I think we all strive to do a better job with making better food choices and it's hard to know which direction to go sometimes. I like to go the direction of what science and research supports as having the greatest outcomes for health.
Being gluten free is often equated with eating healthy which is not always the case. Gluten free foods and diets have become somewhat of a a trend which, in part, can be due to big business ($5 billion dollar industry) and more availability, yet can be unhealthy, containing as many preservatives and processed foods as gluten containing items. It's similar to saying that eating vegan is healthy when someone eating vegan can easily live on vegan junk food which is obviously not a healthy way to eat. There is a vast difference between being vegan and eating a whole foods plant-based diet similarly to making healthy gluten free choices when going gluten free.
Some people clearly need to eliminate gluten from their diets. There are three recognized conditions related to gluten: wheat allergy, Celiac disease, and non-Celiac gluten sensitivity.1 It is estimated that 1:1000 have a wheat allergy, 1:100 have Celiac disease, and slightly greater than 1% of people have a true gluten sensitivity.2-4 Becoming gluten free without knowing you are truly gluten intolerant/sensitive or have Celiac, can actually not be beneficial to your health. Gluten can promote gut health by providing prebiotics such as oligofructose and inulin that are in wheat products.5 Gluten has also been shown to boost immune function through an increase in natural killer cells.2 Plus wheat is complex carbohydrate a low glycemic index, which would be unfortunate to fully eliminate if unnecessary for one’s health.
A study of 84 patients without celiac disease was done and 32 of the patients were found to have something other than gluten sensitivity causing their symptoms. Half of the 32 patients where found to have an imbalance in gut flora, which as stated above, being gluten free can actually contribute to. Other causes were fructose/lactose or other food intolerances, microscopic colitis, gastroparesis, and pelvic floor dysfunction.6
The take away? Going gluten free will not necessarily benefit one's health if gluten or wheat intake are not an issue. I feel like wheat and gluten have gotten a bit of a bad wrap. The evidence supports that if not contraindicated, they can be beneficial to one's health. And when eating a whole food plant-based diet, one will get a minimal amount of gluten by eating a wide array of grains and many other foods.
I invite questions, comments, and thoughts anytime!
In good health,
1. Greger, M., M.D. (Center For Nutritional Studies). (Unknown publication date). Gluten Free Diet Trends - ECornell Plant Based Nutrition Course. (Video webinar). Retrieved December 2017.
2. Horiguchi N, Horiguchi H, Suzuki Y. Effect of wheat gluten hydrolysate on the immune system in healthy human subjects. Biosci Biotechnol Biochem. 2005; 69(12): 2445-2449.
3. Picarelli A, Borghini R, Isonne C, Di Tola M. Reactivity to dietary gluten: New insights into differential diagnosis among gluten-related gastrointestinal disorders. Pol Arch Med Wewn. 2013; 123(120): 708-712.32.
4. Rubio-Tapia, A, Ludvigsson JF, Brantner TL, Murray JA, Everhart JE. The prevalence of celiac disease in the United States. Am J Gastroenterol. 2012; 107: 1538-1544.
5. Sanz Y. Effects of a gluten-free diet on gut microbiota and immune function in healthy adult humans. Gut Microbes. 2010 May/June; 1(3): 135-137.
6. Slavin J. Whole grains and human health. Nutr Res Rev. 2004; 17: 99-110.