Gluten is linked with numerous health problems, such as celiac disease. But more and more consumers – not diagnosed with gluten sensitivities themselves – are adopting gluten-free diets for personal reasons.

However, going gluten-free could lead to additional calories, fats, and sodium intake – so is gluten-free really for everyone?

Is it a fad?

Going gluten-free may appear like a passing trend for those not yet diagnosed with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, and can seem like just another trend to naysayers who believe people who choose this lifestyle for attention or “health reasons.” But in reality, many who follow a gluten-free diet do so because it makes them feel better; whether that means losing weight, alleviating GI issues (nausea, bloating or abdominal pain), or managing symptoms associated with chronic health conditions (autoimmune disease, leaky gut syndrome or skin rash).

Though some may dispute it, research does show that going gluten-free does help those diagnosed with autoimmune diseases and other conditions. According to one study published in Appetite journal, people following a gluten-free diet who were diagnosed with an inflammatory condition experienced less inflammation compared with those not adhering to one.

Reasons may include reduced sugar, fat and sodium intake as well as increased fiber consumption from following a gluten-free diet. Unfortunately, when food products eliminate gluten they often add additional sugar, fat or sodium in order to compensate for flavor and texture lost from lack of gluten – such as an average gluten-free blueberry muffin which has up to 17 grams of fat and 31 grams of sugar! Unfortunately for people following such diets for medical or other health purposes this might not necessarily be considered nutritious.

Manufacturers and restaurants have taken advantage of the gluten-free trend to increase sales. They know that those following a gluten-free diet need tasty, satisfying food in order to feel normal again; thus they price these items accordingly. It is therefore vital that consumers read labels and become informed as to what ingredients are used before purchasing foods; for example ketchup and Worcestershire sauce both contain malt vinegar which contains gluten, while soy-based barbecue sauces might contain too much of this protein; thus it’s always wise to double check before making your decision!

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Is it a medical necessity?

Gluten-free trends have serious medical merit, yet consumers may be misinformed and mislead. Gluten can be detrimental to people’s health in many ways, contributing to stomach discomfort and other issues. Most individuals who follow a gluten-free diet do so due to celiac disease or other autoimmune disorders requiring them to avoid gluten (wheat allergy and gluten intolerance are among them), wheat allergy or intolerance; in these instances they must strictly limit how much gluten enters their diets.

However, less than 7% of Americans have been diagnosed with celiac disease or another condition necessitating a gluten-free diet. While many claim symptoms such as bloating, pain or gas, joint and muscle pain, brain fog fatigue or migraine/headache as being caused by gluten consumption; such claims alone should not justify avoiding gluten consumption altogether.

Though it is possible to enjoy a nutritious and balanced diet without gluten, provided you read ingredients labels carefully, many gluten-free products may not necessarily be healthier than their traditional counterparts. In fact, many gluten-free items often contain higher levels of fat and sugar while fiber intake tends to drop significantly; additionally some gluten-free food items can even lack iron, folate and vitamins A-K altogether.

Note that many whole foods naturally contain no gluten, such as fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, dairy and most herbs and spices. Therefore, creating a nutritious and well-balanced diet with proper planning is possible with enough knowledge.

There are various strategies you can employ to reduce the amount of gluten you ingest. Speak with your physician or registered dietitian for advice; they will assist in designing a personalized plan specifically tailored to meet your individual needs, teach how to recognize hidden sources of gluten and provide guidance on how to avoid them – this may even involve teaching how to read food labels effectively in order to make informed choices when buying and eating food products.

Is it a lifestyle choice?

As gluten-free foods have become more mainstream, more consumers are opting to forgo it for various reasons. Some do it to improve digestion and gastrointestinal function; lose weight or boost their energy; while others try to minimize negative symptoms like nausea or joint pain. As a result, more food and ingredient manufacturers are developing alternative products using ancient grains, pulses, sprouted seeds and other natural ingredients – creating what has become known as the flexitarian movement.

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Research by Packaged Facts indicates that consumers who make the decision to adopt a gluten-free diet don’t do it out of medical necessity; rather, their motivation lies elsewhere – such as wanting a healthier body or improving mental clarity.

Noteworthy is the GIG survey’s finding that no respondent choosing gluten free due to medical concerns indicated this as their motivation for doing so. Yet even those choosing this path for lifestyle reasons could still face detrimental health effects; such as increased calories, fat and sodium than typical American diets; additionally it may lead to nutritional deficiencies if people don’t exercise caution with regard to this diet choice.

Individuals following a gluten-free diet should ensure they consume ample other nutrients, particularly whole grains. Doing so will provide fiber and essential vitamins and minerals. To do so, they should look for products certified as gluten free (containing no more than 20 parts per million of gluten), as well as those labeled “whole grain,” such as amaranth, buckwheat, corn millet quinoa sorghum wild rice etc.

Avoid packaged foods containing too many trans fats, as these can contribute to cardiovascular disease. Instead, opt for lean meats and fish, plant-based proteins like soy or lentils as sources of plant protein; along with healthy fats like avocados – for an overall balanced diet that supports both your physical and mental wellbeing.

Is it a marketing ploy?

Just as fat was reviled during the 1990s, gluten has recently become the latest dietary villain, with many individuals going gluten free for various reasons. Celiac disease or allergies to proteins found in wheat, barley, rye and triticale necessitate avoiding gluten; others appear to do it more out of trendyness rather than any real need.

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Grocery stores have responded by stocking shelves with gluten-free products to meet consumer demand for them, yet are they really healthy? Some gluten-free foods contain more fat, sugar, and sodium than their regular counterparts while avoiding gluten can result in deficiencies of vital nutrients like iron, folic acid, and fiber that could result in deficiencies.

Before changing their diet to one free from gluten, those who are sensitive should consult with their physician first. A blood test for celiac disease – an autoimmune condition which affects the small intestine – will allow doctors to make an accurate assessment on whether a gluten-free lifestyle should be adopted or not. Without evidence that it must be undertaken there is no need for change.

As you stroll the supermarket aisles, you may have noticed the sudden proliferation of “free from” products. From bread, cakes, pasta and curry sauces all with large letters proclaiming their gluten-free status – to bread that looks identical but is labeled accordingly! All this while many products being offered still use regular production processes and many are just labeled differently to their counterparts!

Only difference lies in the addition of gluten, as a marketing tactic to attract consumers who believe it will be healthier for them. Even food that does not contain gluten may contain trace amounts if processed at same facility with gluten-containing items.

As the gluten-free movement gains steam, those who require gluten avoidance must ensure they are receiving proper nutrition without simply spending their money on an unhealthy fad diet. To stay on the safe side, it is best to opt for fresh, natural ingredients grown or manufactured locally as opposed to packaged and processed items.