There is an ever-increasing bounty of gluten free foods available in grocery stores and on restaurant menus. Why? Are more people needing a gluten free diet, or just choosing to avoid gluten? The short answer is yes… to both questions.
If we look at the percentage of Americans that must avoid gluten for health reasons, that includes 1% of the US population with Celiac Disease, 0.4% with a wheat allergy, and then there’s that confusing category of non-Celiac gluten sensitivity, which may affect up to 6% of the US population. For more information on these conditions, you can read this blog article from Live Smart Ohio. That adds up to 7.4% of the US population avoiding gluten for medical reasons.
According to a 2015 Gallup poll, approximately twenty percent of Americans are on a gluten free diet. So what is the remaining 12.6% of our population doing on a gluten free diet? The most popular reason consumers give for buying gluten-free products is they believe the gluten-free diet has health benefits, including weight loss. While there is evidence to show that gluten free diet can help lessen symptoms associated with certain autoimmune diseases such as dermatitis herpetiformis, irritable bowel syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, thyroiditis, and psoriasis, there is no evidence to support gluten-free health claims for the general population. Gluten is found in foods that are part of a healthy diet and contribute nutrients and fiber. Some people that are on a gluten-free diet simply don’t need to be.
As for losing weight, that all depends on how you go gluten-free. Reducing refined carbs like white bread, crackers and pasta and processed grains and replacing them with whole grains will reduce calories and increase fiber. However, if you replace gluten-containing products with their less healthy gluten-free substitutes, you’re likely to consume more fat, sugar and calories. Additionally, refined gluten-free foods are not usually enriched or fortified with essential vitamins and minerals. Gluten-free doesn’t necessarily mean healthy.
While there are medical diagnoses that require avoiding gluten, there is little evidence to support gluten-free health claims for the general population. If you would like more information about gluten-free eating, please visit this 30 minute webinar by OSU Extension on Gluten Free Eating.
“9 Things You Should Know Before Going Gluten-Free” 2016. Celiac Disease Foundation.
Gaesser, G.A., PhD & Angadi, S.S., PhD “Gluten-Free Diet: Imprudent Dietary Advice for the General Population?” 2012. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
“What is Celiac Disease?” 2016. Celiac Disease Foundation.
Written by: Shannon Carter, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Fairfield County
Reviewed by: Dan Remley, Field Specialist, Food Nutrition and Wellness, Ohio State University Extension