Advice about Choosing a Gluten-free Diet

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People who follow a gluten-free diet avoid wheat, rye, and barley—grains that contain a type of protein called gluten. Gluten-free diets are the main treatment for celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder. People with other conditions, such as gluten sensitivity and gluten intolerance, also may reduce their symptoms by eating gluten free. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), there is no evidence that eliminating gluten from the diet can reduce health problems like headache, chronic fatigue, depression, and weight gain, at this time.

About one in 100 people in the United States has celiac disease or celiacs, which decreases the intestines' ability to absorb nutrients from food. In celiacs, an immune system response to gluten damages the stomach lining and causes inflammation in the small intestine, interfering with the absorption of nutrients. Common symptoms include diarrhea, bloating and vitamin deficiencies.

Roughly six percent of Americans are thought to be gluten-sensitive or gluten-intolerant, but they do not have celiac disease. These people experience cramping, bloating, nausea, and diarrhea, without stomach damage. There's much debate about how prevalent gluten sensitivity really is. If you have frequent digestive discomfort, talk to your health care provider before going on a gluten-free diet.

According to the NIH, many foods made with wheat flour are fortified with vitamins and minerals. Eliminating these foods from your diet can lead to deficiencies in the following nutrients:

  • Calcium
  • Fiber
  • Folate (a B vitamin)
  • Iron
  • Niacin (vitamin B3)
  • Riboflavin (vitamin B2)
  • Thiamin (vitamin B1)

A gluten-free diet is not recommended for weight loss. This eating plan will not improve health if you do not eat a variety of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. In recent years, more gluten-free options have become available—in grocery stores and in restaurants.

If you experience symptoms of celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, talk to your health care provider. Do not begin following a gluten-free diet without first being tested for celiacs. Other conditions may be causing your symptoms, and cutting out gluten beforehand can affect test results.

Sources: Adapted from our sister publication REMEDY's Healthy Living Spring 2013; National Institutes of Health (NIH); Updated by Remedy Health Media

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at Healthcommunities.com

Published: 01 May 2013

Last Modified: 17 Aug 2015