The Gluten Debate: Good or Bad?

Right now, an increasing number of Americans are going gluten-free. In fact, “gluten-free” is a food industry buzzword. Gluten is a protein found in grains and can be harmful to some individuals with celiac disease or irritable bowel syndrome. However, does this mean gluten is harmful to everyone? The more you know about the positive and negative aspects of gluten, the more prepared you’ll be to decide whether you should consume it.

Celiac Disease and IBS are Serious

If you suspect you have celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, or another disease that gluten aggravates, you should contact your doctor. Sometimes these diseases are asymptomatic, and many of their symptoms are nonspecific. For example, severe skin rash is a symptom of celiac disease, but that could also be psoriasis. Diarrhea could be a symptom of IBS, or you might simply have a persistent stomach bug. It’s important to document your symptoms and tell your doctor as much of your medical history as possible, so he or she can make an informed diagnosis. Do not assume you have a gluten sensitivity until your doctor confirms you do.

Going Gluten-Free May Impact Your Nutrition

It’s natural to want to try a gluten-free diet if you’ve seen others’ health improve as a result. However, doctors warn that doing so without a valid medical reason may impact your health. Whole grains containing gluten such as barley, wheat, and rye offer a plethora of nutritional benefits, such as increased energy. Consuming these grains as part of a balanced diet also ensures you get the vitamins you need, such as vitamin B, and may lower your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other conditions.

Additionally, doctors warn against eliminating entire categories of foods, especially those you are used to eating. When you do this, your body will immediately begin experiencing nutritional deficits. You may also experience withdrawal-like symptoms such as irritability or fatigue, especially if some of your favorite foods contain gluten.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that most people need the proteins and vitamins found in gluten, and eliminating an entire category of food will not help you, even if you are gluten-sensitive. If you think you are gluten-sensitive, contact your doctor and give him or her a full history. He or she can test you, and if a gluten sensitivity exists, help you learn to cope with it without sacrificing nutrition.

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