Benefits and Realities of a Gluten Free Diet

Gabrielle Daley, Editor-In-Chief

When walking in a grocery store you may see sections of boxes labeled as “gluten-free.” Even when ordering food from a restaurant you’ll see “GF” next to a dish or a whole page dedicated to gluten-free foods. Many people have joined the trend of gluten-free dieting, but what exactly is gluten? Why isn’t it healthy?

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley and it is responsible for the elastic texture of the dough. It helps wheat products like baked goods stick together. Bread, cakes, wraps, pies, cookies, pasta, pizza, fried foods, alcohol, candies, and granola are all some of the many foods that people following a gluten-free diet have to avoid (unless marked otherwise). Gluten is hard for the body to absorb and sometimes sticks to the intestines due to digestive enzymes’ incapability to easily digest the protein. This protein can irritate a person’s stomach and make them sick – making them gluten sensitive; and for people with Celiac disease, it has the potential to permanently damage the intestines.

People with Celiac disease can’t have any gluten even 50 milligrams – the size of a small pill – can cause horrible pain. In healthy people, the small intestine is lined with finger-like projections called villi that absorb nutrients. In a person diagnosed with celiac, gluten irritates the lining of the small intestine and causes the immune system to attack gluten. Over time the villi can be destroyed, meaning the body can’t absorb any nutrients. The protein can also slip through the intestinal lining and cause inflammation of their other organs. According to the US Department of Health and Human Sciences, Celiac affects 1 in 141 people in the United States. To be diagnosed, a person’s doctor will perform blood tests. If the results show signs of being celiac-positive then the patient will undergo a biopsy – a procedure when a small camera examines the small intestine – to confirm the results.

People with Celiac disease sometimes have to rearrange their whole kitchen and get separate pots, toasters, and containers in order to avoid cross-contamination with a non-Celiac person’s food. “I have my own toaster, my own wooden spoons, my own cookware. I had my own butter and peanut butter… anything that could be contaminated by a knife or spoon, I have my own separate and labeled. All of my stuff is red so my family will know to stop and not to touch it,” Mrs. McDonnell, a health teacher with Celiac disease said.

On the other hand, humans with gluten sensitivity don’t experience damage to their intestinal lining like those with celiac disease. However, they can experience headaches, bloating, fatigue or diarrhea after eating foods that contain gluten. “It’s more common than Celiac disease and probably more common than we know – possibly as many as 1 in 10 people,” according to Everyday Health. When gluten sensitive people take gluten out of their diet it is like a detox to the body. Usually being gluten free makes people rearrange their diets and start eating more whole foods such as vegetables and rice instead of processed foods.

Other people that can benefit from a gluten-free diet include those with autoimmune diseases. In autoimmune diseases, the immune system produces antibodies that attack healthy cells and tissue, causing damage and inflammation. People with autoimmune diseases have intestine which release gluten into the bloodstream, and they also have antibodies that mistake gluten for the healthy cells and attack them. Examples of autoimmune diseases are thyroid disease and type one diabetes.” Since I began eating gluten-free, I feel so much better. I just think my body feels lighter and more flexible and I don’t feel as tired and achy after eating food,” Ms. Kasunick, who was diagnosed with type one diabetes explained. Others that have a chronic disorder called Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) can benefit from a gluten-free diet. Doctors have now recommended the diet for children with ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorders. The way manufacturers modify wheat products has relation to the characteristics of these disorders and taking the gluten-free root has benefited those with ADHD and autism. However, it is controversial and not widely accepted by scientists.

Although going gluten-free has its benefits for some people, it isn’t for everyone. If there is no sensitivity to the protein, researchers and doctors suggest staying away from the diet. Being gluten-free can cause a deficiency in a vitamin B and fiber since whole-wheat bread and cereals are usually filled with fiber and fortified with vitamins. Gluten free products aren’t usually filled with vitamins and are usually just as unhealthy as their counterparts found in regular aisles (ie. gluten free cookies, bagels, muffins, and pizza). “There’s always trendy diets and gluten-free doesn’t mean ‘healthy’ A lot of the flours you use are as fattening as regular flours. I mean it’s better for your stomach, but in terms, as a weight loss diet it’s not beneficial,” said Nurse Albano, who was diagnosed with Celiac disease. Nevertheless, these products are very expensive. A bag of gluten-free pretzels is twice the price of a bag of regular pretzels. A small gluten-free pizza might be $16.00 at a restaurant while the regular pizza is $10.00.

Many people go gluten-free and feel relieved and healthy, but they don’t have a sensitivity. The only reason they feel better is that they’re leaving wheat out of the diet, which in turn makes people stay away from processed foods and turn to whole foods. Just because the celebrities swear by the diet, it doesn’t necessarily mean that gluten was the losing factor in their health beforehand. A majority of people that go gluten-free just because it’s a new diet don’t take it seriously. Because they don’t take it seriously, at restaurants waiters have started to not take it as a harmful allergy and end up putting gluten on the plate with those with Celiac disease.

When going gluten free people need to read a lot of labels, and know what they can and cannot eat. Gluten-free eaters also have to make sure they don’t accumulate a deficiency in vitamins and fiber by eating whole foods. “Eating enough fiber when following a gluten-free diet can sometimes be a challenge. However, there are many ways to increase your fiber intake because fiber is found in virtually all plant foods. Examples of gluten-free sources of fiber include fruits, gluten-free whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, vegetables,” the Gluten Intolerance Group stated.

It’s all about making the body feel better and energetic. This diet is now growing more popular, and if you continuously feel sick after eating wheat products like bread, talk to your doctor – you may be sensitive or even Celiac.