Myths and Facts About Going Gluten Free

As awareness of the connection between diet and health increases, it’s natural to examine the foods you eat and question whether they’re helping to keep you healthy or doing you harm. While just 10 years ago few people had ever heard of gluten, today more people are considering adopting a gluten-free diet, even when it isn’t medically necessary. 

If you’re wondering if a gluten-free diet is right for you, a good place to start is to separate fact from fiction so that you can make an informed decision.

At Illinois Gastroenterology Group, our highly-skilled gastroenterologists address a wide array of conditions that affect the digestive system. In our practice, we counsel patients with celiac disease who must avoid gluten to prevent health complications.

Individuals with celiac disease produce antibodies that attack the lining of the intestine when they eat foods that contain gluten. This autoimmune response damages the finger-like protrusions (villi) responsible for absorbing nutrients from food. Nutrient deficiencies and weight loss are common results of this intestinal damage caused by gluten.

Here our experts dispel the myths surrounding adopting a gluten-free diet.

Gluten overview

Gluten is a group of proteins found in wheat, rye, and barley. Because many foods contain these grains or their derivatives, gluten is a major component of the typical diet. 

Common sources of gluten are:

Additionally, gluten lurks in not-so-obvious places like:

Adopting a gluten-free diet is no easy undertaking, but with time and effort most people adjust and do well.

Myth: Everyone should adopt a gluten-free diet

Fact: For people with celiac disease, following a gluten-free diet is a necessity, but some proponents of the diet believe everyone should slash gluten from their diet to improve their health. 

But at this time there’s no compelling evidence to suggest that a gluten-free diet improves health in ways outside of medical necessity. What’s more, gluten-free foods tend to be highly processed, and may have less fiber or more fat than their regular counterparts, so you could be doing more harm than good when it comes to your health. 

Myth: Only people with celiac disease should go gluten free

Fact: There is increasing evidence that gluten sensitivities exist outside of celiac disease. For instance, avoiding gluten improves symptoms for some people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). These individuals do not have celiac disease, but gluten triggers inflammation and aggravates their IBD symptoms.

Whether you should follow a gluten-free diet is something you must discuss with a qualified digestive specialist. Gastroenterologists are specially trained in evaluating a range of digestive issues and can help you decide if a gluten-free diet is the best approach to address your condition.

Myth: Going gluten free promotes weight loss

Fact: Nearly 3 million Americans without celiac disease follow a gluten-free diet, and some of them do so believing it will lead to weight loss. There is no evidence to suggest that a gluten-free diet will help you shed pounds. In fact, many people notice a small weight gain when going gluten-free. An increase in nutrient absorption may explain why.

Some people without celiac disease may experience weight loss after adopting a gluten-free diet. However, this likely has more to do with cutting out foods that are high in calories and fat, such as baked goods, and less to do with gluten itself.

Myth: You have to give up the foods you love

Fact: Going gluten free isn’t about depriving yourself of a slice of pizza every now and then. Adhering to a gluten-free diet means tapping into your creativity and discovering alternatives to your favorite foods. 

Substitutes for flour have come a long way in terms of baked goods, pasta, and other flour-based foods. And remember, vegetables, fruit, lean protein, and healthy fats should make up the bulk of a healthy diet any way, and these foods are naturally gluten free.

Our team of gastroenterologists is here to help you get answers, address digestive issues, and improve your health. We have offices in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs, including Gurnee, Evanston, Skokie, Libertyville, Lindenhurst, and Highland Park. Call your nearest office to schedule a visit with one of our specialists, or you can request an appointment here on our website.

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