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Is the Gluten-Free Diet a Fad?


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If you’d asked me 10 years ago, I probably couldn’t tell you what gluten was. Today, it’s one of the most common dietary restrictions. Menus, snacks, and even entire grocery store aisles are full of gluten-free selections - it seems to be the best thing since sliced bread... Despite its popularity, there are still a lot of questions and misconceptions about the diet. Some people are quick to call it a fad, while others praise it for its health and weight loss benefits. Though the scientific jury is still out on gluten, there are a few things you should know.

What is Gluten?

Gluten is a group of proteins found in wheat, barley, and rye. Because of the amount of processing that our food undergoes, you can find gluten in just about everything North Americans eat. It’s in bread, beer, and even some sauces and salad dressings. And though gluten is usually found in carb-heavy foods, not all carby foods contain gluten. Potatoes (including French fries), rice, and oats are all gluten-free foods.

What is a Gluten-Free Diet?

When people talk (or humblebrag) about being ‘gluten-free’, they’re referring to a diet free of all wheat-based foods that contain gluten.

Misconceptions

The gluten-free diet is often associated with weight loss, and there are stories all over the internet about people who have shed hundreds of pounds after switching. While there are definitely special cases and unique hormonal reactions, gluten on its own has no meaningful impact on weight gain or loss. And though there may not be hard scientific evidence to support the relationship, there are definitely benefits to cutting out wheat-based foods.

Wheat-based foods don’t generally have the strongest nutritional profile. Bread, pizza, pasta, and beer are some of the most commonly consumed gluten-heavy foods. They also happen to be very addictive, and carbohydrate and calorie-heavy. It’s no wonder that when people cut these out of their diet, they see a few numbers fall off the scale. 

If you decide to eliminate gluten but continue to eat gluten-free versions of all the same unhealthy foods, you’re probably not going to see any changes to your body fat percentage.

What are the Benefits of Going Gluten-Free?

So if it’s not a weight loss diet, what’s with all the hype?

Human consumption of wheat-based food is heavily debated in the wellness community. Our ancestors didn’t have the means, or the digestive enzymes, to consume wheat or grains. This story is often used as inspiration for popular diets. Regardless of the history, some of us simply can't digest gluten. Celiac disease is the most severe example of this.

Celiac is an autoimmune disorder that prevents the small intestine from absorbing nutrients when gluten is present. It affects about 1 in every 150 people and the only way to treat it is with a gluten-free diet. If you’re the type to bookmark WebMD and love a good self-diagnosis, you might be interested to know that symptoms of celiac include: recurring abdominal pain, digestive issues, tingling or numbness in the hands and feet, chronic fatigue, and joint pain.

If you don’t have celiac disease, you may still have sensitivities to gluten that could be affecting your overall wellbeing. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is a clinical term to describe people who experience symptoms when they consume gluten. The sensitivity is similar to lactose intolerance, and severity varies from person to person.

Where the Jury is Still Out?

There are claims that gluten’s influence stretches far past digestion. Documentaries and books like ‘Grain Brain’ suggest a relationship between gluten consumption and diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s. While there’s not much substantive scientific evidence, there sure are some strong believers, and it’s a theory worth considering.

What You Should Do?

If you think you may have a gluten sensitivity, the best thing to do is test it out. Doctors recommend performing an ‘elimination test’, where you eliminate all gluten from your diet for a period of 15-30 days. As you slowly reintroduce foods, monitor your symptoms and sense of overall wellbeing. 

Most protein powders are gluten-free, and Suppy is no exception. Whey protein is a great way to refuel and hit your macronutrient goals if you’ve cut gluten out of your diet.