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PERRY BUCHANAN: You shouldn't buy into the gluten-free diet hype

HEALTH & FITNESS: Gluten allergies do exist, but most who try it don't know why they should go gluten-free

Perry Buchanan

Perry Buchanan

The latest diet fad is all about going gluten-free and gluten-free foods are all the rage. It seems everyone thinks that choosing gluten-free options are healthier. However, these foods aren’t necessarily healthier for you. In fact, gluten-free baked goods are typically loaded with more fat, sugar or artificial ingredients than traditional baked goods. If you don’t need to opt for gluten-free foods, simply go for those that have whole grains listed as the first ingredient and that are low in sugar, salt and added fat.

It seems that a lot of people who are on a gluten-free diet do not really even know what gluten is, or why they should go gluten-free. They may be doing it because a friend is, or they read an article on the Internet about the supposed benefits of the diet. Unless you have an allergy to gluten, you should not buy into the fad because it will not make you healthier by itself. But it does have a high probability of making you poorer and could potentially increase your risk for weight gain and chronic disease.

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and any foods made with these grains. Unfortunately, some doctors and other health professionals have jumped on the gluten-free bandwagon. To be fair, gluten resistance problems exist but in a very small percentage of the population. For some people, such as people with celiac disease, who have an inability to process it properly, gluten can cause mild to severe stomach distress and autoimmune disorders.

If you suffer from celiac disease and are allergic to gluten you must eat gluten-free. However, less than 1 percent of Americans are truly gluten intolerant and a maximum of 6 percent are gluten sensitive. So, 6 percent of the population may benefit from a gluten-free diet. If you are not among this very small percentage of people who are gluten insensitive, removing gluten from your diet is probably not a good idea. You will end up paying more money for much less nutrition. You will also create a higher probability of weight gain.

You may actually feel better when removing gluten from your diet, but if so, it’s probably because you changed or removed something else at the same time. You can’t remove gluten by itself. You end up removing the entire food that contains gluten and it may have been a high-sugar, bleached, starched or fatty food that you should not have been regularly eating in the first place. In other words, foods don’t just contain gluten; they contain lots of things that might have made you previously uncomfortable. For 94 percent of us, simple changes in lifestyle at the same time you went gluten-free may be what makes you feel better. It wasn’t just the removal of gluten that made you feel better.

Like most fad diets, there are many reasons not to be on a gluten-free diet. Gluten is contained in many healthy whole grain foods. The consumption of whole grain is associated with a significant reduction in chronic disease. Whole grains also improve the feeling of fullness so there is a less tendency to overeat. Many gluten-free products have added sugar, fat and salt to help replace lost taste and texture normally supplied by gluten. Because of this process, most gluten-free foods contain fewer vitamins and less fiber.

Although many people go on a gluten-free diet to lose weight, it is not uncommon to instead gain weight and have more difficulty in controlling appetite. Gluten-free diets can cause weight gain and undernourishment, the opposite of what you’re trying to accomplish! Because of reformulation expenses, gluten free products average up to 3 times more expensive than the naturally gluten-containing foods. Marketers now often put a “gluten-free” label on many products that are naturally gluten-free, adding to the fad’s confusion. This same marketing ploy was also used during the low carbohydrate fad diet craze.

Most experts believe the gluten-free fad will eventually peak, just as the low carbohydrate craze did in 2004, which led to the bankruptcy of many companies that jumped on the bandwagon late. Unless you’ve been properly tested by your doctor and a gluten-free diet has been prescribed, don’t consider going gluten-free. In the long run your body will tell you what you can and can’t eat, not the Internet or fad propaganda. Enjoy yourself this Memorial Day and take a break from your regular diet. You should probably stop yourself when you reach for that third slice of cake, but for different reasons than because of the gluten!

Perry Buchanan, owner of PT Gym, is certified as a Health Fitness Specialist through the American College of Sports Medicine, and Fitness Nutrition Specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine.