Gluten is a protein primarily found in wheat, rye, and barley products, and to a lesser extent, oats. During the baking process it gives bread and other baked goods their structure, texture and strength. The majority of the population can eat gluten without any problems. However, a very small percentage of the population (1 in 133 people) has a genetic disorder called celiac disease or gluten intolerance. Symptoms include weakness, appetite loss, weight loss, chronic diarrhea, abdominal cramping, muscle cramps and joint pain. Those who have the disorder can avoid gluten in their diets and their symptoms will quickly and dramatically improve.
There is research showing that some people can have a sensitivity to gluten (about 6% of the US population) causing symptoms similar to irritable bowel syndrome, including abdominal discomfort and irregular bowel movements. However, many dieters with perfectly healthy intestines have been misled into thinking that gluten-free foods are healthier options. Gluten-free foods can be just as high in fat and calories as foods containing the gluten protein, and oftentimes they are more expensive. Cutting wheat, rye and barley out of the diet won’t significantly contribute to weight loss and could be detrimental by causing a person to eat fewer whole grains. If you aren’t suffering from celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, there aren’t any proven health benefits to eating gluten free.
Visit the Missouri Families website for more information about nutrition and health.
Contributor: Mary Wissmann, MS, RD, LD, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, St. Louis County, University of Missouri Extension, WissmannM@missouri.edu