Despite many health claims, gluten isn’t necessarily bad for you unless you have celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), or a wheat allergy
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and other grains and commonly found in breads and pastas. Sometimes referred to as a naturally occurring “glue” because of its ability to help foods maintain their structure, gluten is highly elastic and resistant to enzymes that break down proteins in your stomach.
Is gluten bad for you?
If you experience discomfort when eating gluten, talk to your doctor before making any dietary adjustments.
Who should avoid gluten?
Gluten causes swelling in the internal lining of the intestinal wall, which in turn stimulates the immune system to attack the injured lining of your small intestine. Over time, this results in small intestinal damage and inflammation, and other nutrients are less likely to be absorbed.
Gluten can cause symptoms of celiac disease, such as:
Symptoms are not always restricted to the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and may include:
Non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS)
NCGS is a condition with symptoms similar to those of celiac disease and is usually diagnosed when a person doesn’t have celiac disease but still has intestinal discomfort when eating gluten. However, there hasn't been a lot of conclusive research on gluten sensitivity, and there is no test to diagnose the condition.
Wheat allergy occurs when the immune system misidentifies wheat protein as a pathogen that causes illness, such as bacteria or viruses, rather than as a nutrient. An allergic reaction occurs, which can cause symptoms such as difficulty breathing, skin rash, and runny nose.
Are there any benefits of including gluten in your diet?
Unless you have any of the conditions mentioned above, going gluten-free does not necessarily correspond to a healthy diet. Some research studies have demonstrated the health benefits of gluten.
Gluten contains arabinoxylan oligosaccharide, a prebiotic carbohydrate that aids in the feeding of healthy bacteria in the colon, which is beneficial for gut health. Going gluten-free could therefore lead to gastrointestinal disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome.
What is a gluten-free diet?
If you have gluten sensitivities, it’s important to read ingredient labels to determine whether a food item contains gluten.
Gluten-free foods include:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Fresh meat, fish and poultry
- Seeds and nuts
- Rice and quinoa
- Unprocessed beans
You may need to find gluten-free substitutes for the following gluten-containing foods:
- Soy sauce
- Most desserts