October 7, 2012

What’s the Real Deal With Gluten-Free? ~ Heidi Templeton

Fad or fact? A registered dietitian weighs in on the gluten-free diet.

Just when bread thought it was safe to return to store shelves after the Atkins craze, a new trend in dieting is once again taking aim at our beloved carbs. The gluten-free diet is the newest fad diet promising weight-loss by avoiding all things gluten, suddenly gluten-free ice cream has become diet friendly.

The gluten-free diet is nothing new for those who suffer from celiac disease. Celiac disease is a genetic condition affecting an estimated one percent of Americans. People with celiac disease have to avoid the protein known as, you guessed it, gluten. Gluten protein is found in wheat, rye, barley and some grains and causes damage to the lining of the small intestine in those who suffer from it.

So what does this mean for dieters?

I decided to go behind all the eye-catching labels and advertising lures to debunk and better understand what the big deal is about gluten. To get help, I asked Meghann Scholl RD, LD, a couple of questions about how this diet has gained so much popularity and if you could benefit from it.

HT: How do you think the diet got so popular?

MS: First, you have to start by looking at the type of foods that contain gluten. Gluten is in a lot of different types of foods. People who are very strict with avoiding gluten eliminate a lot of food choices. Gluten is obvious in bread, pasta, chips, cookies, cereals and crackers, but it is also in dips, sauces, condiments, beverages, ice cream, etc.

There are plenty of foods that are naturally gluten-free, including fruits, vegetables, beef, poultry, fish, nuts, eggs and more. The common theme tends to become eliminating of grain-based carbohydrates and calorically dense foods. People who decrease their intake of carbohydrates and high-calorie foods usually loose weight and may even feel less “bloated.” This may have led many people to believe that they are gluten intolerant and need to follow a gluten-free diet.

HT: Would people who don’t suffer from celiac benefit from a gluten-free diet?

Photo: Rita Crayon Huang

MS: No. Gluten-free diets when followed correctly are very restrictive. Managing celiac disease is not just about eliminating gluten from your diet. It also involves making sure you get all the vitamins and nutrients you need—particularly iron, calcium, fiber and the B-vitamins thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and folate—that are found in fortified grain-based carbohydrates.

Those who follow a gluten-free diet, but have not been diagnosed with celiac disease by a medical professional, put themselves at risk for vitamin and mineral deficiencies.

HT: Can you look into your dietitian crystal ball and tell us about any up-and-coming diet trends?

MS: I would encourage you to touch on “trendy” diets when it’s pertinent, but also focus on diets that are science-based and more highly recommended to the general population for lifelong health success (i.e. DASH, TLC, MyPlate, etc)

Bottom Line: This article suggests “gluten-free” is mostly a diet trend. However, there are millions out there—including myself—who suffer from allergies or intolerance to foods ranging from everything from gluten to dairy. Pay attention to how your body reacts to certain foods and consult with your doctor if you suspect you suffer from celiac disease or any other type of food ailments. Consult a registered dietitian if you need assistance getting on track with a healthy diet and remember to always maintain an active lifestyle!

For more information on gluten-free diets, visit the website of the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics or the WebMD Celiac Disease Center.

Heidi Templeton is a Tampa Bay Area yoga instructor specializing in vinyasa, hot and standup paddle board yoga. When she’s not practicing asana, you can find her in the kitchen cooking up vegetarian dishes. Heidi is sharing her love for all things health and wellness on www.facebook.com/HeidiFit.



Editor: Malin Bergman

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