Gluten-free diet myths

Although eating a gluten-free diet is healthier for some, there are many myths about the health benefits of eating gluten free. Is it really the best option for you?

While a gluten-free diet can be healthy – necessary, even – for some people, it’s not appropriate for everyone. A gluten-free diet is the only treatment for those with coeliac disease, a condition where eating gluten can damage the intestines. For those with a gluten or fructose intolerance, avoiding gluten or wheat can help to control symptoms and improve the way that the body absorbs important nutrients.

But for the rest of the population, a gluten-free diet can not only be a waste of money, it can be detrimental to their health. We call these beliefs about gluten-free diets ‘myths’ not because they’re definitely untrue, but because there is no scientific research pointing either way. So, which beliefs about gluten-free diets are unfounded?

Gluten free is healthier
If all you eat is white bread and pasta then yes, going gluten free could open you up to other, more nutritional, diet options. For the most part, however, gluten free foods are not enriched or fortified with essential vitamins and minerals. On the other hand, surprisingly, many conventional, gluten-containing foods are. In this case, going gluten free may actually be detrimental to your health.

A recent study also showed that many people believe that gluten free food can improve overall health, by improving digestive health. Of those surveyed, 57 per cent believed that gluten-free diets could be used to alleviate medical conditions and 32 per cent believed that a doctor would prescribe a gluten-free diet as a method of weight loss.

None of these myths can be backed up by significant scientific studies, and thus they remain ‘facts’ conjured up by effective marketing on the part of gluten free advertisers.

If you are diagnosed with a gluten or wheat intolerance, or indeed with coeliac disease, by all means enjoy the health benefits of a gluten-free diet.

But for those considering going gluten free for the weight-loss benefits, just be aware that much of the weight loss comes from the unavailability of gluten free food. If you’re out at a café and are restricted by what you can order, of course you’re likely to drop a few kilos, especially if the only alternative on offer is a piece of fruit. It’s also important to be aware of the nutrients which you’re cutting out of your diet, and take steps to ensure that you supplement them appropriately.

To find out more, visit the ScienceDaily website, or visit an accredited nutritionist.