Restaurants highlight their gluten-free menu items. Grocery stores devote large sections to gluten-free foods. Gwyneth Paltrow touts eliminating gluten as the route to health. Amazon.com will sell you over 8,500 gluten-free foods. A consumer survey group recently reported that 30% of Americans were trying to cut back on their gluten consumption.
Gluten-free diets are promoted as a way to eat healthy and lose weight. There is only one good reason to avoid gluten (the protein in wheat, rye and barley) — celiac disease. One percent of Americans are saddled with this disease. Another 5-6% suffer from a poorly defined condition (is it really a disease?) called gluten sensitivity.
A recent review of the scientific literature points out that for the majority of people, there is no evidence that going gluten-free has any health benefits, including weight loss. Gluten-free processed products are frequently held together with eggs, oil and butter. These products tend to be higher in calories, fat and sugar and lower in fiber, vitamins and minerals.
There is some additional evidence that wheat gluten itself may have health benefits (lowering triglycerides) and that going gluten-free may cause loss of some of our good intestinal bacteria.
If you have celiac disease, eating a gluten-free diet is critical; otherwise a healthy diet is one that is rich in whole grains, including whole wheat.
Dr. Mohler has practiced family medicine in Grand Junction for 38 years. He has a particular interest in pharmaceutical education. Phil works part-time for both Primary Care Partners and Rocky Mountain Health Plans. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.