What Is Gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, in some oats, and in many prepared foods.
Is Gluten Bad for You?
Negative attention on gluten has resulted in some people believing it is unhealthy, but in itself, gluten is not bad for you. Unless you have a specific medical condition (see below) there is no reason a healthy diet cannot include products that contain gluten.
In fact, foods that contain gluten are often quite healthy, such as whole grains.
- Numerous studies have linked consumption of whole grains with lower rates of heart disease and stroke, development of type 2 diabetes, and deaths from all causes.
- Gluten may also act a prebiotic and stimulate the activity of bifidobacteria in the colon, a type of “good” bacteria found in a healthy gut. Decreased activity or amounts of bifidobacteria are associated with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), colorectal cancer, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
While gluten-free diets can be healthy, if not followed properly they may prevent people from getting all the nutrients they need, and some gluten-free products are high in calories and sugar.
Some people, however, should not eat gluten, such as people who have:
- Celiac disease, a condition that affects the body's ability to break down certain foods, and consumption of gluten can make people with celiac disease very sick
- Non-celiac gluten sensitivity, also referred to as gluten sensitive enteropathy (GSE) or gluten intolerance
- Has similar symptoms to celiac disease, but without the accompanying elevated levels of antibodies and intestinal damage
- GSE is diagnosed based on symptoms and a negative test for celiac disease
- Wheat allergy
- An allergy to protein found in wheat
- Most often seen in children
- Dermatitis herpetiformis (DH)
Foods to Eat on a Gluten Free Diet
For those who need to follow a gluten-free diet, foods to eat include:
- Rice, corn, potatoes, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, amaranth, sorghum, teff, soybeans, and gluten-free oats
- Fruits and vegetables
- Fish and other seafood
- Nuts and seeds
- Flours, pastas, and oats that are labeled “gluten-free”
- Wine and distilled alcoholic drinks, such as rum, tequila, vodka, and whiskey
- Milk, cheese, and other dairy foods, though some people with celiac disease may have difficulty digesting dairy products
Foods to Avoid on a Gluten Free Diet
If you have celiac disease, consult your doctor or a nutritionist for advice on how to follow a gluten-free diet and also ensure you get the proper nutrients your body needs. In general, foods to avoid on a gluten-free diet include all foods made from or with wheat, rye, and barley, such as:
- Wheat flour, breads, crackers, muffins, and baking mixes
- Some sauces, spreads, spices, condiments, and salad dressings
- Processed meats
- Meat substitutes (such as vegetarian burgers)
- Beer, ale, lager, and malt vinegar