Recently Dunkin’ introduced its first gluten-free brownie.
In doing so, the multinational chain joined a growing number of grocery stores and bakeries stocking up on gluten-free or grain-free products to meet an exploding demand. U.S. sales of gluten-free food are projected to rake in $2 billion by 2020.
For the small percentage of the population who truly can’t eat gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley, that’s good news. Yet, many people without this condition are jumping on the gluten-free train because they believe it is a healthy option.
Are gluten-free foods healthier?
A gluten-free diet is the only option for people with celiac disease, a serious autoimmune disorder. Roughly 1% of the American population has Celiac disease, and another 0.3% suffer a wheat allergy.
Still, the number of Americans following a gluten-free diet tripled between 2009 and 2014, according to a study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine
, with a third of Americans trying to eliminate gluten from their diets.
Unless you have celiac disease or a true gluten sensitivity, it’s not a good idea to exclude it from your diet, says an article, Is a Gluten-Free Diet Healthy for People Without Celiac Disease?
, published by the Virginia Tech Department of Human Nutrition.
The article cautions that cutting out gluten can do more harm than good if you don’t have celiac disease or gluten intolerance. It goes on to say that “a gluten-free diet can lack vitamins, minerals and fiber and following this diet for no reason might not be a good choice.
“Since wheat, rye and barley are key sources of vitamins and minerals, eliminating gluten could increase the risk of nutritional deficiencies.”
The Virginia Tech publication recommends that anyone experiencing symptoms associated with celiac disease pursue medical testing.
Does going gluten-free help you lose weight?
Another misconception among consumers is that going gluten-free will help them lose weight. In fact, people may initially lose weight because they have eliminated calories in the form of foods like bread, pasta and cake. If dieters choose gluten-free, high-calorie processed food options, that could lead to weight gain.
“Some gluten-free products are high in saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, or sugar,” stated the publication. “Others are high in calories, and many are not whole-grain.
“Additionally, most gluten-free alternatives are more expensive than their gluten-containing counterparts.”
If following a gluten-free diet means not eating whole grains, that also can be problematic, because whole grains are associated with numerous health benefits, especially for heart health. As part of a healthy diet, high intake of whole grains has been associated with reduced risk of heart disease, some cancers, Type 2 diabetes and obesity.
Many foods are naturally gluten-free
• fruits and vegetables
• fresh eggs
• fresh meats
• fish and poultry
• unprocessed beans
• seeds and nuts
• most dairy products
• white rice
Grains and starches that may be allowed as part of a gluten-free diet include buckwheat, corn and cornmeal, flax, quinoa, rice, soy, arrowroot and millet.