Is Gluten-Free Really the Way to Go?

With a rise in pro-wheat sentiment and a recent study that suggests a gluten-free diet may not be the best way to get lean, we asked a professional whether or not to drop that muffin.

Eaters may be getting a case of whiplash from all the conflicting voices touting the dangers of adopting — or not adopting — a gluten-free diet. To further confuse the matter, a recent study conducted by The European Society for Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition found a link between the consumption of gluten-free foods and obesity. We asked Rhonda Markman, DTR, ACE, a Hartsdale-based nutritionist and personal trainer what to do about this gluten confusion.

Markman recommends that you first see a doctor to find out whether you have celiac disease, a rare condition in which gluten consumption causes a range of digestive issues. However, Markman notes that even those without the disease may have a sensitivity to the rogue wheat protein that may still cause inflammation.

“Gluten is one of the top inflammatory foods,” says Markman, who notes that dairy, soy, corn, eggs, and nuts can often cause the same issue. “Often, if someone is sensitive to gluten, eliminating — not reducing— all gluten from their diet will make them feel better and we will see a difference in about two weeks. I also have seen some clients benefit from a gluten-free diet who don’t have [gastrointestinal] distress. These clients have autoimmune issues or some type of inflammation that won’t go away.”

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The European study pointed to gluten-free products as the primary cause of weight gain, and Markman agrees that buying every box on the shelf that says “wheat-free” may not be the best course of action. “If you substitute all gluten products with gluten-free, processed products, the diet will not be healthier,” she says. “Instead, try eating a diet high in fruits, vegetables, lean protein and gluten free grains such as amaranth, buckwheat, rice millet, quinoa, sorghum.”

Markman also concedes that some gluten-containing products do have vital nutritional benefits that those on a gluten-free diet must be sure to replace. “Grains and whole wheat add fiber to the diet, which is extremely important in promoting a healthy bowel,” explains Markman. “There are also other nutrients—protein, iron, B vitamins, zinc, magnesium. If someone on a gluten free diet does not eat enough fruits and vegetables, they will most definitely not get enough fiber.”

Above all, the choice to go gluten-free is based upon a person’s unique needs and goals as well as the input of their health professionals. “I think going gluten-free is based one hundred percent on the individual — I do not feel that one diet fits all. If you don’t have health issues or GI problems, then I think it’s fine to eat gluten,” notes Markman. “However, if this is not the case, trying an elimination diet for two weeks would be a good idea and might give you a lot of information. The greatest advice for everyone is to pay attention to your body and how food makes you feel. Often our bodies tell us everything that we need to know, only we ignore the signals.”

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