The gluten-free diet – a sweeping diet craze that has emerged in the past few years – was originally created for those who have celiac disease. For those who suffer from celiac disease, gluten damages the lining of the small intestine and prevents it from absorbing parts of food that are crucial for health. According to the National Institute of Health, about 1 in every 100 Americans suffer from celiac disease, yet, many people without the disease are transitioning to a gluten-free diet. Being gluten free has become chic, with celebrities such as Miley Cyrus, Zooey Deschanel, Novak Djokovic, and Miranda Kerr all on board. Last April, Miley Cyrus tweeted, “The change in your skin, physical, and mental health is amazing!” after going gluten free. Domino’s has even added gluten-free pizza to their menu. However, all the hype surrounding the benefits of a gluten-free diet for those not suffering from celiac disease may be misleading.
In a recent New York Times article, Dr. Stefano Guandalini, the medical director of the University of Chicago’s Celiac Disease Center, explained, “It is not a healthier diet for those who don’t need it. These people are following a fad, essentially.” In other words, there are no real benefits from eliminating gluten. While may think cutting out gluten may contribute to weight loss, replacing foods containing gluten with carbohydrates like rice, cornmeal and buckwheat flour may actually cause weight gain. Gluten-free products are often high in calories, fat, and carbohydrates; they are also less likely to be fortified with vitamins and generally contain less fiber. In addition, following a gluten-free diet is incredibly hard to do; gluten is found in commonly eaten foods and beverages including beer, soy sauce, processed meat, and flavorings and in order to commit to maintain a gluten-free diet, it is essential to read the fine print on every packaged food label. The message seems to be that avoiding gluten, if is not essential, is unnecessary and could, in some cases, do more harm than good.