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Gluten Free Diets: Marketing Scam or Healthy Lifestyle Choice?

Gluten Free Diets: Marketing Scam or Healthy Lifestyle Choice?

Gluten-free: you may have noticed the label now frequently found on food packages, in restaurants, and in grocery stores.

So what is gluten anyways? Gluten is a protein found in the grains: wheat, barley, and rye. What’s the deal with cutting it out of our diet? Well for people with celiac disease, a chronic digestive disorder, gluten causes an immune reaction that can damage the small intestine, causing gastrointestinal problems and deficiencies in nutrients.

As people have become more aware of this disease in the past few years, testing for celiac has become more common, and suddenly a market for gluten-free foods has emerged. Restricting gluten intake has also become a new diet tool; the idea behind it being that if you limit the amount of foods you can eat, you won’t eat as much. However, as Shelly Case, R.D., points out, “Without gluten to bind food together, food manufacturers often use more fat and sugar to make the product more palatable."

Cutting gluten does not necessarily mean cutting calories or fat, so don’t expect to drop pounds by dropping gluten from your daily diet. In addition, some studies have suggested that people who ditch gluten also miss out on several important nutrients like iron, vitamin B, and fiber. This is certainly not always the case, as a diet focused on fruits, veggies, lean protein, and gluten free grains like quinoa can actually be a whole and nutritious way of eating. But many of the ‘gluten-free’ options out there today don’t offer holistic health benefits such as the foods just listed.

The bottom line: if you have an intolerance to gluten or if you have Celiac Disease, cutting out gluten from your diet is a must. But, gluten itself is not unhealthy. If you think you suffer from a gluten sensitivity or celiac disease, you should probably see your doctor to get tested. In the mean time, here are some symptoms to watch out for:

  • Chronic diarrhea or constipation?
  • Abdominal pain and bloating?
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Anemia
  • Fatigue
  • Infertility

Women’s Health Magazine

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Sarah Smith is a junior at the University of Michigan, Class of 2012, majoring in Communication Studies and Political Science. She is the Editor-in-Chief of The Forum, Michigan's Greek Life Newspaper, and the secretary of Michigan's chapter of Ed2010. Sarah is also an active member of Alpha Delta Pi Sorority, and she currently serves Michigan's Panhellenic Association as the Vice President of Public Relations.  A native of Sterling Heights, MI, she has been a Michigan fan since birth and loves spending Saturday mornings cheering on her Wolverines. Some of her favorite things include The Office, Audrey Hepburn, women's magazines, and microwave popcorn - preferably with lots of butter and salt!
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