Gluten Free? Don't Get Me Started.

Gluten Free sealI recently saw a TV commercial advertising a breakfast cereal that is now gluten free. Perhaps you've seen it. In the commercial, after the narrator announces that the cereal is gluten free, he says, "...and kids know how good that is for you." My immediate thought was: do they?

I don't think that many adults, let alone kids, know what gluten free is, or if and why it might be bad for them. Instead, what I saw was a commercial that was trying to deceive consumers into thinking that "gluten free" means a healthier diet, or that going gluten free will help you to lose weight. Not so fast!

Let's take a closer look at what all the gluten free hubbub is all about.

What Is Gluten?

Gluten is a variety of proteins found in wheat and related grains, including barley, rye, oat, as well as all their species and hybrids (such as spelt, kamut, and triticale). It is what gives dough that sticky, gooey texture. It's no coincidence that "gluten" sounds like "glue." The word originates from the Latin "gluten" which means "glue." In addition to making dough sticky, gluten helps dough to keep its shape and to rise.

Is Gluten Bad For Me?

It depends. People with celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder, should avoid gluten. Celiac disease is rare, but for those with the disorder, gluten causes various gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea, bloating, loss of appetite, impaired growth and an impaired ability for your body to properly absorb nutrients from foods.

How Do I Know If I Have Celiac Disease?

Before you quit gluten, get checked out by your doctor. There are tests available to determine is you have celiac disease, but if you quit gluten before seeing your doctor, those tests may not be able to identify the disease.

I Do Not Have Celiac Disease But Gluten Still Makes Me Feel Bad

It is possible that you have a wheat allergy. This is something that you should also discuss with your doctor. Your doctor will be able to diagnose you for an allergy to wheat.

Also, there have been an increasing number of people who do not have celiac disease who complain that gluten causes them gastrointestinal problems. Without a medical explanation for this, doctors had typically dismissed these claims. However, more and more in the medical community are recognizing that there may be something to it.

On the other hand, those gastrointestinal problems may be the result of something else in your diet. If you suspect that gluten is what is making you feel bad, and you have already been tested for celiac disease, try going gluten free for a few weeks without changing any of your other dietary habits. If, after a few weeks, you feel better, you should avoid gluten. However, if you still feel bad, you may want to take a look at some of the other things you're eating. If you are eating fast food, for instance, you may want to knock that off for a while. In fact, if you are looking to lose weight, you should avoid fast food at all costs.

But What About Carbs?

Gluten is in dough and dough contains carbohydrates. Reducing the amount of carbs in your diet will help you to lose weight, but there is a difference between going gluten free and going low carb. You should only be concerned about going gluten free if you or your doctor has determined that your body had an aversion to gluten. Even if you are trying to lose weight, you should not avoid carbs altogether. You should have carbs in moderation everyday, and you should "carb up" once a week as part of your weekly cheat meal.

For those who have a legitimate reason to have a gluten free diet, you can still get your carbs in gluten free foods such as fruit, vegetables, beans, milk, yogurt, rice, flax, cornmeal, buckwheat, quinoa and tapioca.

So, Gluten Free Is Not a Weight-Loss Diet?

No. Advertisers of gluten free foods would have you think that going gluten free will help you lose weight, but it may, in fact, cause you to gain weight. For those who have gone gluten free as the result of being diagnosed with celiac disease, the weight gain is probably a good sign. It is likely an indication that your gluten free diet is allowing your gastrointestinal system to properly absorb nutrients. If you find yourself in this boat and you are concerned about your weight gain, it is time to take a closer look at what remains of your diet.

For the rest of you, those of us who do not fall into the small amount of the population who has an aversion to gluten, do not buy into the gluten free craze. Eat carbs in moderation, and your gluten intake will be reduced as a result, but you should not concern yourself with eliminating gluten altogether.