Gluten FEAR: Should You Go Gluten-Free?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
It's blamed for a host of ailments: headaches, digestive distress, weight gain, poor immune function, hormonal disruption, and even behavioral problems in children. But does gluten, the natural-occurring protein found in wheat, barley, rye and some oats, really the cause of all these health evils? Many health-conscious consumers believe so.

Oprah Winfrey tried a 21-day "cleanse” in 2008 where she eliminated meat, dairy, sugar, caffeine—and gluten—from her diet for three weeks. Grocery shoppers are seeing more food packages plastered with "gluten-free" logos on their faces, too. And specialty stores like Whole Foods offer gluten-free shopping lists and place little flags next to the gluten-free products on their shelves. As it turns out, gluten-free is a booming business. That's great for people who need to avoid gluten, but what about the rest of us?

We're all getting the message that gluten must be bad for us—why else would Oprah avoid it and our foods need to be "free" of it? Gluten-free foods are all the rage these days, but is gluten-free (or wheat-free, for that matter) the way to be or is it just another food trend?

Here are the real facts about gluten-free diets and gluten sensitivities, starting with the basics.

What is Gluten?
Put simply, wheat (all types, including durum, einkorn, faro, kamut, semolina and spelt), barley, rye and certain processed oats all contain a protein called gluten, and all foods made from these grains (most flours, cereals, breads, pastas, crackers and cookies) contain gluten, too. For a pretty comprehensive list of gluten-free and gluten-containing foods, click here. Not all grains contain gluten, however: Amaranth, arrowroot, buckwheat, cassava (manioc), corn, flax, indian rice grass (montina), Job's tears, millet, finger millet (ragi), potatoes, quinoa, rice, sago, sorghum, soy, tapioca, tef (teff), wild rice and yucca are naturally gluten-free. Oats are gluten-free, but the processing of oats usually contaminates them with other gluten-containing foods, so only oats that are specially labeled as gluten-free are safe for people with sensitivities.

What makes foods that contain gluten so desirable (besides the nutritional benefits of protein) is its texture. What makes bread so elastic and chewy? Gluten. What gives bread structure so it can rise before it is baked? Gluten again. This protein also helps bread retain its shape and acts as a binder, thickener, and stabilizer—not only in bread, but also in many processed foods, including ice cream, ketchup and salad dressing, and other products like toothpaste and medicines. (Unfortunately, for people with gluten sensitivities, you won't always find the word "gluten" on an ingredients label.) Because of all of these properties, gluten can often be found in meat analogs (vegetarian meat substitutes like seitan, veggie burgers and other faux meats) and specialty diet foods that are designed to be higher in protein. Because gluten is cheap, rich in protein and has so many great properties, it's found in a plethora of processed, fast food and restaurant foods—you know, the kind of foods we probably shouldn't be eating a lot of anyway. That doesn't mean that gluten itself is bad for you (it occurs naturally in many health-promoting whole grains), but it does mean that it's hard to avoid if you really need to.

Why Avoid Gluten?
Some people, from alternative health practitioners to some mainstream integrative doctors, blame gluten and wheat for a variety of health problems, such as depression, fatigue, weight gain and behavioral problems. It's true that people with gluten intolerance and celiac disease (present in 1% of the American population) may experience a wide array of symptoms or nutritional deficiencies that could lead to these problems. But this is not the case for gluten in general, nor is it true for everyone else who eats it. None of the theories that gluten directly causes health problems in the other 99% of the population have ever been proven. You may hear some convincing stories, though: your aunt who gave up gluten and finally lost 50 pounds, or a stranger who blogged about feeling more energetic and less depressed after going gluten-free. Many people might feel better, experience less digestive distress or actually become healthier by giving up gluten-containing foods, but that doesn't necessarily mean that gluten itself was causing those problems in the first place. In addition, personal experience is not the same thing as a well-designed research study; as you probably learned in high school science class, correlation does not prove causation.

It's impossible to know whether giving up gluten (or wheat) itself may have improved one's health or if those improvements resulted from a combination of factors. For example, a person who adopts a gluten-free diet will suddenly avoid most (if not all) processed foods, fast foods and restaurant foods. These foods are also notoriously high in fat, sodium and calories and low in nutrients anyway. A gluten-free diet also involves cooking more meals at home and eating more unprocessed foods like fruits and vegetables. Certainly, these healthful dietary practices would result in many positive health outcomes. But can you attribute the health, weight, or mental improvements directly to gluten itself? Can you blame the gluten in your Big Mac for the health problems you've faced in the past (rather than the Big Mac itself)? No. Gluten-free diet or not, we could all benefit from eating more fresh, unprocessed foods, cooking more at home, and dining out less often. A multitude of factors are at play here.

In the article "Putting the Healthy into Gluten-Free," published in the trade magazine Today's Dietitian, Registered Dietitian Earline Griffith commented, “I am seeing people who don’t need to be on a gluten-free diet choosing gluten-free products because they think [they’re] healthier. It’s kind of comical, as it is healthier to eat conventional 100% whole grain products rather than [ones that are] processed.” So why avoid gluten if you don't need to? Or more importantly, what's the big deal if you want to eat a gluten-free diet anyway?

Downsides and Challenges of a Gluten-Free Diet
Giving up gluten is not easy to do. It involves a complete overhaul of one's diet, cooking techniques, kitchen set up (crumbs inside a toaster could contaminate your gluten-free bread, for example) and eating habits. And it's not without its downsides. People who need to avoid gluten due to celiac disease and people who are simply avoid because they think it's unhealthful can run into a variety of problems.
  • Misdiagnosis and self-diagnosis. Reading about the symptoms of celiac disease online and then deciding your have it is not the same as medical diagnosis from your doctor. Many people assume they have gluten intolerance when the symptoms they experience could actually be caused by other serious conditions that giving up gluten will not solve. Only a doctor can test for and rule out other conditions. If you think you have a sensitivity to gluten, see your doctor first. By avoiding gluten before you've actually been tested for celiac disease, you could mask the markers of the disease. Like an allergy test that exposes you to an allergen to see if your body develops a reaction, you have to have eaten gluten for these markers to show up when you are tested. People who may have celiac disease but start a gluten-free diet before diagnosis or testing may receive a false negative on their test results.
  • Nutritional deficiencies. People who follow gluten-free diets, especially without instruction or supervision from a registered dietitian or doctor, may develop vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Because so many healthful and nutritious foods contain gluten, it can be difficult to get those same nutrients when eliminating these foods from your diet. You may also fall short of meeting your body's needs for carbohydrates, the preferred fuel source for exercise, brain activity and so much more.
  • Cost. An increasing selection and variety of specialty products make it easier to enjoy your favorite foods and still eat gluten-free. But it is going to cost you more than standard products, especially if you're buying processed foods that are gluten-free. You may expect to pay two to three times as much for gluten-free breads or crackers, for example.
  • Gluten-free doesn't mean healthy. Gluten-free foods are not always nutritious. Just because a cookie or bagel is gluten-free does not mean it's healthful, low in calories or nutritious. Many gluten-free packaged foods are highly processed and are best avoided.
  • You can't trust every label. As mentioned above, the word "gluten" will rarely appear on a food package or nutrition label. Some foods can legally be labeled as gluten-free but still contain gluten. In addition, food manufacturers can change their products at anytime without warning. The wheat-free pretzels that were on your safe list may suddenly change, and unless you're reading labels every time you shop, foods that were once gluten-free might suddenly contain gluten. This doesn't even get into the list of other products and medications that contain gluten.
These are just a few of the reasons why you should not self-diagnose or avoid gluten unless necessary. So who does need to avoid gluten? Only people with diagnosed gluten sensitivities.

Gluten Sensitivity and Celiac Disease
Gluten sensitivity is an umbrella term for a collection of medical conditions in which a person experiences adverse reactions to eating gluten.

According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, fewer than 1 out of 133 people (less than 1%) in the United States have celiac disease (also known as celiac sprue, nontropical sprue, and gluten-sensitive enteropathy), a condition in which the body cannot handle gluten. This condition is even less common worldwide (1 out of 266). Unlike allergies, which can develop over time, celiac disease is a genetically determined condition, the cause of which is still unknown.

When a person with celiac disease consumes gluten, an autoimmune reaction occurs in the small intestine, resulting in damage to the surface of the small intestine and painful stomach bloating, cramps, gas, diarrhea, and constipation. Fatigue, weight loss, and malnutrition are common symptoms, too. Celiac disease may also present itself in less obvious ways, including irritability or depression, stomach upset, joint pain, muscle cramps, headaches and migraines, anemia, skin rash, mouth sores, dental and bone disorders and tingling in the legs and feet. However, because these symptoms are common to many other conditions and can range in severity, celiac disease is often overlooked or misdiagnosed, as irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia. If you exhibit any of these symptoms, talk with your doctor to discuss them and get tested.

Screening for celiac disease involves a simple blood test that your doctor can perform. A complete panel (antigliadin antibody (IgG and IgA), tissue transglutaminase (tTG IgA), anti-endomysial antibody (EMA), and total serum IgA) will yield the best results. The gold standard of celiac disease diagnosis is an intestinal biopsy. Because of a known genetic component, it is recommended that family members of a diagnosed celiac be tested, even if asymptomatic; people with other autoimmune diseases are at a 25% increased risk of having celiac disease, says the Celiac Disease Foundation.

Individuals whose test results do not exhibit the markers of celiac disease, but still experience similar symptoms when eating gluten, may have gluten intolerance. Intolerance to gluten may develop or worsen over time, but there is no research to show that individuals with gluten intolerance will develop celiac disease. It should be noted that gluten intolerance has not been well researched, but it is generally accepted that gluten sensitivities do exist in varying degrees for some people. While people with celiac disease need to avoid gluten to prevent unwanted symptoms and additional damage to the intestines, some people with gluten sensitivities may tolerate varying amounts of gluten without negative effects. It is recommended (and beneficial) that people with gluten intolerance and celiac disease both work closely with their health care providers to manage their symptoms and prevent complications.

Going Gluten-Free
Just 1/8 teaspoon of wheat flour can prevent healing and exacerbate symptoms, according to some studies. So people with celiac disease need to avoid gluten permanently. Within days or weeks of abstaining from gluten, inflammation in the small intestine will begin to subside. There is no cure for celiac disease, but you can effectively manage it through strict dietary changes and the adherence to a gluten-free diet.

The following resources, selected by SparkPeople's Head Dietitian, Becky Hand, may be beneficial for people who must follow a strict gluten-free diet.

WEBSITESBOOKS & COOKBOOKSMAGAZINESThere are many challenges to eating a gluten-free diet, and adherence to this strict diet is the only way to avoid unwanted symptoms. Fortunately, America's growing interest in gluten-free foods has encouraged food manufacturers to make even more gluten-free products for those who need them. "The best thing that has happened with all the 'gluten fear' is the improvement in product quality and the number of products now available on the market for those folks who really have to avoid gluten for their life," says SparkPeople nutrition expert and Registered Dietitian, Becky Hand. cannot provide gluten-free meal plans because it is a multifaceted disease that requires individualized attention and nutritional education. We recommend that anyone with celiac disease meets with a Registered Dietitian to receive the necessary education, individualized meal planning and supplementation necessary to avoid symptoms and prevent nutritional deficiencies. Your dietitian can advise you on how to best maintain the nutritional quality of your diet and help you come up with gluten-free baking, cooking and shopping tips.

Once you are familiar with your gluten-free diet and the special gluten-free food products on the market, you are ready to combine this information with the tools and assistance at SparkPeople. You can use SparkPeople's general meal plans and make appropriate substitutions with gluten-free products or track your own foods as recommended by your Registered Dietitian. Upload your gluten-free recipes to your SparkRecipes cookbook to analyze, save and track your favorite recipes while monitoring your calories and nutritional intake. And post often in our gluten-free SparkTeams for support and tips from other members.

This content has been reviewed and approved by SparkPeople nutrition expert, Becky Hand, Licensed and Registered Dietitian.

Celiac Disease from Harvard Health Publications
Gluten (for information about gluten's properties) from
The Gluten-Free Diet: An Update for Health Professionals by Carol Rees Parrish, R.D., M.S. accessed from University of Virginia (
Gluten-Free Diet Information Sheet from the Vegetarian Society (
Gluten-free diets gaining in popularity by Kim Painter from
Gluten Sensitivity from the Gluten Intolerance Group (
Gluten Sensitivity (for information on the definition of gluten sensitivity) from
The Gluten Sensitivity Spectrum by Danna Korn from
Putting the Healthy into Gluten-Free by Sharon Palmer, RD from
Understanding Celiac Disease by John Libonati and Cleo Libonati, RN, BSN from

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Great info,Coach! Thanks for sharing this one. Report
I gave up gluten alcohol sweets and icecream for around 9 months, I was very strict and went to the gym for 6+hours a week as well as walking cleaning etc. I lost the weight I needed to fit into my wedding dress however when I returned to eating gluten etc the weight immediately swamped me. I was less bloated but otherwise didn't notice much other difference. Report
I've learned that much of what works for me I learn through trial and error. I have seen a myriad of medical professionals following cancer 3X, and they rarely agree on anything. It is my opinion that I am allergic to wheat (as a teenager, I would get migraines when my mother would bake bread, and since chemo gluten now seems to be a migraine trigger). I can get away with eating a bit if I'm out and it slips into whatever's on the table. At the other spectrum, my SIL has celiac. Although at 5'6" she weighs about 120 lbs, if any gluten slips into her diet she suddenly gets painful swelling in her stomach and looks 9 months pregnant. It lasts a few days. Report
I agree that being gluten-free isn't for everyone, but it is definitely a personal choice to try it if you don't have Celiac or test negative for it. I chose to experiment with a gluten-free diet for a week. After a week, I ate bread with dinner and the next day I had diarrhea all day. NO, it was not something else I ate with dinner that night because I have the same reaction every time I eat bread now. Other gluten containing foods can cause the opposite reaction. My DH has nearly eliminated his bouts of acid reflux and no longer has Plantar's Fasciitis. We each react differently and when nothing else works, sometimes it's worth trying something others scoff at.

As I have done a LOT of my own research on the subject, I have learned that the gluten content of wheat has increased through targeted breeding over the years compared to what our ancestors ate. On top of that, if you've ever made your own whole wheat bread at home, you know that you add gluten to help it rise, so you're adding even more gluten than just what occurs naturally. I'm not sure our bodies were meant to process that much gluten at one time so it stands to reason that our bodies might start rejecting it and reacting to it, much like an allergen. Report
I have read this before and decided to read it again as so many people I know say they can't have gluten. I found it interesting to read about some of the items that contain gluten and don't dare ask if one person in particular is aware of it. (she doesn't have celiac disease). Thank you for the information. It is so easy to jump on the bandwagon of things like this. I eat a multi grain bread w/flax seed. Enjoy it and feel fine. It was interesting too as I am sure there ate some who actually MUST avoid gluten. Unless I have problems or the Dr. says stop I won't worry. Fast foods have been off my list for years. Thanks for informing us constantly. Report
I know this article is four years old now; however, I feel inclined to comment. I am in my late twenties and for years I have suffered from severe chronic fatigue, SEVERE headaches, stomach pain, constipation, acne, and chronic inflammation throughout my entire body. I saw many doctors--GP's and gastroenterologists. They put me through test after test and could not figure out why I was so ill. I tried to explain to the doctors that my headaches and stomach pain generally occurred together and that they seemed connected. They ALL dismissed my observations! As I continued to get more and more sick I gave up on the fact that I would ever be well. Then, as a last ditch effort I started doing my own research. I finally found a few websites that addressed gluten intolerance. ALL of my symptoms were there. I put off going gluten free for several more months because I had also read many articles (like the one above) that discouraged a gluten free diet. Finally, I became very ill last September. My symptoms were worse than they had ever been and to be honest I wanted to die to make the pain stop. I decided to go gluten free for one month to see if I improved. After one week, I began to tell a difference. I have been gluten free for five months now and I feel better than I have in years!!!! My headaches/migraines are GONE!!! My constipation is gone! My stomach pain is gone! I have more energy and the dark circles under my eyes are gone. I still eat at restaurants and I still eat processed food when it is gluten free. I eat fruits, vegetables, all meat, GF dairy, etc. The point of my very long story is that sometimes you have to listen to your own body and advocate for yourself. Gluten free does not mean healthy, but it is healthy for you if you can't tolerate the gluten. It is highly offensive when the un-informed say that going gluten free without a celiac diagnosis is naive, etc. Also, explore other websites because the information on this website is not complete (especially when describing possible symptoms). I don't urge you to go gluten free to lose weight; however, if you are suffering and can't find a diagnosis it is worth a try. Report
Right on, Foxglove999! Get tested! Why go through all the worry and expense for NOTHING!? Report
I think this is well-informed and well-written. The test for celiac disease is a simple, inexpensive blood test. It was the first test they ran on me when I was getting diagnosed for IBS. I would very much recommend that you get tested for it, before trying a gluten-free diet. Even if you don't have health insurance. Going to a clinic for this test, is easier, and probably cheaper, than the alternative. Report
when i was diagnosed over 3 years ago i also gained weight and diabetes type 2 popped up because of the higher starch content in the gluten free diet. it's so hard to find whole gf-foods, and when u find it, it does cost even more than the regular gf food...baking your own gf-bread with whole gf-grains is a challange, still have not found a recipe which works without having only crums on the plate... Report
I'm Celiac but went mis-diagnosed (this is important for me to share -- you may be MIS DIAGNOSED, as well) for 4 decades.

When I got off gluten, I did exactly what happens to Celiacs who get off it (and the OPPOSITE of people who claim it's a healthy 'diet'):

I gained weight -- quickly! I've never gotten off that layer of fat. My first year was spent eating no 'specialty' foods (gluten free snacks). I have to admit, I've begun sampling some of the fare out there. Most aren't 'as good' tasting and that's fine (who needs to eat cookies and cakes anyway) but they are more expensive!

The freedom from swollen (my feet regularly swelled from a size 6.5 to an 8) joints (not only feet), mouth ulcers, ROSACEA, thin, thin, thin 'hair' (you could always see lots of scalp and I'm a woman) -- never mind all those years of debilitating gut pain?

I never got the IBS/diarrhea symptom (went the other way) but mostly, it's the symptoms I mentioned above. It's TMI but I'm sharing because all those years mean I did MORE DAMAGE to my gut.

I have chronic gut problems but they ARE so much better since I'm 2 years into my diagnosis. I wish this knowledge had gone public when I was a child. I'd never heard of it before. Report
My brother-in-law and nephew have celiac's disease. They were both rail thin and always sick, depressed, and had other health issues.

Once gluten was elimintated from their diet, they both became much healthier- and GAINED WEIGHT because their bodies were finally able to process their foods. According to their doctors, this is normal and generally expected from people with gluten sensitivity once it has been elimintated.

My own doctor and dietician said that it is highly unlikely that gluten allergy would cause weight gain. The inflamation that is caused by gluten in sensitive individuals prevents nutrients from entering the body, among other things.

Personally, I think people who try diets like this without medical reason are simply jumping on the next 'fad diet" type of people. Now, if it gets you to eat healthier and cook more, then bully for you! But really, we should be doing that ANYWAY, not because of an allergy or disease. Report
I know this is an older article, but having been diagnosed by my endocrinologist as having gluten intolerance and tried living a gluten-free lifestyle, I have learned a few things. Personally, I feel that everything is relative to the individual. What one person can tolerate well, another may not. For example, if you have an illness for which Penicillin is prescribed, you may simply get over your illness. I would go into anaphalactic shock within minutes and could die. To me, the same principle applies to food allergies or intolerance (although I understand we may not die because of a simple allergy - though some people can - like if they eat peanuts or shellfish, for example).

I also am going to college and, as I take more chemistry classes (I love science!), I am learning that besides being completely amazing, our bodies are very delicate, at times. I can't help but marvel at how modern processing and modification of everyday foods (fruits, grains, vegetables, and the animals we consume) has changed the very structure of those foods. Chemicals are added to make plants grow taller and fuller, more disease-resistant, and harvestable in traditionally non-peak times of the year. Even though certain items historically have seasons, with genetic modification, it is now possible to grow them year-round.

Corn, wheat, and soy are the most common ingredients of foods. All of them have been genetically altered at an alarming rate and mass produced for decades. Most of the genetic content of foods now is man-made versus organic. Since we have only been mass-consuming these food products for the last generation, there is no credible way to evaluate any long-term affects, such as on our health and the health of our children.

I have adopted the theory that, perhaps, we are not so much allergic or intolerant of the gluten itself, but to its genetic counterpart. I mean, our bodies were designed to consume fresh meats, grains, fruits, and vegetables...that's the way they grew and we ate them naturally. We have been genetically used to "organic" foods for thousands of years; yet, now, the majority of what we eat, if not from a box, is not organic -- it has been genetically engineered, injected with enhancements, treated with pesticides, etc.

I don't know if gluten itself, which is a naturally occurring protein from naturally grown grains, is the actual culprit. All I do know is that when I eat organic foods, I do not encounter as many problems. It is just something to think about. Report
I agree with those who choose GF, whether necessary or not, but I also support this dietician's warning to not try it without medical advice. Why? Legal reasons. She's saying it to save herself from potential lawsuit. She can't recommend you try GF on your own. There are risks, but not if you do research to make sure you're still including necessary nutrients, and she can't say, "Sure, give it a try," and assume everybody will do the right amount of research to make sure it's done right. I've been doing loads of research because our sons have behavior issues. We limit--not eliminate--gluten for our sons, and not under medical supervision. However, I was smart enough to make sure they still get the vitamins and minerals they need. At times we see a difference in their behavior.

My point, though, is that this dietician is being cautious. She has to be. Her information is very thorough and accurate. If you want somebody to say, "Go ahead, give it a try," then refer to a doctor. They are legally the only ones who can give you the green light.

Thank you for the wonderful information. Report
Although there are some good points about gluten-free processed foods being no more healthy than regular processed foods, the rest of this article concerns me. The author seems to go to great lengths to discourage someone from trying a gluten-free diet unless he/she is a diagnosed celiac. Why would anyone do that? If it could improve your health (and is not devoid of nutrients as the author implies), why would a health professional NOT support it on a trial basis?

In fact, regarding nutrients, if a person has celiac disease or gluten intolerance, but continues to eat wheat, it makes it more difficult to absorb nutrients due to inflammation. These folks are more prone to Anemia & other vitamin deficiencies. Going gluten-free would dramatically improve their health.

I'm a self-diagnosed gluten intolerant person. I've been tested for celiac disease twice, both times the results were negative. I was told to eat wheat anyway, as this author recommends. I got sicker & decided to try gluten-free... What do you know, my migraines, IBS, foggy brain, and fatigue went away within days. Then, as I kept it up over a few months, my urticaria (lifelong skin condition) cleared up, and my thyroid levels are improving instead of getting worse. Hmm. If only I had taken the author's advice, I'd be still popping 5 pills a day and be on the road to illness.

Seriously, get tested for celiac by all means, but of you are negative and still suspect gluten to be an issue, then take it out of your diet for a few weeks and reevaluate. If there's no difference in how you feel, then maybe you are ok to continue eating it. If, like me, your health improves, what an awesome discovery! I never thought I'd feel healthy again... But now I feel free. :) Report
I totally agree if you have health insurance and can go to a doctor that is what you should do. I dont have health insurance. Back in 2009 i was so sick i couldnt get out of bed every time i ate a meal. I did end up going to a doctor and had blood tests done just the normal routine blood work... which came back as me being critically low on numerous nutrients. My doctor only said take vitamins and come back in 3 months to be retested.

I began to do my own research online and ended up with the gluten free articals. I decided to give it a try because i was so tired of being sick every time i ate...which included sever bloating, heart burn to the point of chest pain, extreme constipation... nothing over the counter helped with symptoms. There was nights i would go to bed thinking wow this pain is so sever i may not wake up in the morning!

I called my doctor explained what i had decided that i couldnt afford test for gluten problems so i was going to try the gluten free diet on my own. He agreed that if gluten was my problem i would see improvement and my body would eventually start being healthy enough to retain the nutrients i was eating and my labs would improve. Within a few days of going gluten free i was 100% better! No chest pain no abdominal pain no digestive problems what so ever!

I will say again that if you can afford to go to the doctor then by all means do it but in my case that wasnt an option to pay for extensive tests and i just could not continue to live with the pain a day longer.

I could probly afford to get the testing now for gluten problems but it would mean returning to a diet that includes gluten to get it to show up on a test and im not willing to go threw the pain to get a medical diagnosis that i already know the out come of.

I agree with the host of Celiac and Gluten Sensitive individuals with raised hackles over the first part of this article. I, like many here, was misdiagnosed for YEARS until I finally decided to go on my own elimination diet. Discovering through my own diet experimentation that I seemed to have issues with wheat was what prompted me demand testing from my doctor in the first place. (Who did so reluctantly.) I'm not saying that a GF diet is for everyone, but I think that the assertion that changing your diet to GF without consulting a doctor could be dangerous is absolutely ridiculous. There is nothing inherently bad about not consuming wheat! In fact, in many cultures around the world, gluten producing grains are simply not a staple in the diet and those people are as healthy if not more than the folks in our society. I also have a hard time believing that most GF individuals have a hard time getting enough vitamins and nutrients. I actually find the opposite to be true with the Celiac and Gluten Sensitive people that I know. Sure, if all you are eating is the same old things that you usually eat in your standard diet and those things are pasta, cookies, and cake, you will probably gain weight - but these are the the same commonsense things we need to be wary of eating in moderation in a standard diet! As a final comment, the author did mention how gluten is in EVERYTHING. When you start becoming gluten aware, you begin to see how prevalent it is in all processed foods. I had to throw out ketchup, soups, soy sauce, and all sorts of crazy things that you never would have thought could contain gluten. Knowing that, I find it very difficult to believe that even for those without a gluten sensitivity it wouldn't be a good idea to cut back on the amount that is consumed. Report
While I agree that choosing to go gluten free on some vague presumption that it is "healthier" is ill-informed, I must vociferously disagree that one should have a medical DIAGNOSIS before attempting it. If I had followed that admonition I would never have learned that I am gluten intolerant, and that gluten causes my fibromyalgia and Sjogren's Syndrome symptoms (chronic pain, fatigue, dry mouth & dry everything else) to intensify. Moreover, apparently gluten consumption produces asthma for me.

I went gluten free on the suggestion of a friend with Sjogren's who had found it to be helpful. Within a few weeks my pain levels had gone way down. A few weeks more and my asthma was completely gone.

I know gluten is the cause because every time I go into denial and let myself indulge, I end up feeling much much worse.

Had I consulted a doctor beforehand I would have been warned against the attempt. I did not have the classic symptoms of celiac disease.

Doctors don't know everything. What they know now about gluten intolerance (separate from celiac) is knowledge gained from patients who ignored their advice and demonstrated the connection between gluten and their symptoms by their own personal experimentation.

There is no reason to try it if you are already healthy. But if you are suffering from conditions in which inflammation plays a major role, it is well worth the effort to try it. You do not have to be celiac to benefit from a gluten free diet. Report
Being Gluten Intolerant myself I was somewhat concerned about this blog, particularly as I came to it by way of clicking on a link "we got the low down on gluten free diets." As other have said gluten intolerance is a serious issue for those affected and the adoption of the alternate life style is in no way a fad. I do not share the bloggers view that it is "not good” to adopt a gluten free life style unless you know for sure (ie. tested) that you have Celiac Disease or other medically condition. For most of us, a gluten free diet does not consist of heavily processed foods. In fact only recently was there a surge of GF provided by the food industry. If you wanted to be GF you had to resort to reading every label and cooking most if not all of your meals. There is a lot to be said for the discipline of label reading, you not only notice ingredients with gluten but you also notice sugar and sodium and other not so healthy ingredients. There is even more to be said for cooking your own meals as you know exactly what you are putting into your body. That being said, if you are willing to explore the wide range of foods not containing gluten, you learn to appreciate the taste and nutrient content of foods like sweat potatoes and cassava (yucca) and eddoes and other root vegetable/starches. You discover that sauces and cheese cake can be easily thickened with corn starch and that lettuce wraps make a great alternative to tacos, and crustless quiche is the boom etc. It requires a lot of imagination and it is a difficult lifestyle for children, however I do not see the need to tell people not to reduce or eliminate their use of gluten even if the don’t have celiac or other conditions, after all I am not diabetic or hypertensive but I can see the value in eliminating sugar and excess sodium from my diet. For my 5 cents, the positive spin on going gluten free, (other than the obvious health issues) was learning that a piece of protein (fish, chicken beef) together with a serving or two of vegetables and a salad was a filling and satisfying meal, that breakfast without toast was not a big thing, and that the bread basket at dinner was unnecessary. Report
Also, because of the inflamation of the small intestines it can be hard to absorb vitamins optimally. I was recently diagnosed with Vitamin D and B-12 deficiencies. My grandmother had Pernicious Anemia--which I only recently learned is B-12 deficiency. Celiac and gluten intolerance seems to have a genetic link. I wish it hadn't taken until 50+ for me to figure out all of the pieces. Fifty years of "intestinal distress" is a long time! Report
As the roommate of someone who has Celiac I know that this isn't a decision or a fad for many people out there. Also being a culinary student and recently done a paper on Celiac I know that this is now being classified as an Auto Immune Disease. Some people may choose to avoid gluten but many people out there are allergic to it. Like an allergy to peanuts or shellfish. It's not a fad for many. It's the difference between being extremely ill and your body not being able to take in nutrients from the foods they eat or living a healthy and pain free life. I may not have it but I've done the research and understand it. Now if we could only get Gluten Free food that tastes good and lasts since many don't. As a future pastry chef that is something that I will be focusing on. Report
Another GF/celiac/gluten-intolerant here. Sparkpeople makes it HARDER to use by not providing GF meal plans, but doesn't make it impossible. It would be nice if a nutritionist or dietician or whatever could help us. If they can't, they can't. I can track my own foods and ignore the meal plans, just like I skip every "diet" article in every magazine, because they are filled with gluten in every single meal.

I find it odd that someone would warn people away from temporarily trying a GF diet to see what happens to their bodies, but it's your blog, and if that's what you feel the space should be taken up with, more power to you... I guess... if anyone's spreading fear, it sure sounds like this article is, not the people who suggest that it's worth a try to see how you feel. Since most Americans don't go 24 hours without consuming gluten from the time they're babies, they would have no way of knowing how it affects them (or doesn't). Lots of people are less well than they could be but don't know it.

One of the statistics that wasn't mentioned in this article is that 97% of the people with celiac disease are undiagnosed and consuming gluten without realizing the damage it's doing. I was one of them until 2005. Never would have occurred to me that it was possible to be well, but it was. I thought it was the way everyone felt.

Try it, don't try it, give us meal plans, don't give us meal plans. But don't be afraid to see what happens if you go GF and don't be afraid to eat gluten if you'd rather not stop (unless you've been diagnosed, because that's dangerous). Report
I wasn't diagnosed with Coeliac disease until I was 23, but it made a big difference in my life.

Take it from me, Gluten DOES NOT hurt your average person. In fact, it's a good thing to have in your system. If I could eat gluten I absolutely would.
Unless you have a sensitivity DIAGNOSED BY YOUR DOCTOR there is no reason to cut out gluten.

The only problem was that I GAINED weight afterwards because I was actually getting nutrition from my food instead of it just rushing through my damaged system.

My wife makes incredible bread and pie and I miss those a lot. You just can't make them very well without gluten. But I have been learning for a few years ad found that for most things I can substitute oat flour or rice flour and it works out just as well. (I make them myself by grinding up the grains in the blender rather than buying the expensive milled flours.)
Wheat has made me very sleepy every time I eat it. I've never been officially diagnosed but my little wake up calls were that every time we had pizza and movie night I'd miss the movie. I'd be comatose on the couch. A celiac friend kept encouraging me to get the wheat out and I finally did. After two weeks, the chronic back pain I'd had for 10 years went away, for good. I never wake up hurting anymore. The brain fog is gone. I don't pass out after a meal.

GF and wheat free eating doesn't mean you have to miss out on good nutrients. in fact, I probably eat a much more diverse diet now I'm wheat free. I now eat whole grain flours blended from different grains. I also can't have dairy very much as it bothers me, but there are so many great options with soy and nut milks.

For some people, wheat free really is better. And the diagnosis of celiac requires a biopsy, how many people really want to commit to that? I say don't eat what makes you feel sluggish and bad. And you won't know unless you try living without it. I'm happier and healthier without the wheat. Report
I've scanned through a lot of the comments and I don't get the people who are upset at this article. I would agree with the blogger saying that with any food labeled as gluten free isn't necessarly healthy for you. It is really important that that people not paint a broad brush on items with a certain claim. Would you assume something labeled as "low fat" or "sugar free" is healthy for you? I wouldn't, so why make the same assumptions about gluten free.

Case in point, while shopping this weekend, I passed by some gluten free cookies. I stopped to look, just to see what was in them. Besides the obvious change in flour (I beleive it was tapioca flour), there was tons of sugars (including high fructose corn syrup), saturated fat, preservities, and within 10 calories per same size serving of a name brand cooke with gluten. I know we all preach "moderation", but unless you have CD or a senstivity to gluten you can't convince me that the gluten free cookies are a better choice, or even a good choice.

I think for most, a critical eye, some education, and common sense goes a long way. Report
I grew up on a Farm so I had a diet full of Gluten based foods. It isn't an issue for me or my family. Report
I live with someone who was recently diagnosed with C.D. and had to cut out gluten from his food. My son and I how ever don't have that problem and continue to eat whole grain foods. Grocery cost is no higher since he is happy eating the meat and vegetable with the meal and occasionally rice if I make it. I haven't found it too difficult making the main course G.F. to inusre he can eat. I would not do G.F. just because due to the fact I like my bread but it is a real problem and many people have to live a G.F. life to be healthy and not because it's a fad. Most processed food I cut out when I changed my eating habits so the grocery bill hasn't gone up due to his diet change. I have bought rice flour for those times I need flour for a meal for all of us and a G.F. baking mix so he can have biscuits on the nights I do breakfast for dinner. Rice spaghetti is what he eats when I enjoy my whole wheat spaghetti with tomato sauce. I feel that this article was a little biased and was accusing those who need to live G.F. for obvious health reasons as following a fad when that's not the case most of the time. Report
I am very happy that I saw this blog and now have some very helpful links. Thanks Nicole for the hook up. Report
I felt like the author was simply saying to try a HEALTHY diet with more fruits and vegetables and fewer processed foods, "gluten-free" or not. If you have issues beyond that then seek medical advice. Report
I'd just like to point out that Celiac disease isn't the only issue with gluten. I'm allergic, as in anaphylactic, to gluten containing grains and even a small exposure to them can bring on a full blown reaction where I have difficulty breathing. I've been like this for 12 years and I'm a little frustrated that when I eat out or try to explain my situation to others the first reaction is "so you are celiac." Celiac disease has certainly brought gluten issues into the mainstream but it isn't the only issue.

I think that there is a huge portion of people avoiding gluten because it is the trend right now, if you do indeed have any health issues you feel might be related to gluten please see your doctor and get an official diagnosis, cutting gluten out of your life is not a cure all and I'd like to add is that being allergic and being intolerant to something are totally different reactions.

I've used spark for years and lived my gluten (and many other allergies) lifestyle just fine by tracking my own food. If you are at all like me you need to make most foods from scratch and its unrealistic for a free site like Spark to be cater to all of our needs. I LOVE SPARK and its part of my gluten free life. Report
Just wanted to share my experience. I was 'diagnosed' with celiac disease on the basis of a blood test in 2004. My doctor told me that the results were overwhelmingly positive and that there was no need to have the endoscopy. For 4 years, I put myself through the ridiculous hassle and stress of scrupulously keeping my diet free of gluten, yet continued getting sick. My doctor continued to insist that I had celiac and that he couldn't help me if I wasn't going to follow the diet - essentially accusing me of cheating while refusing to consider that his initial diagnosis might have been incorrect. He never referred me to a GI specialist. I finally moved to a new town and in the process of looking for a doctor found a gastroenterologist. I went off the gluten free diet and immediately felt better. I was tested 10 weeks later with an endoscopy, colonoscopy and blood tests, and everything came back 100% normal. I requested my original blood test results from my old doctor, and was outraged when I saw them - only one level had been elevated, and it was an indicator which is not only very slightly linked to celiac, but also is not exclusive to celiac. So that weird result could have been caused by anything. It turns out that I have IBS, and that the lack of fiber in my gluten free diet was only exacerbating it. So the moral of the story: DO YOUR HOMEWORK AND GET FULLY TESTED before acquiescing to such a life-changing diagnosis. Same goes for an IBS diagnosis. These diseases mimic each other, and it's important to know exactly what you're dealing with so you can adjust your diet appropriately. Report
LOL, one of the reasons gluten intolerance gets no respect from the medical community is because *there is no drug they can give you to fix it*. No money to be made from getting you well, as the only way to wellness is with a gluten-free diet. My ancestors come from Ireland, and in the west of Ireland a full 30% of the population or so has gluten intolerance issues.

Do I need a doctor to tell me what not to eat? I get depression, GERD, nausea and severe diarrhea if I eat gluten, and I don't have any of those symptoms if I *don't* eat gluten, with no other changes in my diet. That's more than enough for me! And unlike the scare comments in the article there are *no* essential nutrients I miss out on by giving up gluten grains. Goodness gracious. How did humankind survive for over a million years without gluten grains?

The again I don't eat "gluten-free" products either, as most of them contain other ingredients I don't care about either, but I basically never eat any processed or prepared foods. I make it myself so I know what I'm getting. :-) But really, gluten-free is not that hard, is perfectly healthy, and has untold benefits for many people who may not even realize they have a gluten issue as symptoms are often so subliminal. I went to multiple doctors and had all the tests in the book, only to be told they could find nothing clinical wrong with me and I would need to be on Zantac and Xanax the rest of my life. I had to find gluten-free on my own to heal myself and get off medications. Report
One thing not mentioned in this article is the fact that NO ONE can fully digest the wheat protein gliadin because we didn't evolve to eat wheat as a part of our diet. Gliadin is digested poorly by everyone, not just those with a gluten intolerance/coeliac disease and that's a fact. Report
WOW, that's a lot of information to take in a and a lot to think about. Thanks for taking the time post all the info. Report
I've been around long enough to see nutritional fads come and go. Some years ago it was hypoglycemia, usually self-diagnosed. A few years later a lot of people I met had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, again more or less self-diagonosed. Now "gluten-free" is trendy (and making a lot of money for food manufacturers). Look, I'm not saying these aren't real diseases; there are people who really do suffer from them and need to avoid certain foods. But I do thinks there's more a bit of hysteria and hype about all this. In a couple of years it will be something else.

Doesn't it make more sense to just eat a healthy diet, with more veggies and fruits, more whole grains, less processed foods, more fiber? I think if more people would just eat this way it would solve a lot of health problems - and alleged problems. Report
I am a gastroenterology nurse who works at a prestigious medical institution. I work with a leading physician expert diagnosing and treating celiac disease. This blog entry is factual and I totally agree with the information given. Report
As far as I know, I have no allergies (thank God!) however, I am willing to do whawver ti takes to stay this way. Already no beef or pork kinda person and enjoy bread, however in moderation. This is good info and worth checking into for health reasons! Report
Thanks for all the information. I was recently diagnosed with celiac disease, an incidental finding on an upper endoscopy done because of anemia. I had not experienced any sustained drastic symptoms, although I do have a daughter and a grandson who have been diagnosed with Crohn's disease. I have told them they need to ask their gastroenterologists for testing for celiac also. Report
Thanks for the information!!!!! A big help!!!!!

sharon Report
Thanks for the information Report
I don't have celiac, but I can tell you unequivically that when I eat gluten free, I have more energy, better focus and concentration and no cravings for unhealthy foods. Most important to me, is that when my symptoms of depression get big, I can go gluten free and in 2 days, the sun is shining and the world is just wonderful with me in it and I wonder, "who was that girl 2 days ago?". Its a good case for gluten free all the time for me, but as others have mentioned, gluten free is time consuming, from shopping to meal prep.. its a discipline that I don't quite have 100%. There is plenty of research from reputable sources (those NOT supported by the mainstream self interest lobby groups whose interest in our food supply has much more to do with economic interests than health interests ..). Report
At least this article has "sparked" interest and debate. It is shameful that those of us with CD (I am one) are told to see a nutritionist but the nutritionists cannot create meal plans for us here on Spark. Huh? It is truly difficult and time consuming to create your own, even using foods uploaded by others using gluten-free foods. Entering recipes as well, same difference. In our world, time is consumed by so many things. There is a world of gluten-free links and products Spark could promote that would recoup the development time for this. It's not about the money now, is it?

There are so many other dangers to being diagnosed with celiac disease besides food. Prescription drugs, personal care items, every day things that those without this disease would not begin to think of. As I type, I am pretty sick from a reaction to a drug - substituted by my pharmacist - that contained gluten. Come to find out that even my own pharmacist will only watch for active ingredients, not inactive. Of all the dirty rotten little...I digress. I took two doses, I have been sick for a week and will be sick for another until my system can begin to pull out of it.

Two of my four children have been provided with the blood antibody test and turned up negative with very very low numbers (mine were off the chart). One of them feels better without gluten, the other did not even try to go without as far as I know.

Six months after my blood diagnosis (I have since had a biopsy), a full blood panel was performed showing that the only vitamin I was not getting enough of was vitamin D - well DUH, I live in Seattle. Just over a year later, my vitamin D is up to low normal level. I just try to eat balanced meals, regular food without breads and grains. Rice is still good, beans and legumes are awesome. I don't take supplements unless the doc says I need to.

The only reason food is more expensive is because only certain brands (and sub-products within brands) are guaranteed gluten-free. Pasta and bread are more expensive because you pay for that specialty item; it is a little cheaper if you make it yourself, but not much. The taste cannot be beat though! To feed myself a pretty normal diet, I spend between $60 - $80 per week. That really is not bad. If I buy more packaged foods, meat more than twice a week, and buy bread mix for the bread maker, of course that hits the high mark. It's hard, it takes learning, but it's not rocket science. I knew nothing in the beginning and survived, I think I'll make it.

Spark has a fairly large community of people with gluten issues that would greatly benefit from articles that do not follow the most current magazine issue available as one checks out from the grocery store. Although there are some good resources and valid points provided here, there is nothing like what I found in Scientific American September 2009, which was an up-to-date account of what is happening right now in the world of research on the upper gi directly related to celiac disease. No, the article did not mention Oprah, fad diets, or anything else related to pop culture; nor did it harp on about "the evils of". It was well balanced. Probably why I took it seriously.

Not once did this Spark article mention that those who cannot digest gluten properly can actually destroy their intestine over time and that will remove their ability to absorb nutrients. Really...let's talk about the evils and dangers, not about what actually happens. If it feels good, do it. There is one article out there that says gluten is a derived grain, not ever naturally occurring, crossbred from some other plant. We weren't even meant to have gluten in the first place!

The rest of you who eat gluten have 1000x the food to select from grocery store shelves that anyone trying to avoid the stuff does. It only seems easy if it doesn't make you sick, it is when a tiny little microbe of the stuff makes you ill and WHAM - those grocery store shelves would start to look like the Sahara Desert.

Trust me.

Folks who need low-sodium, low-fat, low-cholesterol, sugar-free, and whatever else dietary needs gets that no problem. The medical community is willing to aid and assist those with more "common" ailments that have strict dietary regimens without argument. From special diet to prescription drugs to lab tests to maintenance visits with the doctor. Just try requesting anything related to celiac disease or gluten intolerance. You will sprout Medusa hair on three heads. They will sprout a third arm with a hand shaped in the form of a "DENIED" stamp.

Again, you will just have to trust me. Report
Good information I learned a lot
It's so nice to hear people speaking up about this subject. I don't need a scientist to tell me if I eat gluten, I get a rash, itch, feel tired all the time and get that foggy brain feeling. I don't spend a ton on food, I eat veggies, fruit,etc. The only gluten free product I buy is bread and the shelf life is double that of bread with gluten. To the skeptics, I say, try it for 6 months. If you don't like it, go back. Aren't we suppose to eat more fruits, veggies and less "white" (bread, sugar, flour) anyway? Report
My husband has Celiac as well as his sister. Both our childern have tested and do not have active Celiac from what I understood from DR it could so up later in life as it did with my husband. Any gultin makes his system go haywire si I am very carefull about all I cook and buy. I read labels and ever so often a company changes the ingreedatates so I must be on top of it. Some of the foods are good some only decent and some not worth the time and money to mess with. Hubby would rather do without than eat some of the things our there that are labeled gultin free. Report
Gluten isn't a killer unless you have a real disease. I'm very in tune with a lot of pop nutrition... I see it with my mother and sisters. Gluten can cause obesity, and certain processed breads shouldn't be eaten period. However, people like me can't eat carbohydrate calories unless that have a significant protein content. If I have to pick between gluten and soy, I would rather eat gluten. I think too much nutrition has gone towards a fad system. Stick with what works for your body, and it would be nice to see a gluten free meal plan on spark. Report
Very interesting article. My son has ended up in the hospital many times due to intense stomach pains. He has had mris, scans, and tests. Doctors want to do more invasive tests. My family has a history of stomach disorders including Crones Disease (which was ruled out in my son's case). We went to a clinical nutritionist/holistic physician. He recommended a gulten free diet in conjunction with vitamins. Yes my son lost wait (eating a lot less junk food) and feels a lot better. He is not completely gluten free because he occasionally "cheats" but he feels a lot better. It is hard to say if it is because he is eating a gluten free diet or if he is just eating better. I do find it hard to constantly prepare food for him instead of just calling for a pizza but his health is more important. Since he eats this way for his dietary needs I see no reason for the rest of the family to do this. Report
I would have to do a whole lot more research and confer with my personal physician before making any type of life-style changes. I know my own body and its messages, but I am in no way an expert or professional in these matters. Report
A few years ago I found out I was allergic to several foods, including gluten. Even if I have a little bit of food with gluten, the reactions are so severe that sometimes I have to meet my grastroentronologist at the emergency room. It is an incredibly hard diet and yes somewhat expensive (especially for those people like me who are also allergic to dairy). However, it IS nessesary for those of us with this disease and the selections of different foods are increasing. Three stores right by my house are selling gluten free foods because there are many people (including one of the store owners) that has celiac disease. The question was if this was a fad, maybe for some who don't HAVE to eat this way. For those of us who do this because there is no other choice.....It's our life and how we eat, definatley not a fad for us.
"In addition, personal experience is not the same thing as a well-designed research study" It may not be the same exact thing, but if you collect enough personal stories, it gets pretty close to the same thing. From the over 150 posts it seems that most people disagree with this article. There are some who actually have the disease and gained some weight when beginning a GF diet, but admittedly bc they filled it by overeating other things. As the author pointed out most things with gluten, that people eat, are processed refined garbage.

Last month I chose to do a cleanse like the one that it states Oprah did, even though I didn't know anything about what she did, I do not follow her. I just wanted to get back to eating more natural foods, veggies, fruits, nuts, etc. I been eating steel-cut oats and brown rice for my carbs, and yogurt, soy milk, legumes for protein. It is great! I haven't been craving sugar or caffeine as I did constantly before. I feel healthy and have lost 20lbs already! Its almost unreal. . I ate pretty healthy before, wheat bread and all, but taking it a step further has been so much better for me. So I am planning to stick with it, slowly adding organic/kosher animal products, and maybe some whole wheat products by the end of the year

Now I can't speak for everyone, but I see absolutely no reason to not try a GF diet! I don't understand why this author would discourage it! Nutritional deficiencies is bull... What God gave us to eat has plenty of nutrition. Not everything that say GF is healthy... thats true. Thats why I have been avoiding processed food alltogether. Cost... really. I went to a Hispanic supermarket and bought enough veggies and fruit to last me for over a week for less then $20. Again if your not buying processed crap, your fine! Report
My 2 1/2 yr old grandson was diagnosed with Autism at the age of 18 mos. His parents removed all gluten from his diet and there was a remarkable improvement. Just 3 weeks after becoming gluten free he began making eye contact and speaking again! I don't think we really know just how serious food allergies can be. Report