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Updated 08 February 2018

Who really needs to go gluten-free?

Gluten is a protein found mostly in wheat, barley and rye, but a gluten-free diet is a must for only about 2% of the population.

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It seems like "gluten-free" labels are popping up everywhere, including on foods that never had any gluten to begin with. Is this a health bandwagon you should jump on or shy away from?

Gluten is a protein found mostly in wheat, barley and rye. A gluten-free diet is essential for the 2% of the population diagnosed with coeliac disease, to avoid serious intestinal inflammation.

Some people have a lesser condition called non-coeliac gluten sensitivity and may feel better on a gluten-free diet.

What to avoid

What to avoid when you have coeliac disease or gluten sensitivity:

  • Wheat in all forms including durum flour, farina, graham flour, semolina and spelt
  • Barley and products with malt
  • Rye
  • Triticale

But for everyone else, a gluten-free diet may just be more costly and could negatively affect digestive health because you're missing out on fibre. Consumer Reports also found that some gluten-free foods have more fat, sugar and/or salt than their regular counterparts, and can be costly.

Gluten-free products are also often short on nutrients like iron and folic acid – found in foods with enriched-wheat flour. According to a previous article published on Health24 people who go gluten-free without needing to do so actually deprive themselves from these important nutrients.

A previous article also stated that a gluten-free diet doesn't have additional health benefits, especially not from hearth health.

Not for everyone

Many products also replace wheat with rice. This is a concern because the US Food and Drug Administration has been monitoring rice and rice products for the presence of small amounts of arsenic, which finds its way into rice from both natural and human sources. So, it's important not to overload on this grain, even whole-grain brown rice.

If you must cut out gluten, get fibre from other whole grains like amaranth, kasha, millet and quinoa, and from fruits, vegetables and nuts. And always read labels to be sure you're not replacing gluten with sugar and fat.

And if you are trying to lose weight, but don't need to lose the gluten for health reasons, rather try different measures such as portion control, a balanced diet and exercise, say the experts.

Image credit: iStock

 
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