Gluten gets a bad rap these days. But is it deserved?
What is Gluten?
Gluten is a protein that is naturally found in wheat, rye, barley and similar grains. The protein gives the grain its shape, strength, and texture. It’s typically found in products like bread, cereal, and pasta.
Gluten can be a problem for some people. About 3 million Americans have celiac disease, which is an auto-immune digestive disorder where eating this protein can lead to serious health problems. Other folks have a gluten sensitivity or intolerance, where consuming it results in headaches, dizziness, rashes and other symptoms. For people with celiac disease or a sensitivity, eliminating all sources of this protein from the diet can reduce problems and symptoms associated with their condition.
It’s often thought that a gluten-free diet is healthier than a conventional diet. True, many nutritious foods are naturally gluten-free, like fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Following this diet may help you eat more whole, unprocessed foods. But, just because a product is gluten-free, doesn’t mean it’s healthier. Gluten-free cookies, for example, and other baked goods are still highly processed and are high in calories and added sugar.
Additionally, whole grains, like whole-wheat foods, contain the entire grain kernel and include nutrients like dietary fiber, B vitamins and minerals like iron and magnesium. Going gluten-free means potentially missing out on the benefits of whole grains, including reducing the risk of heart disease and help with weight management. Recent research suggests that people should not be encouraged to remove gluten from their diet unless it’s medically recommended.
Don’t worry if you do have celiac disease or a sensitivity: you can still reap the benefits of whole grains by choosing foods like buckwheat, quinoa or brown rice.
What’s the Bottom Line?
If you think you might have celiac disease or a sensitivity, talk with your doctor before making changes to how you eat. Otherwise, whole grains should be included as part of a balanced diet. Need some inspiration? Avocado toast is a great way to enjoy whole grains.