The Six Health Myths of Gluten-Free Diets (Part 2)

In last week’s post, we posed the question of the health benefits of a gluten-free diet. To answer that question, we needed to address some of the myths that are out there. We’re finishing up our list, with myths 4-6. For 1-3, click here.

Myth #4: A gluten-free diet is always better for you: Ok, this is definitely true for people with celiac disease and gluten intolerance, as consuming gluten can result in serious short term and long-term health consequences. But for everyone else, gluten is not necessarily bad for you. And by going gluten-free you can end up hurting your body in other ways (and, if you’re not celiac or gluten-intolerant, end up eating worse than before). As we said in Myth #3, processed gluten-free foods can contain more fat, but they also contain a lot of other ingredients that aren’t necessary, like refined sugar, preservatives, food dyes, etc. But if you instead go gluten-free by swapping out a lot of high-carb processed foods for healthy, natural alternatives like fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and nuts, you’re definitely better off. One other concern is that, if you’re not careful, you can end up cutting out essential nutrients like Vitamin B and D, which are found in gluten-containing grains. You should always educate yourself as much as possible and ideally consult a medical professional to help guide your diet.

Myth #5: You’ll feel a lot better on a gluten-free diet: Even if you’re celiac or gluten-intolerant, you may have very mild to nonextant immediate symptoms. But, as we’ve said before, there are still serious long-term health effects if you eat gluten. On the flip side, many gluten experts think that people who are not necessarily gluten-intolerant could fall somewhere on the gluten sensitivity spectrum, which means too much gluten makes you feel bad. Add to this the fact that our gluten intake has increased dramatically over the last 50 years, and you could indeed feel better on a gluten-free diet, or by simply reducing the amount of gluten you eat. But the benefits might only be noticeable if you pushed your body hard. Which brings us to our last myth…

Myth #6: A gluten-free diet will increase your athletic performance: During intense exercise, the intestines become more permeable, which means that if you’re already somewhere on the gluten sensitivity spectrum, this may exacerbate your symptoms. If athletes notice discomfort, bloating, or other symptoms when they consume gluten and work out, a gluten-free diet could help. This is why some high-performance athletes like tennis players and triathletes are gluten-free, because it improves their ability just enough to give them an edge. Think of the third hour of a tennis match, when a split second could make a game-winning difference. But, as we said, this would only come out during intense exercise, so if you don’t have an issue with gluten in your everyday life, it’s unlikely you’ll have an issue with it when you exercise, unless you push yourself on a regular basis (like a professional athlete).

So what does all this mean? Well, for a quick wrap-up:

  • If you think you have issues with gluten, a gluten-free diet could be a healthy (and potentially necessary) option.

  • If you think you might be celiac, gluten intolerance, or gluten sensitive, talk to your doctor and try to get tested. We can’t stress this enough. If you do have issues with gluten, a gluten-free diet will make a world of difference.

  • If you’re thinking about going gluten-free, be careful and eat smart.  Try to understand the real reasons as to why it would benefit you. Educate yourself on how to eat healthy while avoiding gluten.