Monday, 12 January 2015

Gluten-Free: Is it for Me?

Before your alarm goes off, no - I am NOT going gluten-free. This post is meant to present information on what 'gluten-free' means, who actually needs to follow the meal-plan, whether you should jumpy on board, and more. (Note: this post is long - but well worth the read!).

First, let's talk about what 'gluten-free; is all about. Celiac's disease is also called gluten-sensitivity or gluten-induced enteropathy. In simple terms, this describes an illness related to the intestines. Gluten is an ingredient present in rye, oats, wheat, and barley. When these substances are broken down, gluten is produced. Normally, our intestines can break this component down. However, in some people, the immune system makes antibodies against gluten. These antibodies (think of little soldiers) start attacking the intestine, and this produces inflammation. The inflammation damages the ability of the intestine to absorb nutrients. The individual may experience stomach cramps, weight loss, diarrhea, nausea, and other symptoms. Left untreated, the person can become very ill.

Celiac's disease can be diagnosed by many means. A blood test can show antibodies to transglutaminase, the enzyme that breaks gluten down in the intestines. Also, if the person starts a gluten-free diet and symptoms go away - including the antibodies - Celiac's disease is confirmed.

The treatment sounds simple: to follow a gluten-free diet (and by diet, I mean 'meal plan). However, this sounds easier than it really is. The individual must avoid rye, oats, wheat, and barley. Breads and pastas need to be avoided. But, the person needs to also avoid any foods that may contain these ingredients, which can be tricky if they are hidden. For example, some ice creams, crackers, pancakes, cream sauces, drinks, etc. may contain sources of gluten. As you can imagine, this means carefully reading all nutrition labels and selecting products that are 100% safe. Also, if you have ever walked into a grocery store or looked at store prices, you will find that gluten-free foods are more expensive than other foods. This means that someone with Celiac's will need to spend more money on their meals in order to avoid gluten. Moreover, going out to order meals can be challenging, as the individual must be aware of sources of gluten in fast-food or restaurant meals (or drinks) they are purchasing.

So, now the big question is: why are so many people, who don't have Celiac's disease, following a gluten-free diet? There has been a lot of speculation that going gluten-free can aid in weight-loss or detoxification. But is this true? Research is mixed on this topic. However, let me clear: research shows that a gluten-free diet is NECESSARY for anyone with Celiac's because it stops symptoms and prevents complications. However, for those without Celiac's, following a gluten-free diet does not automatically make you healthier or lose weight faster. So, why is there so much hype about gluten-free for those without Celiac's. Does it really cause weight-loss?

No. The simple answer is this: eliminating sources of gluten means that it is harder to eat breads, pasta, and sweets. So, if you are not diagnosed with Celiac's, but are going gluten-free, you will avoid these carbohydrates. Most people end up eating fruits and veggies instead, which can lead to weight-loss. Some people claim that this also prevents cancer, but again, it doesn't. The simple, logical answer is that following a gluten-free diet in the absence of Celiac's is not 'the cure for weight-loss and cancer prevention'. What it DOES do is challenges the individual to avoid gluten in the diet, which can make the person forced to rely on other foods (such as fruits) for meals.

But, you can enjoy fruits and veggies without eliminating gluten. If you follow a diet in moderation, you can eat breads, sweets, fruits, meats, etc. - and still be healthy and happy. You need not eliminate gluten in order to do this. But, the messages you hear from people are tempting - and deceptive: 'I've been gluten-free and I'm loving it!' or 'I lost xxx pounds since stopping gluten and I'm so happy'. Other messages include 'I'm gluten-free and decreasing my risk for cancer'  or 'I've been gluten-free and I'm loving my veggies and all the cool stuff I made without gluten!'.

Seriously now. We need to watch what we write. Let me be clear: if you aren't diagnosed with Celiac's disease. there is no reason why you should not be eating gluten products. In fact, avoiding gluten can lead to nutrient and vitamin deficiencies (see for more info on this). Not to mention that raving on and on about following a gluten-free diet and how thrilled you are isn't fair to those who are FORCED to adopt this meal plan because of their illness, and are struggling or feel sad/angry about it (this article highlights some of these points Plus, eliminating gluten-containing products can lead to eliminating other foods, body image disturbances, and eating disorders (see for an interesting article on this issue).

So, what is the bottom line? The take-home message? If you think you may have Celiac's disease because of symptoms you are experiencing, talk to your healthcare provider about them. And if you have Celiac's disease, there are a lot of resources available to help you enjoy a balanced, fun, and healthy diet without eating gluten. If you have Celiac's disease, know that there is hope because you CAN enjoy food without gluten and experience less symptoms (and please ignore anyone who belittles your illness, tells you it is 'all in your head')! If you don't have Celiac's disease, you need not follow a gluten-free diet. Nor should you cave into all the hypes, which aren't supported by research or are false claims, about how following a gluten-free diet is the best decision someone made. Please, be wise about what you believe - whether this is from some self-proclaimed professional on TV, or your best friend. Remember that enjoying a balance of all foods is the best way to go!

If there is a common theme that you should be picking up by now, it's that all these fad-diets, the quick weight-loss, cancer-preventing, key-to-happiness diets or food fads...they all don't work. What DOES work? Following a lifestyle that is enjoyable, fun, and full of different foods. Not depriving yourself of any foods, and not labelling foods as good and/or bad. Note the comic to the right - a perfect example of how various 'diets' claim to be the best...and how little sense this makes.


  1. Too long but sooo good .
    Now I can undertsand comletley what is coeliac disease and gluten intolerance but what I do not understand is those who claim gluten free good for their health if they do not gave celiac disease.

    med student

  2. I do have Celiac disease and is not funny.
    Thanks for addressing this here

  3. I agree with you that the media and press and the access to the web,people get inaccurate info and are misled .


  4. I have celiac disease and on gluten free diet and I wish I have the luxury of eating any food I want .
    I learn how to cope but not easy


  5. My friend has celiac and I can imagine how hard it is .


  6. My ED forced me to restrict and I did torture my body till my recovery .I am surprised from those who are confused and by their own choice go gluten free and deprive their body from the good nutrition and options.


  7. Those who follow what is on press ,media or web may be getting the wrong message.
    Yes Gluten free is life saving for those who have celiac but may life threatening for those who do not.

    Kelly W

  8. Crazy those who listen to press and ignore their health care providers.


  9. I am not naïve to follow what media is fan off


  10. I will not run after any Fad diet.
    I am happy with variety and my choices of all what God has made.


  11. Why people go gluten free when not needed and can be harmful??


  12. Wow
    This post really makes me understand what is celiac and gluten


  13. Very easy to understand medical talk.


  14. Gluten free not for me


  15. If you are a media fan, you will pay the consequences
    Fad diet can impose serious risk to health unless you got celiac disease

    Sam Ibrahim

  16. My fried has celiac and he told me can eat Oat as this is the least to cause bowel upset


  17. I have celiac and my gastroenterologist told me avoid all BROW means barley ,Rye ,oat and wheat.
    However my sister has also celiac and she can eat oat products
    Trying select foods that is gluten free is very stressful and I feel I wish I can eat what I want .


  18. Did you notice what humans are doing .
    They disrupt every thing God has made .They choose to call foods bad and reject them or restrict intake or good and use more of while God has made all foods for us to nourish our body that God has created and held us accountable .
    Animals and birds look for their food without any restrictions and without showing any signs of displeasure with any food.
    Who has the brightest brain??!!!


  19. Holly !! too much medical info


  20. Once I tried to gluten free one week and it was terrible.
    I will never do it again and I believe the benefits claims are hoax


  21. Well searched and written info about this disease and media hype.


  22. I pray for those who have a medical condition and have to avoid certain foods .
    I urge thsoe who choose to be gluten free for no reason to use their wise mind


  23. God made all foods for our healthy body why we restrict for no medical reasons


  24. I enjoy all my foods but my lovely one s are that with gluten.
    I feel sorry for those who can not eat gluten foods


  25. I like moderations in every thing


  26. I enjoy all food especially gluten


  27. Since my full recovery without relapse I encourage my self and others to eat all foods in moderation without any restrictions

    Recovered ED survivor with relapse x7 years

  28. I like my gluten foods


  29. well written post


  30. Thank God I am o k and can eat every thing


  31. Very much medical info


  32. why people go gluten free when no evidence of benefit but lots of evidence of harm


  33. To restrict some food because of a medical reason deserve our prayers and empathy .However if people choose for now reason ,just believing ,they cause their body harm and better watch out

    With my humble respect


  34. I have been struggling with celiac disease for 11 years and even though I am coping very well and I enjoy my foods (very expensive though) but I did lots of search and asked all physicians if this gluten free prevent cancer or other disease or prolong life and so far no evidence of any .For me is life saving but for those who can tolerate gluten ,please enjoy and do not restrict or believe in false ideas that gluten free more healthy


  35. I will never evn try gluten free or any fad diet.
    What is wrong with varieties of all bleassed God made foods


  36. I love all my foods especilly those with glueten.


  37. As I was born and raised in India ,I have been vegetarian but recently I fed up and I am now eating varieties with moderation and feeling very well.
    It is better to be moderatet than extreme in everything even in love.


  38. all foods are good


  39. I endorse eating every thing in moderation


  40. I do not have gluten allergy and so I have many option .I will not follow the media (all commercial) but those who are gluten sensitive have no options other than go gluten free.


  41. Very good for one to be moderate in every thing and not to shoot to extreme as fad diet or overwork or too lazy .


  42. gluten not for me at all


  43. I am happy with my gluten rich foods


  44. My best friend has celiac and hate the gluten free diet and not compliant with diet and so has lots of diarrhea, fatigue and poor nutrition


  45. Very helpful knowledge.


  46. Very helpful info.

    Sheila Ketson

  47. Well written post.
    Now I know what people talking about re gluten free.


  48. What a lovely easy to read post



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