The 9 Myths of Gluten-Free Diets

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When asked why they have chosen a gluten-free diet, people will offer up a variety of answers. Some claim they suffer from gluten sensitivity, others will say it improves their overall health, a few will claim it is a “cure” for their child’s autism, and some have switched to gluten-free dieting to lose weight. In reality, it is likely that none of those claims is factual or fact-based, and most people on a gluten-free diet don’t even really know what gluten is. People have been eating foods that contain gluten for centuries, and only in the past decade has it become an alleged health issue.

While it is a very real and very serious issue for those who suffer from celiac disease (less than 1% of the population) or people with gluten sensitivity (for which there is no known medical test and diagnosis is done by ruling out an array of other conditions or allergies), most people do not need to be on a gluten-free diet and are actually causing harm to themselves by eliminating gluten from their diets.

Here are several myths about gluten-free diets that you should be aware of:

1. A gluten-free diet is good for you either way.

In reality, if you don’t actually need to be on a gluten-restricted diet due to having celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, eliminating gluten from your diet will provide you with no noticeable health benefits. People who get sick from consuming gluten will naturally feel better and become healthier when they remove gluten from their diets, but the average person will not.

2. Gluten-free diets will cure autism or reduce autistic behaviors.

A tightly controlled and monitored study by the University of Rochester that lasted for more than a year indicated that a gluten-free diet has no effect on autistic behavior patterns and other physical and psychological conditions associated with autism. The Journal of Pediatrics supported these results with their own statement that there is no scientific evidence available to support the use of a gluten-free diet for those suffering from autism.

3. Eliminating gluten from your diet will eliminate digestive issues.

This myth is only true if you have a condition, like celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, that would allow you to actually benefit from eliminating gluten from your diet. People who do not have the disease or sensitivity will not see a change in the condition of their digestive system (and may actually have issues caused by other factors).

4. Gluten-free foods really do make you feel better.

The University of Florida conducted a study with two groups of people; one group consumed conventional foods that normally contain gluten while the other group consumed the same type of foods, which were labeled “gluten free.” In reality, none of the food items in either group contained gluten and were identical in every way except for their packaging. The end result? Those eating the foods that were labeled as gluten-free claimed they felt better, had more energy, and believed the food items to be healthier for them.

5. Eliminating gluten will guarantee weight loss.

Eating a gluten-free diet does no more for your weight loss goals than sitting on the sofa watching television will do for them. When you remove gluten from your diet, you substitute the loss of carbohydrates with other foods that replenish them, so you are merely trading one protein for another and not actually eliminating anything that would have an impact on your weight.

6. To have a gluten-free diet, you must also have a grain-free diet.

There are only four grains that contain gluten (wheat, barley, triticale, and rye), while there are ten grains that do not. What you may not know is that other foods and products also contain gluten, like soy sauce, shampoo, and cosmetics.

7. Gluten-free foods have absolutely no gluten in them.

When the Food and Drug Administration revised its labeling standards to include specifics about labeling products as “gluten free,” the criteria does not require that the foods be 100% gluten-free to bear such a label. In fact, foods can actually contain up to 20 ppm (parts per million) of gluten and still be labeled as “gluten free.”

8. Gluten-free diets are healthier for you.

Cutting back on gluten means you are cutting back on critical vitamins and nutrients that your body needs. Overall, a gluten-free diet is not healthier for you and may mean that you are actually becoming less healthy because you aren’t getting the nutrient intake you require on a daily basis. Furthermore, gluten-free foods usually have more unhealthy fillers (like sugar and high-calorie additives) to make up for the loss of taste and texture that occurs when gluten is removed.

9. Gluten may not actually cause gastrointestinal issues for those with “gluten intolerance” or gluten sensitivity.

In a study conducted in 2013 by the director of the gastrointestinal unit of a hospital in Melbourne, Australia, it was actually determined after rigorous testing and clinical trials that diets with high levels of gluten, low levels of gluten, and no gluten at all had absolutely no effect on the digestive complaints of the test subjects. In fact, in all three phases of the testing (high, low, or no gluten), most of the subjects said their stomach ailments actually worsened.

Gluten-free foods are typically over 200% more expensive than their conventional counterparts, and the gluten-free food industry generates billions of dollars per year in profits. In fact, the gluten-free product industry is expected to have profits of over $15 billion by 2016. Naturally those who product gluten-free foods will espouse the alleged health benefits of a gluten-free diet.

Before you choose to modify your diet based on media hype or any other reason aside from a legitimate medical need, have your health and lifestyle evaluated thoroughly to determine if changes are actually necessary. Sometimes what may appear to be better for you is actually not. As one well-known dietary expert has noted, French fries are both gluten-free and vegetarian.

Amy Lorenzo
Amy Lorenzo, MD is a Board Certified Family Physician, Nutritionist, Botanist, and highly decorated author. She is a mother of three, and active philanthropist. Amy was brought aboard the lovelivehealth team for her unique skill set and knowledge of women's health.