Gluten-Free: Is it a Fad, or a Healthy Diet?

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Thinking about going gluten-free? You’re not alone: A recent survey showed that 29 percent of Americans are interested in either giving gluten up altogether or vastly reducing their intake. And most of them do not have celiac disease and are not gluten sensitive. Is a gluten-free diet a healthy way to lose weight, and a sustainable long-term habit? Or is it just the latest fad that will soon go the way of the fat-free craze?

Nutritionists and dieticians say that while there can be some benefits associated with a gluten-free diet, it’s healthiest to include small amounts of most types of food in a diet; in other words, don’t restrict unless it’s necessary.

“What I find is a lot of times when people go gluten-free and they don’t have to, the overall quality of their diet improves because they’re thinking about food choices and eating more fruits and vegetables,” said Dee Sandquist, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “But you can’t say it’s just because they’re going gluten-free.”

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Because so many Americans eat so many carbohydrates, going gluten-free often cuts back on overall calories, because there simply aren’t as many gluten-free choices. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. People naturally turn to fruits and vegetables when their carb choices are cut back, and because they’re then eating less calorie-dense foods, they often lose weight.

“Most people overeat grains, so low gluten can be useful for weight loss,” said Joanne Slavin, a nutrition professor at the University of Minnesota. “So that’s OK, but the frustrating thing to me is this trend of what’s the bad guy of the year: low-carb, low-fat, gluten-free?”

In other countries, people slow down, enjoy their food, and know that no one food is evil, she said.

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