It’s hard to open a menu in any major metropolitan city without seeing the letters GF stamped beside entrées, baked goods, and more. “Gluten-free” seems to the buzz term of the decade. So what is a gluten-free diet and should you join the masses? If you feel you’re in the dark about the ins and outs of the GF lifestyle, read on to learn more.
A gluten-free diet is one that excludes gluten, a naturally occurring protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and triticale. It is predominantly followed by those who suffer from celiac disease.
People who suffer from celiac experience inflammation of the small intestine when they consume gluten, which can result in many symptoms, including: iron-deficiency anemia, fatigue, bone or joint pain, arthritis, osteoporosis, liver disorders, depression or anxiety, tingling or numbness in the hands and feet, seizures, infertility, and more.
In people with celiac, gluten essentially irritates the lining of the small intestine and causes the immune system to attack the villi, which are the small tentacle-like projections that absorb nutrients in the body. In order to control symptoms, prevent complications, and get the nutrients they need, celiac sufferers must follow a gluten-free diet.
Additionally, some people suffer from what’s known as non-celiac gluten sensitivity. People with this condition essentially have similar symptoms to celiac when they eat gluten, but don’t have celiac disease. They can also benefit from a gluten-free diet, and diet is the only treatment for their condition.
For those who with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a chronic gastrointestinal disorder, it is also advised to exclude gluten as part of a low FODMAP diet (a diet low in Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols). Gluten grains are high FODMAP foods and can cause bloating, cramping, and diarrhea.
A gluten-free diet can also be indirectly beneficial because it is often low in processed foods, and higher in fruits and vegetables. Processed foods tend to contain chemicals and artificial flavors, which can have numerous detrimental health effects. Also by avoiding the carbohydrates found in bread products, you’re more likely to eliminate unhealthy oils from your diet.
If by consuming a gluten-free diet, you eat a predominantly plant-based diet—rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, you may also encounter a stronger immune system and experience weight loss.
If you don’t suffer from a gluten intolerance like celiac disease, a gluten-free diet is not necessarily “healthy”. In fact, some packaged gluten-free products can be just as unhealthy as their alternatives, being high in sugar, low in beneficial whole grains, and lacking many of the essential nutrients our bodies need, like fiber iron, zinc, folate, niacin, thiamine, riboflavin, calcium, vitamin B12, and phosphorus.
If you decide to follow a gluten-free diet, be sure that it is healthy and well balanced—consult a nutritionist for advice.
Do you follow a gluten-free diet? Try our gluten-free protein bars, a delicious on-the-go snack available in three flavors.
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