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8 Things to Know About Gluten

While gluten-free diets may seem to be a trend that is here to stay, how much do you actually know about gluten? Keep reading to find out more.

For the past several years, “gluten-free” has been one of the most popular phrases to hear in the nutrition world. Popular opinion says that gluten is bad, but when asked to explain why, not many people are able to do so. This may be because not many people actually understand what gluten is, but have adopted the negative perception of it that is found in the media. While gluten-free has become a trendy, mainstream lifestyle change, people with celiac disease and gluten intolerance actually have to avoid gluten for medical reasons. Whether you already adhere to a gluten-free diet or you're thinking about trying it, it's important to make sure you know the facts about gluten. Here are several important items to take into consideration when deciding whether a gluten-free diet is right for you.

1. Gluten is a protein.
While not the kind of protein you'd use to build muscle, gluten is a protein that's found in wheat, barley and rye. Gluten helps foods to maintain their shape, and it's sometimes used as a binding agent in other products.

2. Gluten is not just found in bread and pasta.
When most people think of wheat, barley and rye, they think of grainy foods. While this is true, these ingredients—and therefore gluten as well—are present in many other foods and can even be found in some health and beauty products. Beer, salad dressings, soups, toothpastes and even lip balms can contain gluten.

3. You can be sensitive to gluten but not have full-blown celiac disease.
The Cleveland Clinic explains that when a person has celiac disease, their body produces an immunological response after ingesting gluten and can't digest it, which can damage the stomach lining and cause cramps, bloating, diarrhea, nausea and other symptoms. Celiac disease also prevents your body from properly absorbing the nutrients from your food intake. It's possible to have a sensitivity to gluten, which manifests through symptoms similar to those of celiac disease, with the exception of the immunological response.

4. You can be sensitive to non-food products with gluten as well.
Though most people experience symptoms after consuming gluten, it's also possible to have a reaction to non-food products with gluten. The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness states that products like mouthwash, lipstick and toothpaste can all trigger a reaction in those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. 

5. You don't have to remove it from your diet (unless you have celiac disease).
If you have celiac disease, then it is a requirement to remove all sources of gluten from your diet. However, if you're wondering whether you should ditch gluten just for the sake of being “healthier,” it's not necessary. If you don't have to for medical reasons, going gluten-free isn't really going to benefit you much, according to research. In fact, gluten may actually provide benefits for controlling blood pressure, maintaining health colon bacteria and improving immune function, according to Glenn Gaesser, scientific advisory board chairman of the Grain Foods Foundation.

6. Cutting out gluten probably won't help you lose weight.
While many people believe that removing gluten from the diet will help promote weight loss, healthy skin, better immune function and other health benefits, there is no scientific evidence that supports these ideas. The Cleveland Clinic explains that some people may lose weight after removing gluten from their diet because they are likely swapping processed, gluten-containing foods for whole, unprocessed foods with more nutrients, like fruits and vegetables—a natural act that would promote weight loss, but not because of the gluten itself. 

7. If you go gluten-free, you need to make sure you receive nutrients from other sources.
Many foods with gluten also contain other nutrients and essential vitamins, which you may miss out on if you scrap the gluten altogether. In order to avoid deficiencies while adhering to a gluten-free diet, you may need to take a multivitamin or incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your diet—these are free from gluten and can help replenish some essential nutrients you might be missing. Also, grains that do not contain gluten—like buckwheat, quinoa and millet, to name a few—can be added to your diet for more nutrients, including magnesium, niacin, iron, calcium and fiber.

8. Gluten-free foods are not necessarily healthier than foods with gluten.
Many people go into a grocery store and automatically assume that because a food is labeled gluten-free, it's going to be healthier than the regular version. This notion is not true, and the opposite may actually be more likely. Gluten-free foods often contain a lot of sodium, sugar, saturated fat and calories, all of which can contribute to weight gain. If you're going gluten-free, it's important to check nutrition labels to ensure you don't equate “gluten-free” with “good-for-you.”

Proper nutrition is essential for optimum health and overall wellness. Knowing the truth about gluten can help you decide whether a diet free of this protein is right for you; we hope this article was able to provide some insight. Have a great day!

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