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Is Going Grain Free Right for Your Health?

Gluten free written in flour on a wood table with different food sources containing grains, including pasta, crackers, muffins and bread.

As you walk down the aisle of your favorite grocery store, you may notice products labeled gluten free on the shelves outside of the designated gluten free section. Food companies are marketing gluten-free products due to the rising popularity of gluten-free diets in 2016. Five years later and gluten-free diets are still one of the world's top diet trends.

What is Gluten?

Gluten is a protein found in whole grains such as wheat, barley and rye. Most individuals are able to digest gluten with no adverse side effects. However, individuals with Celiac disease are unable to digest whole grains. Celiac disease is an immune response to gluten that causes inflammation of the intestines and can lead to uncomfortable symptoms including: diarrhea, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, weight loss, anemia, fatigue and more.

The treatment for Celiac disease is adherence to a gluten-free diet to prevent damage to the intestines and eliminate any unwanted symptoms. But many people that do not have Celiac disease have adopted a gluten-free diet with hopes to lose weight, improve energy levels, and benefit their health. According to Dr. Daniel A Leffler, director of research at a Celiac Center in Boston, says there is no significant benefit of following a gluten-free diet if an individual does not have Celiac or a gluten intolerance.

Who Should Follow a Gluten-Free Diet?

Unless you have been diagnosed with Celiac or a gluten intolerance by your doctor, following a gluten-free diet can be extremely restrictive and may pose health complications. In the United States, many foods containing gluten are fortified with important vitamins and minerals. Eliminating fortified grains can lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies including:

  • Vitamins A, D, E and K

  • Iron

  • Calcium

  • Zinc

  • Copper

Why You Should Incorporate Whole Grains

Consuming a diet that incorporates whole grains is beneficial for optimal health and the prevention of nutrient deficiencies. According to the 2020-2025 Dietary Allowance Guidelines, people should incorporate whole grains into their diet, with half of the grains consumed being whole grain food sources.

A whole grain contains the bran, germ and endosperm of a grain kernel and is a good source of fiber, which may help regulate bowel movements, improve heart health, and reduce the risk of some cancers and other chronic diseases. Whole grains not only provide beneficial fiber, but also contain necessary vitamins, minerals and high amounts of antioxidants. Some examples of healthy whole grains to incorporate into a balance diet are:

  • Brown Rice

  • 100% Whole Grain Bread

  • Barley

  • Oats

  • Quinoa

Bottom Line: If you believe you may have Celiac or a gluten intolerance, consult your physician before you decide to follow a gluten-free diet. If you do not have any issues tolerating gluten, it is not recommended to restrict it from the diet due to the risk of nutritional deficiencies and reduced intake of fiber.

Learn more about whole grains and other wellness programs offered by Wellness Workdays.

Written by: Lexi Nazzaro, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern



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