Adrienne Youdim MD, FACP

Are you gluten-free?

Are you gluten-free? If the answer is yes, you are not alone.

The number of Americans who are gluten-free has tripled over the past 5 years to 2.7 million!* But is gluten-free synonymous with being healthy

Gluten-free diets are recommended for individuals with celiac disease, but are followed by many others who report “feeling better.” Reported improvements include: gastrointestinal health, energy, sleep, and skin, among other subjective health benefits. But is limiting the gluten actually providing these benefits?   

For many Americans gluten is a term used interchangeably with carbs – which we love to hate.

Carbohydrates in turn are a broad category of food. They include fruits and vegetables, cereals, breads, pasta, grains and loosely may include beans and legumes as well. Of course pastries, cookies and cakes and many packaged foods are also categorized as carbohydrates.

Gluten, which is found in grains including wheat, barley and rye is a storage protein, and can also be found in these processed and packaged foods. Eliminating these foods may in fact be the healthy “feel good” aspect of going gluten-free.

The facts:

  1. Many packaged foods labeled “gluten-free” are not in fact healthy. They can be loaded with preservatives, sugar and fat to replace the wheat or gluten.
  2. Gluten-free diets are not associated with weight loss.*
  3. Eliminating gluten completely by removing wheat and other healthy grains may unnecessarily reduce healthy fiber from the diet.*

Americans already get less than half the daily recommended allowance of fiber which is associated with reduced cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, and has been shown to improve life longevity.

To my gluten-free friends I would like to suggest:

Consider eliminating highly processed and packaged foods and snacks. Incorporate heart healthy whole grains into your diet and decide for yourself. Is gluten the problem after all?


*Hyun-seok Kim, MD. “Time Trends in the Prevalence of Celiac Disease and Gluten-Free Diet in the US Population” National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys 2009-2014, JAMA Intern Med. 2016;176(11):1716-1717.
*“What We Eat in America Food” Categories 2013-2014
*“Fiber and Cardiovascular Disease” JAMA. 1996;275(6):447-451
*Fiber and Cancer- Am J Clin Nutr, vol. 85 no. 5, May 2007, 1353-1360


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