It always frustrates me when I hear someone say that they are eating gluten-free to either eat healthier or lose weight. I have to bite my tongue so I don’t blurt out, “Why in your right mind would anyone choose to do this to themselves?” Think about all the pizza you’re missing out on and can have. Granted, gluten-free products have come a long way over the last 10 years, but committing to a gluten-free lifestyle is a choice that should be made because you have a medical reason that requires eliminating gluten.
Two weeks before I left home to start college at University of Illinois, I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease, which is an autoimmune disease. Soon after that I was told that I was also gluten intolerant. In order to improve the way I felt (I am going to spare you the details of the exact symptoms I experienced every waking day), I had to drastically change my diet and eating habits. I had to learn how to do this on my own and away from the comforts of home. But it was to my benefit that I had chosen to study in the area of nutrition and dietetics.
Essentially, there are three reasons why a person should eat gluten-free. The first is to manage celiac disease, where gluten damages the small intestine and repeatedly attacks the autoimmune system. It is important to acknowledge that those who have celiac frequently need to completely remove gluten from their diet. The next reason is to reduce skin irritations or dermatitis. Lastly, a person should eat gluten-free if trying to reduce gastrointestinal symptoms or distress. For those who are gluten-sensitive, small amounts of gluten may cause short-term digestive discomfort, but isn’t believed to increase the risk of serious long-term consequences.
There are more important reasons as to why one should not give up gluten. Those who feel that it is a healthier way to eat are misguided because carbohydrates should make up 55-60% of a healthy diet and this is where most gluten is found. Sure, if you stop eating your usual meals of pizza, cookies and mac and cheese, you’ll lose weight. But cutting out all grains, including healthy grains, results in loss of several important vitamins, fiber, calcium and iron. Gluten is a binding agent and when removed in products, is most frequently replaced with sugar and fat. Cough cough, this makes gluten-free foods more caloric.
Click on the links above for gluten-free recipes.
On the other hand, if a person desires to lose weight, there are easier, healthier and less expensive ways to do this. By making fruits and vegetables fill half of your plate, eating clean or unprocessed foods, using a smaller plate and reducing the number of calories you consume a day, you can begin to initiate healthier eating habits. And still enjoy plates of pasta.
If you think you feel better by eliminating gluten, then it is important to talk to your doctor. You must know exactly what the problem is in order to properly treat it. So, don’t eat gluten-free just to lose weight; there are better alternatives than giving up pasta and bread which have many beneficial vitamins and minerals besides being amazing. For those who have to eat gluten-free, make sure to read the food labels.