gluten intolerance that negatively affects your health. You would be making a healthier choice by choosing 100% whole grain pasta over white pasta or gluten-free pasta. Choose to eat a quinoa salad because it provides nutritious protein and not because it is gluten-free. Focus on adding more vegetables, fruit and lean meats while minimizing simple carbs because that is what benefits our bodies, not because of a qualifier like gluten.

Why Are People Without Celiac Disease Eating Gluten-Free?

Gluten-free food has become culturally synonymous with healthy eating, instead of what it actually means: food that is free from an ingredient that a small number of the population is intolerant to. There are both subtle and overt messages all around you implying or outright saying that gluten is bad for you. We see gluten-free option on our restaurant menus and perhaps get the message that it is a healthier option. It is a mixture of new information, partial information, marketing of products, food trends and cultural fixation.

We tend to go through cultural trends and phases where there is a “bad” food to avoid. Carbs and fat, for example, have both had their turn being the thing to avoid. As we continue to become more informed about food and health, however, we know that simple statements such as “carbs are bad” are not helpful food rules to live by. There is a big difference between simple carbs, which we can still have in moderation, and complex carbs such as beans and leafy greens that we need for a well-balanced diet.  It is important to become educated with the right information from the right sources.

If you have questions about how your food is affecting your digestive system, health conditions, or weight management, do speak directly to your doctor. Continue to learn while keeping in conversation with health professionals who can best speak to your specific condition and health goals.

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