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Thursday, September 6, 2012
by Karen Kwan
With so many people opting to go gluten-free with their diet, have you been pondering if you should do so, too? We checked in with a registered dietitian and a registered holistic nutritionist to get their advice. Here’s what they had to say.
Should you give up gluten?
In a nutshell, no — unless you are diagnosed with a sensitivity or intolerance to gluten, which is known as celiac disease.
For a bit of background, gluten is a class of proteins that are often found in wheat and other related grains including (but not limited to) barley, rye, spelt and kamut, explains Toronto-based registered dietitian Nicole Yuen. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that is caused by eating foods that contain gluten, which leads to damaging the lining of the small intestine (e.g. the villi), preventing the absorption of nutrients.
“For most healthy individuals, there is no added benefit to choosing a gluten-free diet,” says Yuen. “In fact, those who do eliminate gluten may also be eliminating essential vitamins and minerals by removing certain foods fromtheir daily diet. This can lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies, risk of deficiency-related diseases, and inadequacy in meeting macro nutrient requirements,” she says.
Naturopathic doctor Jennifer Baer, who herself is sensitive to gluten and follow a gluten-free diet, agrees. “Gluten is not an item the general public needs to avoid,” she says, adding however that it would probably serve us all to consume less flour-based products and opt for the grain itself more often.
But one reason the Toronto-based ND points to as the reason going gluten-free is much more common is due to the fact gluten is so prominent in our diets, which has lead to many of us developing sensivities. “Others have theorized that the way we process our grains is different and/or that hybridization of crops may have increased the amount of gluten found in some grains or flour products,” adds Baer.
What to do if you’re concerned about gluten
Both experts agree that if you have a suspicion that gluten is affecting you negatively, you should go get tested. See your doctor to discuss your concerns and they may recommend getting tested. Note that you should not stop consuming gluten leading up to seeing your doctor or being tested as this will affect the results of the test
Will giving up gluten in your diet help you lose weight?
If you’re thinking giving up gluten is what’s going to get you into that body-con dress you’ve got in your closet, you should find another plan for dropping some pounds. Both Yuen and Baer are against using a gluten-free diet as a method of losing weight. “Gluten has nothing to do with weight loss,” says Baer. What she does propose is choosing whole grains over flour is a healthier choice (due to the fibre and nutrient content, avoidance of a possible allergen and source of inflammation)–”this will likely mean seeing a positive result on the scale,” she says. However, if people simply replace flour foods with gluten-free versions of these products, they are unlikely to see any difference, says Baer. “In fact, many of the gluten-free products on the market are high glycemic index (which means they rapidly elevate blood sugar levels) and are higher in calories and/or sugar. Just because something is gluten-free does not mean that it is healthy,” she says.
Yuen does concede that one benefit that sometimes comes with adopting a gluten-free diet is that people become more aware of what they are eating—”People become more conscious of what they’re consuming. They’ll choose more fruits and vegetables, watch what they eat at restaurants, consume smaller portions of foods, and limit junk foods such as cookies and cakes,” she says. “However, you do not need to go gluten free in order to be mindful of consuming healthy foods.” And, adds Yuen, there is no scientific evidence or studies that demonstrate that a gluten-free diet leads to weight loss.