Gluten-Free Lifestyle: Is it Good for our Health?

Nowadays, you can’t go anywhere without hearing the words gluten-free. You may feel pressured to jump on this bandwagon diet that celebrities endorse.

Every grocery store, restaurant and many convenient stores offer a variety of gluten-free options to satisfy the growing popularity of this lifestyle. To understand what all the buzz is about, Dr. Onikia Brown, an Alabama Extension nutrition specialist, offers her insight and expertise on gluten-free living.

What is Gluten?

“Gluten refers to two proteins found in wheat, barley, rye and spelt: gliadin and glutenin. Gliadin is responsible for most of the negative health effects,” said Brown. “Gluten is found in many foods, not just those grains, because it helps to develop a chewy, satisfying texture.”

Most people tolerate gluten in their diet, but those who have Celiac disease, gluten sensitivity or wheat allergy will not be able to digest it properly.

About 1 percent of the population has Celiac disease. People who have this disease have an autoimmune response to gluten proteins, where their immune system attacks the lining of the small intestine,” said Brown. Common symptoms include bloating, headache, joint pain and fatigue.

“Less is known about gluten sensitivity, which affects as many as 6 percent of the population,” said Brown.

Some experts believe gluten is not the cause of this condition, but rather FODMAPs. These are“short-chain carbohydrates found in many foods, including wheat, some fruits and vegetables, which can cause various digestive symptoms,” said Brown.

Foods to Eat and Avoid

Most everyone thinks that a gluten-free diet will help you lose weight. This is because foods that contain gluten have ingredients including added sugars, fats and preservatives. These ingredients are found in pizza, beer, desserts and snack foods, but there are also many high calorie gluten-free processed foods.

Brown said it is important to read and understand food labels to make informed decisions about food choices.

Gluten-free foods to include in your diet are fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs, beans, lentils, peanuts, seeds, tree nuts and fresh fish. Avoid licorice, foods that contain modified starch, matzo, imitation fish, soy sauce, bouillon cubes and brown rice syrup.

The health of the gut bacteria directly impacts overall well-being,” said Brown.     

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