what’s the deal with gluten free?

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Go ahead, indulge in that gluten-filled pizza.

The gluten-free trend has taken off in recent years. Food brands are advertising “gluten free” on any and all foods that don’t contain this mysterious ingredient; restaurants have started adding gluten free options and, in some cases, entirely separate menus showcasing gluten-free dishes. I feel like everywhere I turn, someone is starting a new gluten-free diet. So I had to find out: what’s the deal with gluten-free?

According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, gluten is a general term for the proteins found in wheat, rye, barley and triticale, and common sources for these proteins are breads, pastas and beer. Giving up gluten means giving up the standard ingredients and nutrients in these foods, but have the health benefits proven to be worth it?

WebMD recently published an article that took a closer look at the effects of gluten. According to the article, a 2005 report from the American Diabetic Association stated that gluten-free products tend to have low amounts of essential nutrients including calcium, fiber and iron.

Someone who wants to go gluten free is going to shell out quite a few dollars more for this designer food label. From personal experience, I used to work at a pizza restaurant, and a five-dollar surcharge was tacked on to the original cost of the pizza for anyone who wanted gluten-free dough.

Everyday Health also examined the gluten-free craze, citing both positives and negatives of going gluten free as told by an expert dietician. There was a positive to the trend – cutting out gluten would force people to eat healthier whole-grain options, such as quinoa and rice, which do provide the body with nutrients such as fiber and iron that some other gluten-free foods lack (and who doesn’t love quinoa?). There were also a few negatives, such as the possibility of developing a nutrition deficiency from too many prepackaged foods and the possibility of weight gain from confusing the idea that gluten-free food means one can eat more of it (not the case – dietician Tricia Thompson notes in her Everyday Health interview that gluten-free is not the same as low-carb).

When the gluten is removed from certain foods that rely on it, such as pizza dough, a lot of the original flavor is removed as well. As a result, some gluten-free foods are packed with extra fats and sugars to make them more palatable – another issue to watch out for when going on a gluten-free diet.

So here’s the deal: Going gluten-free is a great option for those with Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. However, someone who suffers from neither of these health issues will see no real benefit from removing gluten from the diet. Don’t be fooled by every diet trend that comes around; they can be trends for a reason. Rather than cutting out gluten, opt instead for foods with more whole grains, such as whole wheat bread and dough.

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