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Tara Dunker

Tara Dunker

Within the past decade, gluten-free products and folks who swear by them have popped up just about everywhere.

This has definitely helped the gluten-free movement rocket to fad diet fame, unlikely to go away anytime soon. And even though its star has faded somewhat—in favor of newer fads—I’m sure it will be recycled somewhere down the line.

That’s how diet culture works, but we’ll save that for another article, another day.

The trouble with these fads that reach the pinnacle of popularity is they start with a grain of truth, no pun intended.

For those who can’t tolerate gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley, avoiding products made from these grains can be life-changing. This intolerance is known as celiac disease, and to a lesser extent can also include non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

People with celiac disease can’t tolerate even small amounts of gluten. Just 50 milligrams of the protein—about the amount in one crouton—is enough to trigger an immune response that damages the lining of the small intestine.

This can negatively impact nutrient absorption and cause a host of unpleasant symptoms. It can also lead to more long-term health issues like osteoporosis, infertility, nerve damage, seizures and potential cancers of the digestive tract.

When it comes to non-celiac gluten sensitivity, think the same unpleasant symptoms as celiac disease but without the intestinal damage.

It’s these not-so-fun digestive symptoms that lead a person to contact their doctor in the first place, where a blood test is done to check for certain antibodies. If these antibodies are present, a biopsy of the small intestine then confirms a diagnosis of celiac disease.

Cue a lifetime of very restrictive eating for very valid and scientifically proven reasons.

What does diet culture care about proven science or validity, though? If people diagnosed with celiac disease feel better going gluten-free, won’t everyone else? And down the slippery slope of weight loss gimmicks we go.

No, going gluten-free is not a sure fire way to lose weight. Sure, if all else remains constant, cutting gluten-containing grains from one’s eating pattern will result in a decrease in caloric intake. It’s this intake of fewer calories that causes the weight loss, not the intake of less gluten.

While food manufacturers are happy to provide an endless supply of gluten-free products, keep in mind that a gluten-free cookie is not a calorie-free cookie. And oftentimes, dessert products that have had the gluten removed require the addition of fats, sugars and gluten-free alternatives to enhance the palatability—to make you still want to eat it!

If you’re considering going gluten-free for weight loss, I would encourage you to choose a far less annoying, and far more satisfying route.

And the next time you hear of someone with celiac disease, give them your full support. The restrictions they face at every meal and snack are no joke.

Disclaimer: The content of this article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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If you have any further questions, please contact Tara Dunker at 402-223-1384, tara.dunker@unl.edu, or visit the Gage County Extension website at www.gage.unl.edu.

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