Should I Go Gluten-Free?
Only if you have celiac disease when gluten (a protein in grains) damages your small intestine. Experts no longer think gluten causes rashes, stomachaches, or weight gain in people without the disease. It can’t hurt to skip gluten-rich foods like cookies and white bread. But don’t ditch whole grains unless your doctor says to. They fill you up and are full of healthy nutrients.
About 1 in 100 people — about 1 percent — have celiac disease, an inherited autoimmune disease that causes damage to the small intestine when gluten is ingested.
About .4 percent of people have a doctor-diagnosed wheat allergy, according to a 2006 study. In those people, a true allergic response to wheat (which contains gluten) can include skin, respiratory and gastrointestinal symptoms.
A larger group of people is estimated to have what’s called “non-celiac gluten sensitivity,” which may also produce similar symptoms but is not very well understood by experts. “We don’t really know the mechanism by which this arises,” says Crowe. According to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, as many as 18 million Americans have some non-celiac sensitivity to gluten.
People without symptoms may consider avoiding gluten for health reasons, says Crowe. “There’s more of a modern concern that gluten is somehow not good for us,” she says, possibly linked to our transition from hunter-gatherers to cultivators and farmers and the simultaneous increase of grains in our diet. But there’s little evidence proving going gluten-free means good health, she says.
Before taking treatment — i.e. gluten-free eating — into your own hands, “you want to nail down that diagnosis,”. If you’re losing weight, deficient in iron, anemic or you have a family history of celiac disease, talk to a doctor before simply giving up gluten to see how you feel.
So if you haven’t been diagnosed with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, it’s okay to buck the gluten-free diet trend — you don’t have to cut out gluten because the stars are doing it. Do drop gluten if you are having a reaction to it, but only after seeing your doctor and getting the testing needed for a diagnosis.