Some of the healthiest foods are naturally gluten free. Beans, seeds, nuts, eggs, meats, fish, poultry, fruits, vegetables and most dairy products do not contain any wheat, rye or barley, making them naturally gluten free foods.
Although seemingly healthy, there are some unintended consequences that consumers need to be aware of regarding a gluten free diet. Some of these consequences include higher consumption of arsenic and mercury, increased calorie consumption and reduced intake of some important nutrients.
What Are Gluten-Free Foods?
Foods that are not gluten free are any foods made with wheat, rye or barley. This includes most breads, pastas, pastries, snack foods, beer, candy and salad dressings…just to name a few. In fact, most processed products have a gluten derived ingredient in them.
So what’s in all the gluten free breads, pastas and specialty products then? Gluten-free products often contain rice flour as a substitute for wheat. Rice is known to bioaccumulate certain toxic metals, including arsenic and mercury from fertilizers, soil or water. Research has found that those who consume a gluten free diet have higher levels of these chemicals in their blood. However, more studies need to be done in order to determine if this higher consumption of arsenic and mercury poses a significant health risk.
What You Need to Know About the Gluten-Free Diet
Many specialty made gluten free products are denser than their gluten containing counterparts. For example, gluten free bread is made with a different grain and for the most part, is a denser product than regular wheat bread. This denseness equates to more calories. So if consumers are replacing all gluten-containing products with gluten free products, calorie consumption could increase substantially. And over time, this calorie increase will pack on the pounds. There is a disconnection between reality and perception regarding a gluten free diet. Most consumers believe gluten free means weight loss and do not realize that some of these specialty products do the exact opposite. There is nothing magical about eliminating gluten that equates to weight loss.
Additionally, whole grains provide many healthy nutrients like fiber, vitamins and minerals. Gluten free products are often made with refined grains and are low in nutrients. Studies show gluten free diets can be deficient in fiber, iron, folate, niacin, thiamine, calcium, vitamin B12, phosphorus and zinc. You can eat a healthy diet without gluten, but you have to be very knowledgeable and most people aren't.
Celiac Disease vs. Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity
There is a difference between celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity. An estimated 1 in 133 Americans, or about 1 percent of the population, has celiac disease. Celiac disease is an actual food allergy, providing allergy like symptoms when ingested. Gluten intolerance is more common and research estimates that 18 million Americans have non-celiac gluten sensitivity. That’s 6 times the amount of Americans who have celiac disease. Celiac disease is diagnosed with a blood test and intestinal biopsy, while non-celiac gluten sensitivity is diagnosed by the process of exclusion.
Who Needs a Gluten-Free Diet?
For those who have celiac disease or gluten intolerance, cutting gluten out of the diet is necessary. In fact, a gluten free diet is the only resolution since there are no medications for these conditions. But those who do not have the condition are avoiding gluten unnecessarily. In fact, this could prove harmful to your health if doing so for other reasons than celiac disease or gluten intolerance.
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