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03 October 2017

Is gluten-free really better for you?

Don't avoid grains that contain gluten if you don't need to, say doctors. You could be depriving yourself of essential nutrients.

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Do you think you're doing your body a favour by cutting out gluten completely?

Gluten-free diets are increasingly popular, but they're not a good idea for everyone, doctors say.

What is gluten?

Gluten is a type of protein found in grains such as wheat, rye and barley. Only people with conditions that require them to avoid gluten – such as coeliac disease or gluten sensitivity – should go completely gluten-free, said Dr Christopher Heron, a family medicine physician at Penn State Medical Group in State College.

"The grains found in wheat products are essential to overall health. They provide nutrients that aren't found in most gluten-free foods, Heron said in a university news release.

That's why many people with coeliac disease need to take a multivitamin, he said.

Why do people get coeliac disease?

The immune systems of some people react poorly to gluten, resulting in conditions such as coeliac disease or gluten sensitivity.

"Coeliac disease primarily causes inflammation in the small intestine, which makes it difficult to absorb nutrients from food," Heron explained. Weight loss, diarrhoea and indigestion are typical symptoms of the disease.

Gluten-free not the path to weight-loss

With gluten-free products now widely available, many healthy people believe these foods can help them lose weight or reduce indigestion or fatigue, the doctors noted.

"Rather than going gluten-free, people who don't suffer from a gluten-related disease should shoot for a healthier diet overall by managing portion size and being aware of foods' nutritional content," said Dr Lauren Schneekloth, a family medicine physician at Penn State Medical Group.

A previous Health24 article confirms that going gluten-free does not have any additional health benefits, especially not when it comes to heart health. It is also important to keep in mind that gluten-free products can cost twice as much as products with gluten. 

Image credit: iStock

 
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