If you have a condition such as celiac disease, going gluten-free isn’t really a choice -- your long-term health could be seriously compromised if you continue to eat foods with gluten in them. On the other hand, you might think you’ll feel better or lose some weight if you reduce the gluten in your diet, whether or not you go completely gluten-free. Whatever your reasons, consider the related nutrition and health issues.
The Gluten Search
Gluten is a protein found primarily in grains. While wheat is probably the best-known source of gluten, other grains such as rye, barley and triticale -- a cross between wheat and rye -- also contain gluten. Bread and pasta might be the first thing you think of when it comes to gluten-containing foods, but gluten is also used in a variety of prepared foods such as soy and other sauces, soups, cereals, gravies and convenience foods. Unlike a person with celiac disease, who must be careful to avoid food with even a little gluten, you can decrease the amount of gluten in your diet with relative ease.
Start your dietary changes by finding substitutes for food made with wheat. Instead of a wheat-based breakfast cereal, for example, try grains such as quinoa or buckwheat. Oatmeal is another possible option in a low gluten diet, but make sure wheat flour wasn't added during processing. Cornmeal, millet, rice flour, soy flour and sorghum can be used for baking. Since you don’t actually need to go gluten-free, you have the option to use prepared condiments and convenience foods that contain small amounts of gluten.
Grains are not all created equal. It’s not just a matter of gluten, but of other nutrients such as vitamins. Some gluten-free products are made from refined grains, which can be low in fiber and vitamins such as iron, folate, thiamine and vitamin B-12, according to a March 2012 article in “Scientific American.” Gluten-free products are typically not fortified and may also have extra sugar and fat added to improve texture, according to an April 2011 article on the CNN Health website. Choose whole-grain substitutes whenever possible and read labels. Pay close attention to your overall nutrition, not just the amount of gluten in your diet.
Changing your eating habits isn’t easy, but it can be worth it if the payoff is better health. CNN Health notes that approximately 10 percent of Americans may have gluten sensitivity, which is not as severe as celiac disease but can result in symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, muscle pain and skin rashes. Cutting back the amount of gluten in your diet could lead to a decrease in those symptoms. If you think you might have gluten sensitivity or celiac disease, consult your doctor.
- MayoClinic.org: Gluten-Free Diet - What's Allowed, What's Not
- Harvard Health Publications: Going Gluten-Free Just Because? Here’s What You Need to Know
- CNN Health: Will A Gluten-Free Diet Improve Your Health?
- Scientific American: Most People Shouldn't Eat Gluten-Free
- Bell Institute of Health and Nutrition: A Guide to Gluten-Free Whole Grains