Should You Avoid Gluten?

Some people avoid gluten because they have symptoms after eating it. Others don’t experience symptoms after eating gluten, but claim that a gluten-free diet makes them feel healthier, happier, more alert, and more energetic. A 2014 survey from the Consumer Reports National Research Center found that 63% of Americans believe a gluten-free diet can improve your health. So is a gluten-free diet beneficial for people who do not have gluten sensitivity?

63% of Americans believe a gluten-free diet can improve your health, but does a gluten-free diet really benefit people without gluten sensitivity? Click To Tweet

What is gluten and what does it do?

“Gluten” is the Latin word for “glue”. It refers to a group of proteins found in wheat, wheat variants, barley, rye, oats, and foods derived from these grains.

You find gluten in a wide range of foods:

  • cereals
  • candies
  • fast food
  • desserts
  • pastas
  • dressings and sauces
  • soups
  • convenience foods
  • breads
  • baked goods

For those with gluten sensitivity, gluten can cause inflammation and digestive problems. Gluten can damage the lining of the small intestine in people who have celiac disease. This damage eventually prevents the body from absorbing nutrients from food.

There is no damage to the tissues of the small intestine with non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

Will eating a gluten-free diet improve your health?

Some people have clinical gluten sensitivity, such as celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Wheat allergy can also explain why some people experience GI symptoms after consuming certain foods containing gluten. It benefits people with a gluten sensitivity to eat a gluten-free diet. A gluten-free diet is necessary for people with celiac disease.

However, there is no clinical evidence that shows a gluten-free diet improves mental or physical health for people without gluten sensitivity.

A recent double-blind randomized placebo trial published in the journal Gastroenterology found that gluten does not induce gastrointestinal symptoms in in people without clinical gluten sensitivity. The researchers stated:

Our results support the view that gluten does not appear to cause symptoms in individuals who do not have a physiological susceptibility to it (ie, most of the population). As the gluten free diet is not only thought to be no healthier than a “normal” diet, but has been suggested as overall suboptimal, there is possibly clinical justification in actively discouraging people from starting it if they have no diagnosable sensitivity.

Should you stop eating gluten?

Those with celiac disease, wheat allergy, or those who experience digestive symptoms after eating gluten should avoid foods containing gluten. However, there’s no scientific evidence supporting claims that gluten causes negative health effects in people without gluten sensitivity.

Some people without celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity find that they feel better after eating a gluten-free diet. People report things like weight loss, increased energy, and improved health. There are various reasons why this could be the case:

  • Future research about gluten’s effect on the body could explain this.
  • Making a proactive decision to promote better health could help people feel better.
  • People who cut gluten from their diet might eat healthier foods in general. Many ultra processed foods, junk foods, and unhealthy convenience foods contain gluten. It’s not the gluten in the donut that causes problems for most people. It’s the excessive amounts of sugar.

If you’re considering a gluten-free diet, start the conversation with your doctor. It might not cross your mind to tell your doctor about your new diet. This is important information that allows your primary care provider to have a complete picture of your health, however.

There’s also the possibility that the GI symptoms and discomfort you experience after eating certain foods could indicate a different health issue. Talk to your doctor about any symptoms you experience and before making big changes to your diet.