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Is a Gluten-Free Diet a Healthy Option for Your Body?

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Is a Gluten-Free Diet a Healthy Option for Your Body?

In recent years gluten has become quite the buzz word and gluten-free eating is the diet of choice for many. Media driven pseudo-science has effectively confused most on the healthfulness of this food component. So what is the scoop? Is gluten-free the way to be? Let us help you decide.

What is gluten?

Gluten is a protein found in the grains wheat, barley and rye, as well as foods made from these grains. It is a component of common foods such as traditional bread, pizza dough and pasta. Gravies, breading, seasonings and sauces, imitation seafood and flavored tea can also be hidden sources of gluten.

Should I avoid gluten?

Many people can enjoy foods containing gluten without bodily harm, with a few exceptions. Gluten is a major health concern for those with celiac disease; it causes an inflammatory reaction that damages the body’s small intestine. The small intestine is where the majority of nutrients from the food we eat are absorbed. Damage at this site can lead to malabsorption, malnutrition and a host of other health problems. Approximately 1 percent of the global population has celiac disease, so roughly one in 100 suffers from this condition. 

Non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) is a medically recognized condition but it is not yet fully understood. While NCGS does not damage the body, it can cause unpleasant symptoms. In many cases, the response to gluten is dose sensitive and small amounts are often tolerated.  

Does a gluten-free diet cause weight loss?

Initially, some people on a gluten-free diet may experience weight loss and credit gluten avoidance as the reason. In reality, the weight loss was likely a result of a calorie cut, mostly from carbohydrates, and an increased intake of naturally gluten-free foods, such as fruits and vegetables.

Is gluten-free healthier?

While there are many healthy gluten-free foods, some can be deceiving. Many processed gluten-free foods are made from refined gluten-free flours, which are low in fiber. Also, sugar and fat may be added to improve taste and consistency.

Gluten-free foods are classified as “specialty foods” and by law are not required to be enriched. In other words, many pre-packaged refined gluten-free foods may lack nutrients such as B vitamins and iron compared to their gluten-containing counterparts.

Are there gluten-free whole grains?

Adequate intake of whole grains can be deficient on a gluten-free diet. Whole grains provide a rich energy source, fiber, B vitamins and iron, among other nutrients. Make sure you include gluten-free whole grains on a regular basis if you follow this type of diet. These include: 

  • Amaranth
  • Arrowroot
  • Buckwheat
  • Whole corn
  • Millet
  • Gluten-free oat products
  • Quinoa
  • Rice
  • Sorghum
  • Teff

What foods make up a healthy gluten-free diet?

A healthy gluten-free diet largely mirrors that of a general healthy and balanced diet:

  • Lean meats, poultry and fish
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Beans, peas and legumes
  • Eggs
  • Low-fat dairy
  • Gluten-free whole grains
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Healthful fats and oils: olive oil, canola oil, avocado

It can be a challenge to follow medically necessary dietary restrictions, but it does not have to be. If you or someone you know is faced with special dietary needs, Cooper Clinic registered dietitian nutritionists can help you navigate your way to a healthy and appropriate meal plan for you as an individual. For more information, visit or call 972.560.2655.

Article provided by Gillian Gatewood, RDN, LD, CNSC, Cooper Clinic Registered Dietitian Nutritionist