The gluten-free diet has widespread across America as people begin to see companies advertise their products as such. Originally, gluten-free diets were prescribed by doctors whose patients suffered from Celiac Disease. Celiac disease is defined as an immune disorder in which people cannot tolerate gluten because it damages the inner lining of their small intestine and prevents it from absorbing nutrients. When people with Celiac Disease consume food with gluten, their bodies respond by destroying their inner intestine walls. This leads to their foods not being absorbed and malnutrition becomes a problem. Symptoms of Celiac Disease also include, nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, constipation and abdominal bloating. With that being said, it is clear to see why a gluten-free diet would be essential for those with this condition. But you may be wondering, “what exactly is gluten?”.
Gluten is protein that is found in wheat, rye, barley or any products that are made with these grains. Avoiding all foods with these whole grains can be very challenging but many companies have began to label their products gluten-free. Gluten is found in most of everything but being gluten-free is definitely doable. Some products that contain gluten include, potato chips, bread, pasta, tortillas, cereal, malt (milkshakes), energy bars, candy, vitamins and mineral supplements as well as nutritional shakes, herbal drinks etc. As you can see there are many food types that contain gluten and this proposes a challenge for those who can’t have it. Celiac.org provides information and guideliness for those with the disease on how to avoid gluten.
After researching the topic of gluten and Celiac disease I found that only 1% of Americans actually have the inherited autoimmune disease and of that 1% of Americans who do, only .4% of them have being diagnosed by a doctor. This fact made me wonder why so many Americans are gluten-free or are so anti-gluten. I then found that a large percent of the population, around 18 million have what is known as “non-celiac gluten sensitivity” which has some symptoms that were mentioned earlier but researchers are not quite sure the mechanism of this. I then decided that I would do some research among my peers here at Louisiana State University and see what they thought of gluten-free diet and if they knew anyone who was gluten free.
I surveyed 100 people and asked if they were gluten-free or knew someone who was and 54% answered yes, they were or knew someone who was gluten-free. When I asked the same sample of participants if they believed gluten-free was healthier than a regular diet, 22% said yes, 27% said no, and 51% didn’t know. The last question I asked was, if the participant or someone they knew had been diagnosed with Celiac disease. The results showed 81% of the participants had not been or didn’t know anyone who was diagnosed with Celiac disease. This study showed me that according to my sample, the majority of people knew someone who was gluten-free. It showed me that the majority of people either believed gluten-free diets to be healthier or weren’t sure and also that only a small percent of people actually knew someone with Celiac disease.
After looking over this information, I wondered, how healthy is a gluten-free diet compared to just a healthy diet. I found that there is no harm in eating a gluten free diet, but doing so may cause a lack in nutrition. Fortified foods are usually your wheats, and flours so without them in your diet you tend to lack B vitamins, calcium, magnesium, fiber, iron and zinc. To add to this many of the products being marketed as “gluten-free” aren’t healthy. You can find a gluten free label on almost anything today, as companies begin to take advantage of this marketing scheme to trick people into thinking they are actually buying something good for themselves. Gluten-free does not mean healthy and in many cases can actually mean the opposite. Despite the fact that it can lead to the lack of vitamins and minerals mentioned above, you can find gluten-free candies, ice cream, alcohol, and much more. Many of the things we consider unhealthy are being marketed as gluten-free in an attempt to trick consumers into buying and thinking they are healthier than others.
In conclusion I believe that gluten-free diets are beneficial to those who need it and are under the guidance of a nutritionist. Gluten-free diets for those who don’t have celiac disease can also be beneficial for those with gluten sensitivity, but being gluten-free should not be deemed as healthy. There are far too many products that don’t contain gluten and are very unhealthy. Also, without the supervision of a nutritionist or supplementation, you may be depleting yourself of vital nutrients such as vitamins and minerals. If you are considering going gluten-free I recommend you discuss it with your doctor or hire a nutritionist. Don’t get caught up in the marketing scams and spend more on gluten-free products that are just as unhealthy as a bowl of lard.