Should You Adopt a Gluten-Free Diet? [video]

Video author: Everwell
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Video Transcript
The Healthy Skeptic
The Claim: Gluten-free foods are more healthful

My cousin told me about how she had gone gluten free and it really helped her. So I decided I would try it, and it really made a difference in my life.

Robert Davis, PhD, Everwell Editor-in-Chief:
If you pay attention to food labels, you've probably noticed the words gluten free showing up more and more. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, and a growing number of people say they're trying to avoid it. But for many of them, that may be unnecessary.

Gluten is in all kinds of foods — everything from beer and bologna to pasta and waffles. Going gluten free is clearly beneficial for those who have a condition known as celiac disease. For them gluten damages the lining of the small intestine, impairing the body's ability to absorb nutrients. The condition is diagnosed with a blood test and biopsy.

It's estimated to affect a bit less than 1% of the US population. But what about the remaining 99% of us? Well some who don't have celiac disease say they have trouble digesting gluten. While there's no standard medical test for this problem, going off gluten may make sense if it helps them feel better.

As for claims that a gluten-free diet is effective against arthritis, autism, diabetes, or other conditions, there's little evidence. Nor is there proof shunning gluten can help your weight or make you healthier overall if you don't have celiac disease. Still a gluten-free diet can be beneficial if it forces you to cut back on refined carbs such as pastries, cookies, and white bread and on calories overall. But read labels carefully on gluten-free breads and other products. Some can be higher in calories and lower in fiber and B vitamins than the conventional versions.

Because gluten is in so many foods, avoiding it takes lots of effort. Unless you absolutely have to stay away from gluten, better to devote that time and energy to eating a healthful diet overall, which includes lots of fruits and vegetables. And for that, no label reading required. For more on gluten-free foods or if you have a claim you'd like us to check out, visit our website, Helping you be a healthy skeptic, I'm Robert Davis.