The Health Benefits of a Gluten-Free Diet
“Gluten-free.” You’ve probably heard stories of celebrities talking about how great a gluten-free diet is or seen the section at your supermarket devoted to foods made without gluten, but what exactly is gluten, and why don’t we want it?
Essentially, gluten is a specific kind of protein that’s often in things like wheat, grain, and cereal. At its most basic, gluten is used to make food “feel” good. What does that mean? Well, without gluten, some food ends up having a doughy, sticky texture when they are processed, but gluten allows it to stay chewy.
The idea of a gluten-free diet has entered the popular consciousness more recently because of the number of people diagnosed with celiac disease and sensitivity to gluten. So what are these benefits that a gluten-free diet provides?
Relieves the symptoms of celiac disease
If you have celiac disease, gluten can cause you to suffer from a number of uncomfortable symptoms. These include everything from more mild issues like constipation, mouth sores, and cramps to more severe symptoms such as seizures, vomiting, and recurring miscarriages. Removing gluten from the diet of these people has been shown to relieve these problems to a large degree, most notably by improving their digestion and giving them more energy.
Alleviates problems from gluten intolerance
Do you suffer from seasonal allergies? Eczema? Ulcers? Poor immunity? Even if you don’t have celiac disease, a number of doctors believe that as many as 1 in 7 people have some degree of intolerance to gluten. If you fall into this category, cutting it out of your diet could make you feel markedly better.
Potentially lose weight
You have to be careful. Simply eating food labeled as gluten-free does not mean that you are eating fewer calories and less fat. In fact, many of those gluten-free products you see on shelves at stores actually have a higher fat and caloric content than their gluten-filled counterparts. So why is a gluten-free diet great for weight loss? Because fruits and vegetables are two of the best gluten-free foods you can eat, so if you increase your intake of them and decrease other less-healthy foods, the pounds can really come off.
Reduce the symptoms of autism
It’s important to point out that this hasn’t been proven yet, but recent studies have shown a correlation between gluten and abnormally high levels of gluteomorphines. It is believed that this protein by-product causes many of the symptoms we associate with autism, and that eliminating gluten from the diets of autistic children would help with treatment.
Ward off viruses and germs
This isn’t so much a product of removing gluten from your system as it is an acknowledgment that your diet will likely have to change to include more fruits and veggies that are rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. More of all of this good stuff means that your body’s natural defenses will be raised.
Help with other conditions
Many doctors recommend a diet free of gluten for a number of different medical conditions, including multiple sclerosis, Down’s syndrome, Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and neuromyelitis. They believe that the presence of gluten contributes to the symptoms of these diseases and that removing it can only help. As with autism, though, there is not enough evidence to prove this.
The important thing to remember about a gluten-free diet is that, while there are many theories about the various ways that it can improve the lives all kinds of different people, the only ones it has been scientifically proven to help are those with celiac disease and gluten intolerance. If you do not have either of these and are considering a switch to a gluten-free diet, you should consult your physician first.