There might be just about as many myths about gluten floating around as the number of gluten-free foods available nowadays. But how much do you really know about gluten, and can you separate fact from fiction?
Here’s what you need to know before you eliminate gluten from your diet.
What is Gluten?
Gluten is a protein that helps foods hold their shape. Gluten can be found in many types of foods, including wheat, barley and rye. Although these foods have been staples in diets for years, some people develop symptoms such as fatigue, brain fog, abdominal pain, digestive issues, headaches and joint pain if they eat them, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation.
This includes people who have been diagnosed with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. But now, many people — not just those who have been officially diagnosed — have eliminated gluten-containing foods, such as breads, cakes, cookies and crackers, from their diets in recent years.
How Gluten-Free Became Popular
You might be wondering how not many years ago, no one was talking much about gluten, and suddenly you can’t go to any grocery store without seeing gluten-free products. The gluten-free diet became popular as awareness increased as a result of media coverage, including magazine articles about celebrity diets, social media discussions of gluten, websites devoted to this information and television news stories discussing the topic.
But contrary to popular belief, gluten isn’t the enemy. There’s lots of information in the media and elsewhere about how gluten is bad for you, but the reality is that gluten is only a problem for a relatively small group of people who have certain digestive system conditions.
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Rather than causing serious health damage for everyone, there are actually some good things about gluten. If you don’t eat it, you could be missing out on some important vitamins and minerals. Gluten-containing foods like various whole grains contain essential nutrients, antioxidants and B vitamins such as folic acid, niacin, thiamine, riboflavin and vitamin B12.
Additionally, foods containing gluten have minerals such as selenium, magnesium, zinc, iron, calcium and phosphorus. They also supply you with fiber, which is essential for good digestion and keeps you fit and healthy, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Gluten Isn’t Harmful for a Healthy Person
It’s true that gluten is dangerous for someone who has been diagnosed with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, and people in this category should completely eliminate gluten from their diets. But gluten isn’t necessarily bad for you if you’re healthy and your body can tolerate gluten without developing symptoms and health problems.
There’s no need for you to avoid gluten, especially considering that the gluten-free diet tends to be expensive and time-intensive to shop for and prepare, while making eating out and social gatherings difficult, too.
If you’re wondering whether gluten is beneficial for you or not, check with your doctor, nutritionist or other qualified health practitioner. She can run the proper tests and answer any questions or concerns you might have about your health history and status.
Advice or recommendations are for informational or educational purposes only, not a substitute for a visit or consultation with your doctor.