Gluten-free is all the rage right now, with many people jumping on the bandwagon after hearing about how healthy it is. Papa Johns, Pizza Hut and Domino’s all have gluten-free pizza. Fast food restaurants like Chick-fil-a offer gluten-free buns in most locations, while chain fast casual restaurants like The Cheesecake Factory and The Olive Garden all offer gluten-free bread or pasta options on the menu.
But is going gluten-free if you don’t have a medical reason to actually better for your health, or is this just another fad diet that will fall to the wayside, like Atkins or The South Beach Diet?
What is Gluten, Anyway?
Gluten isn’t bread, or pasta, or carbs, but a binding protein found in many natural products. This binding protein is basically what holds everything together in a wheat product, making it sticky. If you have ever read a recipe for making cookies and the directions tell you to not overwork the dough, it is because the gluten in the flour will become too tense and hurt the texture.
Gluten isn’t only in wheat products, though that is the most common place. It can also be found in barley and rye, along with anything that has those products. Many sauces, cereals, soups and dressings all have gluten in them.
Why People are Going Gluten-Free
There is a small but growing percentage of the population that are going gluten-free because of an actual, medical diagnosis. The biggest reason is because of celiac disease.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder, which is when your body attacks itself. When someone with celiac disease consumes gluten, the body triggers this reaction in the small intestines. Over time it can cause extensive damage, and the results of untreated celiac disease can be very serious.
Should You Go Gluten-Free if You’re Not Diagnosed?
Probably not. If you compare the nutritional information from a slice of white or wheat bread to a slice of gluten-free bread, you’re going to notice that the gluten free bread is worse for you in about every way. In addition, it often has an ‘off’ taste or texture if you aren’t used to it.
Gluten-free ‘substitution’ foods like pasta and breads are generally higher in fat, sugar, and calories because manufacturers have to stuff them full of something in order for the taste to be acceptable to consumers. When you substitute gluten-free pasta for regular or whole wheat pasta in a dish, you’re actually adding calories and sugar to that final dish.
In addition, many people who go gluten-free entirely are lacking in essential vitamins and nutrients, like the B vitamins, fiber, iron, and more. Wheat has been a staple in diets for years for a reason, and it isn’t inherently bad for you.
If you have to go gluten-free for health reasons, the diet makes a lot of sense. However, going gluten free to simply shed extra pounds isn’t all that healthy for you! It makes more sense for most people to simply cut back on their gluten intake, and make healthier choices, like getting the salmon instead of pasta at dinner and skipping the dessert table.