The claim: Everyone can benefit from eating a gluten-free diet, even if they’re not gluten intolerant.
The facts: There’s no truth to the claim that a gluten-free diet is a healthier way to eat or that it can help you lose weight (any more than other fad diets can).
Gluten is a protein found in many grains, including wheat, barley, and rye. Despite the fact that only about 1 percent of the population has celiac disease—an autoimmune reaction to the gluten protein that causes damage to the small intestine and thus necessitates a gluten-free diet—one survey found that 25 percent of Americans reported consuming gluten-free foods in 2015. Diet books that blame gluten (or wheat in general) for a laundry list of symptoms and conditions, ranging from infertility to schizophrenia, have landed on The New York Times bestseller list. Regardless of their popularity, these claims are simply false.
The only other condition that may require gluten restriction is non-celiac gluten sensitivity—a poorly defined condition that’s characterized by abdominal pain, bloating, and diarrhea or constipation after eating gluten-containing foods. Gluten sensitivity is more common than celiac disease, but it still affects a small percentage of the population (about 6 percent). And it isn’t even certain if gluten is to blame there: The symptoms could be caused by other compounds found along with gluten in these grains.
What about wheat allergy? That’s triggered by a non-gluten protein in wheat, much like a protein in peanuts is responsible for peanut allergies.
While the presence or absence of gluten has no direct effect on the quality of your diet, many gluten-free processed foods are lower in fiber, vitamins, and minerals than their gluten-containing counterparts—and they may be higher in calories as a result of fat or sugar added to compensate for the flavor and texture changes that occur when gluten is removed. As a result, some gluten-free diets may actually be less healthful.
Also see Ginger Ale for an Upset Stomach?