Why Is Gluten Bad for You?

Reviewed on 10/27/2020

What Is Gluten?

 Unless you have a specific medical condition (see below) there is no reason a healthy diet cannot include products that contain gluten.
 Unless you have a specific medical condition (see below) there is no reason a healthy diet cannot include products that contain 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. 

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)
    • A skin rash that results from eating gluten
    • People with celiac disease may also have dermatitis herpetiformis, but people with dermatitis herpetiformis don’t always have celiac

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
  • Meat
  • Fish and other seafood
  • Poultry 
  • Eggs
  • Legumes
  • 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
  • Pasta
  • Pastries
  • Cereals
  • Some sauces, spreads, spices, condiments, and salad dressings
  • Processed meats 
  • Meat substitutes (such as vegetarian burgers)
  • Beer, ale, lager, and malt vinegar

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Reviewed on 10/27/2020
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