Going Gluten-Free: Necessity or Fad?

Oat grains in their husks

Oat grains in their husks (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It feels like everywhere you look these days there is some new piece of nutritional news that has everyone eating this or not eating that.  From carbohydrates to sugar to fat to gluten, it seems like you can find a restrictive diet for almost anything if you read enough magazines or type enough search terms into Google.  As a society, Americans tend to jump on board with each new thing because they are looking for the one right answer or that one magic pill that will let them eat whatever they want without experiencing any health consequences.  Unfortunately, there is no magic pill and there is only one right answer.  To be healthy and maintain a healthy weight, you need to eat the right amount of the right food and stay active.

The newest trend is the gluten-free phenomenon, which has swept the nation to the tune of 178 new gluten-related titles on Amazon.com and the creation of gluten-free versions of almost everything by major food producers.  Don’t misunderstand; the recent craze is great for people who are actually allergic to gluten and have been diagnosed with celiac disease.  The fad-fueled mass appeal means gluten-free foods are more accessible and less expensive than ever.

However, for many people, going gluten-free is just the next way to cut carbs from their daily diets and get quick weight loss results that won’t last.  Cutting gluten from one’s diet is seen by many as a healthier way to eat, but unless you have celiac disease, gluten is not hurting you and not eating it won’t make you healthier.  However, you can actually hurt yourself by cutting it or other types of food entirely from your diet because it can cause nutritional deficiencies and GI distress.  As with any dietary change, people should discuss going gluten-free with a medical professional before they make the change.

There is another side to these restrictive diet crazes and fads that can have very real consequences.  People with eating disorders commonly use food allergies and restrictive diets to mask their disease, creating a legitimate reason for following a restrictive diet.  Claiming to be gluten intolerant is very common amongst those with eating disorders as it coincides easily with eating disorders or disordered eating.  The real problem with these types of nutritional crazes is that they can downgrade the severity of legitimate conditions like celiac disease while encouraging others to participate in eating behaviors that are not healthy and appropriate for their needs.  The bottom line is that unless a person has a medical condition, diagnosed food allergy, or disease that requires a restricted diet, they should not be eating as if they do.

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