(Based on “The Truth about Gluten”, Consumer Reports, January 2015)
Fad? New health prophesy? Gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, has recently been targeted as the source of all dietary evil. Even though less than 7% of Americans are truly gluten-sensitive (with some variation of Celiac Disease), many others claim significant relief from various troublesome physical and mental symptoms by adopting gluten-free diet.
Gluten-free diet may be poorly balanced and devoid of important nutrients. When considering such diet, one must be aware of the following:
1. Gluten-free diet may be less nutritious: A true gluten-free diet may be low in certain nutrients (e.g. folic acid and iron) and may lead to increased consumption of sugar and fat.
2. Potential increased exposure to Arsenic: Rice-containing gluten-free diet may have increased amounts of inorganic Arsenic, a carcinogen.
3. Weight gain: Despite common misconceptions about the weight-reducing properties of gluten-free diet, the reverse may be true- weight gain due to increased sugar and fat content in such diet.
4. More expensive: Approximately double the cost of regular diet.
5. Serious health conditions may be missed: Certain anemias and gastrointestinal conditions may be missed. Many people who are not truly gluten-sensitive may feel better on gluten-free diet in the first few weeks or months, either due to placebo effect or due to reduction in certain carbohydrates (e.g. fructose) that may be the original source of troublesome symptoms.
6. You might still be eating gluten anyway: Approximately 5% of “gluten-free” foods actually still contain gluten.
Gluten-free diet may still provide relief from troublesome mental and physical symptoms in people who are not truly gluten-sensitive but care must be exercised to avoid compensatory increase in calories (especially from sugar and fat) in gluten-free diet. One must ascertain that nutritional deficiencies, especially iron and folic acid, are avoided. Other diets that are less expensive and laborious may achieve the same effect.