Do You Need to Go Gluten Free?

If we had to pick one trend in healthy eating that seems to be showing up almost everywhere we look, it would be gluten-free eating. From popular books, magazines and websites to grocery-store shelves and restaurant menus, it seems everyone is jumping on the gluten-free bandwagon.

If we had to choose a reason, it would be the notion that cutting out gluten can help with weight management. Is there any science to support that claim?

The fact is many more people are sensitive to gluten than was believed only a few short years ago. It’s estimated that one out of 20 of us have some form of gluten intolerance, the most severe of which is celiac disease. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. Most oats are contaminated with it also.

How do you know if you’re gluten sensitive?

It’s not easy to diagnose. For celiac disease, which involves a severe negative reaction to gluten, blood tests and intestinal biopsies are generally advised. For milder forms of gluten intolerance, conclusive tests are not yet available. The bottom line is to remove it from your diet and see if symptoms you are experiencing go away.

Symptoms of gluten intolerance range from migraines, diarrhea, constipation and bloating to muscle and joint pain to autoimmune diseases and more. And for some, symptoms may also include cravings and dysregulation of hunger cues that cause us to think we’re hungry when we’re not.

So does that mean everyone who struggles with eating and weight gain should try going gluten-free?

Not necessarily. One likely cause of weight gain associated with gluten sensitivity is chronic inflammation. That’s because chronic inflammation can lead to insulin resistance, which can create all kinds of havoc with our bodies. But if you’re not gluten sensitive, even if you are insulin resistant, cutting out gluten won’t help.

If you believe you might be gluten sensitive, we encourage you to work with a registered dietitian (RD) or certified clinical nutritionist (CCN).  These professionals can help you accurately determine whether you are, and if you are, help you chart your best course for gluten free eating.

It is critical that people get tested for celiac disease before eliminating gluten.  Once you have eliminated it, it’s difficult to get an accurate diagnosis.  Both blood and biopsy testing requires a person to be on a gluten-containing diet for at least 6-8 weeks and in some cases for months for the tests to be positive.

One final word about gluten-free eating.

Healing your body of damage caused by a gluten or other food sensitivity requires a nutrient-rich diet that’s best obtained by clean eating of whole foods. Just substituting gluten-free treats in an eating plan that’s low on nutrition won’t do the job. Enjoy plenty of fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, whole grains, including gluten-containing ones if you’re not sensitive, and sustainably-raised protein foods to give your body what you need to feel great.

A version of this article was originally written by Green Mountain at Fox Run for Spry Living 2011.

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