Considerations for going gluten-free

Is a gluten free diet right for you?

Wheat in a field.
Photo: Ashly Nelson, MSU Extension Community Nutrition Instructor.

Lately, going gluten-free has been a trendy eating movement to lose weight, boost energy or to generally feel healthier. A gluten-free diet is essential for the health of those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivities. It is important to understand the differences between the two as well as the impact a gluten-free diet can have on your body.

The disturbance that gluten causes your body is classified as either celiac disease or gluten intolerance. According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, celiac disease is as an autoimmune disorder where the ingestion of gluten overtime leads to damage of the small intestine. Gluten intolerance, commonly known as gluten sensitivity, holds similar symptoms to celiac disease; however, the individual does not test positive for the disease. Currently the only treatment plan that has been discovered for celiac disease or gluten intolerance is to follow a gluten–free diet. There are no medications to treat this autoimmune disorder.

If you are determined to incorporate a gluten-free lifestyle, it is important to know that it can set you up for a variety of nutritional deficiencies. Gluten is an abundant ingredient in many products that tend to be major sources of B-vitamins and fiber. B vitamins are essential for helping your body get or make energy from the foods you eat. Inadequate intake of B vitamins can lead to health complications including, anemia (iron/B12/folate deficiency), pellagra (niacin deficiency), beriberi (thiamin deficiency), along with many more deficiencies. Fiber is another nutrient that is rich in gluten-containing products. Dietary fiber intake benefits your body in many ways including, normalizing bowel movements, lowering cholesterol, controlling blood sugar and achieving optimal healthy weight.

The gluten-free diet was created to combat celiac disease and gluten intolerance. A food that is labeled gluten-free can be higher in calories, fat and carbohydrates, with lower amounts of essential nutrients, including fiber vitamins and minerals. Researchers warn individuals that gluten-free diets and products tend to be low in a wide range of important nutrients, including B-vitamins, calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium and fiber. There is little point in risking other nutritional deficiencies unless you have tested positive for celiac disease or have gluten intolerances. It is important to listen to your body to know if a gluten-free diet is right for you. Make sure to connect with your medical provider regarding any changes you wish to make, as well as questions or concerns about your health.

For more information about building a healthy diet, visit MSU Extension's Nutrition website.

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