Is the Gluten-free Diet Good for Everyone?

It seems like the topics of the gluten-free diet and gluten-free foods are  popping up at every cocktail party, social occasion or gym.  Almost everyone knows someone who has "gone gluten-free" In 2015 Nielsen conducted a survey of 30,000 adults in 60 countries. Twenty-one percent of those surveyed rated gluten-free as "very important" when making food purchases. I am often asked at social occasions if everyone would be healther refraining from gluten. The short answer is "No" - unless you have Celiac Disease, Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivy or a wheat allergy. It is a common misconception that a gluten-free diet is a healthier lifestyle choice.  This has probably come about because some TV personalities and sports figures have given up gluten. In most - but not all - there was a legitimate diagnosis of Celiac Disease. People begain self-diagnosing because they had symptoms similar to those of these public figures.  They also experimented with the gluten-free diet and reported "feeling better".  Feeling better is not a measurable outcome. To legitimately test out the theory, the person would need to track symptoms and  note if the diet improved these. Then gluten would be reintroduced. If symptoms returned, the person has Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity. 

Gluten-free products generally contain more fat and sugar than their non-gluten counterparts - read - lots of calories! Once gluten is removed from a baked product it is necessary to add extra fat and sugar to keep the product tender. So, the gluten-free diet is not a presciption for weight loss. A certain percentage of those following a gluten-fre diet will gain excess weight as well as well as new-onset insulin resistance because of the increased calories. Social isolation, inconvenience and expense are other downsides to gluten-free living. Finally, if a person has not already been tested to rule out Celiac, it will not be possible to test as there would not be any antibodies.

   Gluten is the new "bad guy" - outpacing fat and carbs - as the "dietary danger".  Gluten is not toxic to otherwise healthy people.

   What about infants whose parent(s) have Celiac? Should they avoid gluten?The jury is still out on the ideal age to introduce gluten to infants with a parent(s) with Celiac Disease.  These infants should be monitored for sign and symptoms such as failure to thrive and repeated gastrointestinal disturbances.  The bulk of the studies on this topic have not reported any improvement for delaying the introduction of gluten until six months or for not introducing it before four months.

     So,the next time someone at a cocktail party asks if they should be gluten-free, suggest they consult with a Registered  Dietitian or their physician.