Gluten-free not always the way to go

In recent years, going “gluten-free” has become a huge movement in this country. It’s more than just a weight loss fad — it’s become almost a lifestyle for millions and has been thoroughly embraced by everyone from hippies and yoga instructors to soccer moms and business execs nationwide.

Not since Atkins have so many people latched on to a specific dietary regimen — and food companies and corporations have taken note.

“Gluten free!” is now plastered on thousands of food products, many of which never contained gluten to begin with.

But there’s a group of people who take umbrage with the idea that it’s a healthier way to life, people who would be happy to chow down on some gluten-rich foods but can’t.

Have you ever heard of Celiac Disease? Probably not.

According to the Celiac Disease Foundation (CDF), Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disorder that can occur in as many as one in 10 genetically predisposed people — one in 100 people world-wide.

When people with Celiac Disease eat gluten, their body mounts an immune response that attacks the small intestine and leads to damage to the villi, the small finger-like projections that line the walls of the small intestine. The villi’s job is to help with the absorption of nutrients so when they are damaged, nutrients cannot be brought into the body, which adds up to a whole host of medical problems.

As if that wasn’t enough, if left untreated, Celiac Disease can lead to additional serious health problems including the development of other autoimmune disorders like Type I diabetes and multiple sclerosis. Dermatitis herpetiformis, anemia, osteoporosis, infertility and miscarriage have been known to be linked to Celiac Disease as well as some neurological conditions like epilepsy and migraines. Intestinal cancers have also occurred.

The cure is simple, albeit time consuming and involved: don’t eat gluten.

Contrary to popular belief, a gluten-free diet isn’t necessarily healthier and often leads to weight gain. In fact, many gluten-free products are high in processed carbohydrates and sugar.

“A person not dealing with a gluten sensitivity or Celiac disease would be better off shopping for a variety of high-fiber carbs, lean proteins, colorful fruits and veggies, and healthy fats,” states the CDF. “One hundred percent whole-wheat barley, wheat, and rye are also packed with fiber, which can help lower cholesterol and improve digestive health.”

Ironically, people who do not suffer from Celiac Disease and choose to eliminate gluten from their diet are more susceptible to the very digestive issues that plague people with the disease.

So is gluten-free the way to go? For most people, no.

“People who are sensitive to gluten may feel better, but a larger portion will derive no significant benefit from the practice. They’ll simply waste their money, because these products are expensive,” said Dr. Daniel A. Leffler, director of clinical research at the Celiac Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. “The average American diet is deficient in fiber, take away whole wheat and the problem gets worse.”

Leffler urges people wanting to begin a gluten-free diet to first speak with their doctor about the risks involved. But besides caution, Leffler advises something else: discretion as more than 300,000 people in this country with Celiac disease have to follow a gluten-free diet.

“It’s time consuming, expensive, and restrictive. It’s a gigantic burden for those who have to follow it. They get frustrated when they hear how ‘wonderful’ this diet is,” he said.

Easley Progress, South Carolina