Do You Need Gluten-Free? The Truth Behind the Diet


Alex Albarran-Ayala
Staff Writer

A gluten-free diet, the only known treatment for people with celiac disease, has become fairly popular recently, and even those without gluten sensitivity have begun to endorse it as a way to improve their quality of life.

“It seems to be the latest rage, with many celebrities promoting the gluten-free lifestyle, a multitude of books being published, and countless numbers of articles appearing in the press about the supposed benefits of a gluten-free diet,” wrote Wendy Marcason of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly known as the American Dietetic Association). Some of these supposed benefits circulating the media include better sleep, increased energy, and weight loss.

However, Marcason points out that there is not enough research to back all of those claims, stating, “At this time there is no scientific evidence supporting the alleged benefit that a gluten-free diet will promote weight loss.”

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, as many as 3 percent of Americans could be affected by celiac disease, although the actual statistic is unknown. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that is triggered by the consumption of products that include the protein gluten. Complications of this disorder include digestive problems, abdominal pain, and damage to the small intestines.

The Mayo Clinic states that for people with celiac disease, being on a gluten-free diet is a life-long process. However, avoidance of gluten does not guarantee a lack of symptoms. This diet only provides the benefit of drastically reducing those symptoms.

Like any other diet, gluten-free eating involves many restrictions and limitations. Some of the constraints include not eating wheat, rye, barley, bread, and pastas, or drinking beer. Yet with the recent trend of non-prescribed gluten-free diets, many new products have entered the mainstream, such as gluten-free breads and pastas.

Some experts suggest that a gluten-free diet is unnecessary for healthy individuals without gluten sensitivity. The Mayo Clinic states that people on a gluten-free diet risk getting low levels of vitamins and nutrients. Many grains like wheat and barley, which are avoided in a gluten-free diet, are important sources of vitamins and nutrients. Not getting enough of these grains may lead to deficiencies in B vitamins and iron levels, so a gluten-free diet should be accompanied by dietary supplements.

On Jan. 7, 2014, Michelle Castillo of commented on some of the diets found on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Diets. Surprisingly, the gluten-free diet was not ranked on the list created by the panel of experts. The main reason for the cut was that “it was first designed for medical purposes,” according to Castillo.

Gluten-free diets involve many restrictions and lifestyle changes that can be difficult for people who are not afflicted by celiac disease to follow. Therefore, the diet is most likely unnecessary for healthy individuals without gluten sensitivity. But as always, before starting a diet it’s important to consult a dietician, a doctor, or expert advice.