Does ‘gluten-free’ eating benefit everyone?

Going gluten-free is becoming a popular choice, even among those who are not allergic. Here is an honest review of the diet.

Does ‘gluten-free’ eating benefit everyone?

Take a walk through any supermarket and you will be able to spot a ‘gluten-free’ label on some items. These range from flour to grains and even beer.

The items do not have gluten, a protein composite present in wheat, barley or rye. At the beginning, its only customers had coeliac disease – a genetic intolerance towards gluten.

But, while statistics of those with coeliac remained stable from 2009 to 2014, demand for specialty foods in the United States grew.

In that time, giving up gluten became a popular dietary choice. A 2015 Gallup poll found that one in five Americans try to fit these foods in their diets.

Participants felt that cutting out gluten made them feel better about themselves, with some claiming that the diet resulted in weight loss.

The trend has astonished food suppliers all over the world. In Singapore, product catalogues have expanded to include items sans gluten. The health conscious have taken a liking to gluten-free oats, delicious when combined with fruits and milk overnight.

Even bakeries in Paris are catching on. At Chambelland, visitors can find bread made from rice flour or a buckwheat variation.

“With other grains, you can offer another experience,” owner Nathaniel Doboin told The New York Times. “It’s another aroma, another texture, another shape,” he said.

American food blogger David Lebovitz, who has written several cookbooks, quipped: “It’s a wave, I think, coming from the United States.”

Before you try it, here are three things to note about the diet:

1) ‘Gluten-free’ does not mean ‘healthy’

Contrary to popular belief, these foods could be high in calories. A study, published in the Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition, found that teenagers who avoided gluten had a greater risk of being obese. This is because they consumed more fat and less fibre, calcium and iron.

2) The diet is low on nutrients

“Wheat flour is fortified. They add folic acid, B vitamins and iron. Rice flour, a mainstay of gluten-free foods, is not,” said Dr Peter Green, director of the Celiac Disease Centre at Columbia University.

“We have seen people with vitamin B deficiency,” he added. To counter that, take supplements to make sure you’re getting the necessary nutrients.

3) Other lifestyle changes may have caused weight loss

You may have lost weight after cutting out gluten – but it may not be the main cause, said Monash University’s director of gastroenterology Peter Gibson.

“I’ve noticed (this) lots of times, even with family members,” Professor Gibson said.

“They have decided they’re eating a lot of takeaway foods, quick foods, not eating well at all. They read this thing about gluten-free, and then they’re buying fresh vegetables, cooking well, and eating a lot better,” he explained.

“Blaming the gluten is easy, but you could point to about a hundred things they’re doing better,” he said.

Are you going to give the diet a go? Write to us at

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