Is a Gluten-Free Diet Right for You?
Candidates include people with celiac disease, gluten sensitivity or those with a wheat allergy
Others who might want to avoid gluten are those who are allergic to wheat. Begun said while there's no specific allergy to gluten, some people with a wheat allergy choose to avoid gluten-containing products altogether due to the risk of cross-contamination with wheat.
Though it might seem logical to stop eating gluten to see if it's at the root of your problems, both Levy and Begun noted that that's an extremely bad idea. First, they said, you should see a gastroenterologist to be evaluated for celiac disease. Otherwise, stopping consumption of gluten can mask the true cause of your symptoms.
Once those results are in, dietary adjustments can follow. Begun said the best gluten-free diet is one that contains foods that are naturally gluten-free, such as fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, beans, nuts, seeds, fish and lean meats.
"A healthy diet really doesn't need to change much when you give up gluten," she said. But people with celiac disease need to carefully watch for hidden sources of gluten. For example, she said, bottled salad dressings may contain gluten, as might soy sauce, medications, vitamins and even lip balm.
"For people with celiac disease, it's not just a matter of trying to avoid gluten," Begun said. "They must avoid even tiny amounts of gluten."
Eating out gluten-free can be a challenge because restaurants don't always understand that cross-contamination can be a problem, too. "If a gluten-free food touches something with gluten, someone with celiac can't eat it," Begun said. "The restaurant industry as a whole is trying hard and has come a long way."
Friends and family can sometimes be more of an issue for someone with celiac disease. "There's a lack of understanding about the need to avoid gluten 100 percent of the time," she said.
But if you don't have celiac disease -- which affects about 2 million people in the United States, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health -- there should be no harm in trying a gluten-free diet, Levy said, assuming that you've seen a doctor if you suspect celiac.
He said you can get all the nutrition you need from a gluten-free diet. But, he added a note of caution for those who eat gluten-free with the hope of losing weight.
"People who go on gluten-free diets tend to gain weight," Levy said. "People often substitute gluten-free flours and alternative baked goods, and too much of these foods can increase weight."