In Defense of Gluten

My name is Alana Benito and I am currently a dietetic intern through California State University San Bernardino’s ISPP program. I just completed my three week long acute care rotation with Nadine Pazder. Like Nadine, I am an alumna of the University of Connecticut. Go Huskies! I am interested in all aspects of dietetics, including food safety and long term care. I will complete my internship and sit for the RD exam in late July

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Bloating. Gas. Weight gain. Fatigue. What’s to blame? The latest diet fad points to gluten.

Health magazines sell copies by convincing readers that things like “wheat belly” exist and that they have the secret to lose the weight: a gluten free diet.

What exactly is gluten?

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. Gluten is composed of two different proteins called gliadin and glutenin. It is the component that gives elasticity and rising capability to dough, and the chewy texture to foods like bread and pizza crust.

What are the risks involved in following a gluten free diet?

Eliminating gluten from the diet can put you at risk for vitamin and nutrient deficiencies. Whole grains that contain gluten (wheat, rye, barley) are excellent sources of b vitamins which provide us with a natural source of cell energy.  Gluten containing products are also good sources of calcium, vitamin d, iron, magnesium, zinc and fiber. All nutrients that we need to maintain our health and a functioning gastrointestinal system.


Gluten free products are lower in fiber than gluten containing products. For example, you would have to consume 3 cups worth of tapioca flour to get the same amount of fiber as 1 cup of whole wheat flour. This is because gluten free flours tend to be higher in starch and lower in fiber. People who follow a gluten free diet must make an effort to introduce high fiber foods in their diet; something they would not have to worry about on a diet that does not eliminate gluten.  This is an important factor that fad diets do not mention. No gluten, more beans? Doesn’t sound too appealing.


Another risk involved in following a gluten free diet is weight gain. Yes, the weight you were trying to lose by following this new diet could not only stay around, but the number on the scale could go up. Gluten free products must add extra sugar, fat, and sodium to do the same job gluten does: give products their texture and help dough rise.  Ever try gluten free bread? Dense, right? That’s because of all of the additional calories companies must add to make gluten free bread look and taste like the bread products we are used to.


Who needs to follow a gluten free diet?

Individuals with:

Celiac disease— an auto immune reaction that a doctor can properly diagnose with an endoscopy biopsy.

Non-celiac gluten sensitivity— After being tested for celiac disease and wheat allergy, your doctor can initiate a gluten elimination diet to test if symptoms subside once this protein is eliminated. Elimination diets must be conducted under the supervision of a medical professional.

Should you go on a gluten free diet?

If you have persistent gastrointestinal symptoms you are concerned about, do not go on a gluten free diet prematurely because it can inhibit proper diagnosis. Seek medical attention if you are concerned about your GI symptoms.

If you have been diagnosed with one of the above conditions and need accurate, evidenced based guidance, seek help from a registered dietitian with approval from your physician.


A note about fad, trendy diets: 

Want the secret recipe to creating a trendy fad diet? Target at least one nutrient; in this case gluten. Eliminate this nutrient from your diet and thus eliminate a large amount of foods Americans eat on a daily basis, such as bread, pizza, pastries, pasta, etc. By eliminating these foods, calorie intake may temporarily decrease and weight loss follows. Well, weight loss is good, right? It is not positive when it can not be sustained long term. The weight loss from eliminating a large number of foods will eventually halt or reverse. Fad diets are not long term weight loss plans.  They are often dangerous and restrictive..



About nadineandadamblog

Nadine and Adam are mother and son. Nadine lives in Florida where she has provided outpatient MNT in a large healthsystem for the past 20 years. In addition, she teaches nutrition to second and third year family medicine residents. She is a past-spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Adam lives in Washington State. His career has largely been involved in recipe development and food production. He is currently developing recipes and menus for the Seattle schools to meet the new federal guidelines for school nutrition programs and he does outpatient nutrition counseling. He is also a voice in PSAs over Seattle radio representing the Washington Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
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