If you have to ask, the answer is most likely no.
Reasons to Be Gluten-Free
Celiac Disease affects about 1% of the population. It is the number 1 reason to be gluten-free. Celiac Disease is characterized by:
- unintended weight loss
- iron-deficiency anemia
There are multiple causes for the above symptoms and if you are experiencing any of them, please see your doctor.
Celiac Disease is caused by an autoimmune response that happens upon ingesting gluten. After eliminating gluten from the diet symptoms should lessen and go away altogether. It is not uncommon in people with celiac disease to have multiple other food intolerances. For this reason, if symptoms persist, it is important to keep a food diary and log any symptoms you have after being gluten-free.
Celiac Disease causes damage to the small intestine, it does not matter how much gluten is ingested for this damage to occur. For this reason, it is important that anyone with celiac disease be strict about eliminating gluten from their diet.
Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity
You may never get a diagnosis of “Non-celiac gluten intolerance (NCGS)” as some doctors don’t find it to be a credible disease. The reason they feel this way is because people with NCGS will test negative for both celiac disease and a wheat allergy. Despite that, there is a growing body of evidence that it is, in fact, a real disease.2
Current common symptoms include:
- mental fatigue, also known as “brain fog”
- gas, bloating, and abdominal pain
If these symptoms subside by eliminating gluten from your diet then you are best off going gluten-free, diagnosis or not.
Reasons Not to Be Gluten-Free
Going gluten-free outside of a medical need has become a growing trend. This seems to correlate with popular diets like the Atkins diet which focuses on reducing carbohydrate intake. But, going gluten-free does not mean “low-carb.” The problem is that many gluten-free products, while helpful to people with celiac disease or gluten intolerance, are still high in carbohydrates. They have additives and fillers to help accurately replicate the properties of gluten. Simply replacing all gluten products with gluten-free substitutes does not create a healthier diet.
If you have a wheat allergy, you don’t need to be gluten-free. Gluten is a protein that is present in wheat but it is also present in other grains like rye and barley. If your allergy is only to wheat you are safe to eat products like rye bread. However, this is dependent upon how sensitive you are to wheat exposure. A bread made with a different type of flour could very well still contain trace amounts of wheat.
Should I Eat Gluten-Free Substitutes?
Understandably, people with celiac disease have a gigantic gluten shaped hole in their hearts. While we can all understand this feeling, we can’t truly understand how maddening it can be to follow a strict gluten-free diet. For this reason, gluten-free products have been flooding the market. Gluten-free pasta, crackers, and bread have helped celiac patients to continue to enjoy some of their favorite foods. If eating the occasional gluten-free pasta helps you keep your sanity who am I to tell you to stop? However, I do caution you against relying upon these products.
Gluten-free substitutes often have unfavorable additives like xanthan gum which can cause digestive issues.3, 4
Gluten-free products are also made with alternative flours. It takes a whole lot of almonds to create almond flour and frankly, we don’t know what effect that has on our bodies.5, 6 Until these products are fully researched, it is best to avoid daily consumption.
Processed carbohydrates cause weight gain. They are low in nutrients and fiber but great at raising your blood sugar. In America, processed carbohydrates have become a staple of the diet; they are often considered healthy, but their consumption should be very limited, ideally, eliminated.
What You Should Do
Limit processed carbs, whether they contain gluten-containing or not.
Even people who actively avoid processed carbohydrates splurge with some pasta or croissants every once in a while (it’s not just me right?). If you’re gluten-free, use that as a good reason to limit your processed carbohydrates intake. Processed carbs like pasta are treats just as much as a cookie or a cupcake is. Occasional treats in an otherwise healthy diet are ok but try not to eat them daily. Instead, learn how to create a diet that is both healthy and enjoyable while avoiding gluten (if you have to) and limiting processed carb consumption.