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One of the major trends in the nutrition world is the gluten-free diet. It’s not often that a serious medical condition sparks a dieting fad but such is the case with the gluten-free craze. Sufferers of Celiac Disease, an auto-immune condition, must avoid foods containing gluten; but somehow, the diet has become popular with non-sufferers who think cutting out gluten will help them eat healthier or lose weight. It won’t necessarily do either, yet loads of gluten-free products marketed to the general population suggest that it can. In this week’s article let’s look at the facts behind this theory…

The basics

A gluten-free diet is a diet that excludes the protein gluten. Gluten is found in grains such as wheat, barley, rye and triticale (a cross between wheat and rye). A gluten-free diet is used to reduce reaction to the protein from those with celiac disease. Gluten causes inflammation in the small intestines of people with celiac disease. Eating a gluten-free diet helps control and reduce the symptoms, and prevent complications.

Allowed foods during a gluten free diet

Many healthy foods are naturally gluten-free:
• Eggs, fresh meats, fish and poultry (not breaded, batter-coated or marinated)
• Fruits and vegetables
• Most dairy products
• Beans, seeds and nuts in their natural unprocessed form

Foods to avoid

• Wheat
• Barley
• Rye
• Triticale (a cross between wheat and rye)

Are there any health risks?

Mainly not getting enough vitamins and minerals, such as calcium, iron, folate, niacin, fibre and more. People who follow a gluten-free diet may have low levels of certain vitamins and nutrients in their diets. The reason is that many grains are enriched (or fortified) with vitamins. Therefore, supplementation may be a good idea if you choose to try such a diet plan.

Is a gluten-free diet right for you?

Of course, eating gluten-free makes sense for anyone with Celiac Disease or a significant sensitivity to gluten. But are there real benefits for the rest of us? The answer is not really, although some people report feeling better after reducing their intake of products with gluten. Keep in mind that a product labelled as “gluten-free” isn’t necessarily healthier. Gluten-free products can be high in calories, fat, and carbohydrates, and some people who go gluten-free may actually gain weight. That being said, as long as you continue to eat a balanced diet, cutting gluten probably won’t cause any harm.

However, the most common misconception about this diet is that if a food is “free from” something, that something must be bad. Gluten is part of the protein in wheat, which is a good grain that sustains millions around the world in the form of bread. Only for a small proportion of the population gluten would cause health problems; in fact, 100 people are estimated to suffer from coeliac disease in the UK and also 1 in 100 in Europe. In addition, people often believe that the benefits from such a diet will occur overnight. Everyone is looking for a magic solution for weight loss, but it takes work to be healthy. So if you are considering going gluten-free make sure to consult your doctor or Nutritionist.

By Kleio Bathrellou
Associate Nutritionist

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