Victoria Beckham, Lady Gaga, and hoards of people swear by their gluten-free diets even though don’t have celiac disease or have any clinical gluten-sensitivity. They report enjoying more energy, clearer skin, and weight loss, which admittedly makes the zero-gluten diet incredibly tempting (I mean, haven’t we all wanted one of these three things at some point)? But now, the trend is losing steam and science is calling out the gluten spurners.
“People who are sensitive to gluten may feel better, but a larger portion will derive no significant benefit from the practice. They’ll simply waste their money, because these products are expensive,” Daniel A. Leffler, MD, director of clinical research at the Celiac Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, told Harvard Health Publications.
That’s because most people who self-diagnose themselves as gluten-sensitive are simply wrong. In fact, a 2014 study found that just one in four people who follow a gluten-free diet are actually clinically sensitive to gluten.
For those with celiac disease, gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, activates an immune response that harms the small intestine lining, which then causes obstruction of nutrient absorption along with symptoms like nausea, hives, gas, bloating, and diarrhea. In serious cases, it can even lead to infertility and nerve damage. If you’re gluten-sensitive, then you may suffer through similar symptoms (but luckily, skip out on the intestinal damage).
Experts believe many of us demonize gluten because we experience similar symptoms caused by other reasons—not the protein itself. “Sure, some people are sensitive to the actual gluten protein, but could other people be reacting to glyphosate, the pesticide (and antibiotic) that all wheat is sprayed with? Or could the sensitivity be caused by a microbial imbalance in the gut? Or are people reacting to the FODMAPS in foods?” said Frank Lipman, MD, integrative medicine doctor and instructor at Mindbodygreen.com.
If you’re not confirmed with celiac disease or gluten intolerance, you should consider getting tested before eliminating gluten altogether, as there’s new evidence that gluten-free diets come with their own risks. For instance, a recent study found that diets higher in gluten were linked to a lower risk of developing type-2 diabetes. Researchers believe it’s because low-gluten subjects ate less cereal fiber (a food known to help curb the disease).
Fortified cereals and breads are also a significant source of B vitamins, which many would miss out on by going gluten-free. Sure, there are gluten-free alternatives, but they typically don’t comprise the same level of vitamins and other nutrients. Going gluten-free may also deprive you of fiber, which is crucial for maintaining a healthy digestive system. “The average American diet is deficient in fiber,” continued Dr. Leffler. “Take away whole wheat and the problem gets worse.”
Of course, there’s no one-size-fits-all diet that works perfectly for everyone — we’re all physiologically, chemically, and genetically unique. If you choose not to have gluten in your life, make sure you compensate for any nutritional deficiencies. Or you can start soaking, fermenting, or sprouting your grains (yep, the new bread-y trend). Whatever you do, make choices for the sake of your own health—and don’t abandon something just because it’s Posh.
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