The gluten-free diet has been growing in popularity for several years, and it seems as though many people are convinced that gluten can be linked to a whole list of minor health issues. Gluten-free options are now on restaurant menus everywhere, and lots of new gluten-free products are clearly labeled on grocery store shelves. But is gluten really that bad for you? Should you cut it out for health reasons? To get to the bottom of the debate, Well + Good interviewed registered dietician Tracy Lockwood-Beckerman for the full scoop.
What exactly is gluten? Lockwood-Beckerman explained that it’s a protein found in wheat, and it’s the component that gives bread its structure. It basically works as a natural glue that holds bread, pretzels, pasta, and baked goods together.
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Why are some people unable to eat it? There are several different reasons. Lockwood-Beckerman broke it all down. About 1% of the US population (or approximately 3 million people) has celiac disease, which is an autoimmune disorder that makes it impossible for someone to digest gluten properly. Another 6% of the population (or about 20 million people) have non-celiac gluten sensitivity, which means that although they test negative for celiac disease, they still experience uncomfortable digestive systems when they eat gluten, such as bloating and nausea. But overall, both of these conditions are relatively rare, which means that the vast majority of people can eat gluten without suffering any ill effects.
But is cutting out gluten somewhat healthier? Lockwood-Beckerman says no. “Going gluten-free just for gluten-free’s sake is as much of a trend as fanny packs or those tiny useless sunglasses that everyone seems to be wearing,” she says. In other words, she doesn’t think there’s a point to going gluten free unless you actually experience symptoms of celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity—and in either case, it’s best to discuss those symptoms with medical professionals rather than jumping to conclusions. Figuring out food allergies and sensitivities can be rather complex. Plus, gluten free products are often more expensive than the regular options.
Do you eat a gluten free diet? Or are you all about those tasty carbs? Let us know in the comments!