Gluten Free Frenzy

This is a trend that gained support a couple of years ago. I had hoped that it would be a short-lived idea. Lo and behold, it is back. Perhaps it never left. Nonetheless, it is here with a vengeance. Recently, a family member asked me about this diet. Let me answer some commonly asked questions:

What does gluten-free mean?

Gluten free means that the storage protein, gluten, is eliminated from the diet. Gluten is found in grains like wheat, barley, and rye. Most manufactured foods contain gluten in some shape or form. Therefore, a gluten-free diet is very limited.

Who needs to have a gluten-free diet?

People who have celiac disease must eliminate gluten from their diet in order to have normal digestion and function.

Will eating gluten-free help me lose weight?

NO!!! Eliminating gluten is not like eliminating a “magic” food that will suddenly solve all of your diet problems. Gluten is a protein found in some grains. Removing this protein means that your body is not benefitting from essential nutrients that you need. These whole grains that contain gluten also contain b vitamins, fiber, and iron. You NEED these! They have nothing to do with weight loss and everything to do with a properly fueled body. Additionally, manufactured “gluten-free” products are not enriched which means that the b vitamins and iron are not added back into the product. Can I get off my soap box yet? Please understand that eliminating gluten will not make you healthier. Eating a nutrient rich, calorie-controlled diet will.

Should I feed my toddler a gluten-free diet in order to prevent food allergies?

Wheat,not gluten, is one of the top 8 allergies. Gluten is found in more grains than just wheat. If you think that your child is at risk for having a wheat allergy (i.e. family member with the allergy, has other allergies, etc.) then monitor your child very closely and be sure he/she is being followed by a dietitian. (note: research shows that breastfeeding until the age of 12 months and delaying solid foods until 4-6 months can prevent food allergies)

Does a gluten-free diet reduce symptoms in children with autism?

This is among the commonly asked questions because it is a popular intervention for parents to pursue in their children with autism. It has been said that when gluten and casein are incompletely broken down in the body they form opioid peptides. Some believe that these peptides are able to permeate the intestinal tract due to “leaky gut syndrome” in people with autism. Then they are able to enter the blood stream and cause disturbances to the nervous system leading to autistic behaviors.

There are many problems with the diet itself including: the cost of food, the ability to follow the modifications, and the difficulty in preparing the meals. Additionally, the current research has shown that children on this diet have increased bone loss and essential amino acid deficiencies. Lastly,the benefits believed to be a result of the diet have yet to be proven in research. There are no reliable studies to show that a gluten-free casein free diet actually help alleviate the symptoms of autism.  (Journal of the American Dietetic Association)

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