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Why Eat Gluten Free? Health Benefits & Risks of a Gluten Free Lifestyle

Lindsay Malone MS, RDN, CSO, LD
10 - 12 MIN.


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IN THIS ARTICLE
  • What Is gluten?
  • Health Benefits of Eating Gluten-Free
  • Risks of eating gluten-free
  • What is it like to live a gluten-free lifestyle?
  • What to eat and not to eat on a gluten-free diet

Benefits of Going & Eating Gluten Free


Gluten-free diets have gained popularity over the past decades, and many are wondering what the benefits of gluten-free eating are, and how to get started.  We’ve got you covered with the lowdown on gluten-free diet benefits, as well as the risks you should know about.

What Is gluten?

Gluten is a protein found in foods like wheat, barley, and rye.  It gives dough elasticity, helping to hold it together – it’s responsible for that light, fluffy bread texture you know and love.  While many people tolerate gluten well, for some, gluten can cause health problems.  Celiac disease is one type of gluten sensitivity where gluten causes damage to the intestines and can result in other health complications as well. 1 

There is also non-celiac gluten sensitivity, in which those who eat gluten may experience a variety of unpleasant symptoms.  For both of these groups, eliminating gluten is the best treatment to clear up symptoms and improve the quality of life.

Health Benefits of Eating Gluten-Free

The good news is, you don’t have to have a diagnosis to enjoy the benefits of gluten-free eating.  Here are the top 3 benefits of going gluten-free:

  • Reduced inflammation – In those with celiac disease, evidence shows that a gluten-free diet can lower inflammation in the body. 2 Study results aren’t quite as clear in those with gluten sensitivity, but many people have found signs of inflammation decrease while on a gluten-free diet – things like joint pain, headaches, and brain fog.
  • Improved gut health – For those suffering from annoying gut issues – diarrhea, bloating, abdominal pain, and cramping – a gluten-free diet has been shown to help resolve those pesky symptoms and heal the gut. 3

Gluten also may cause a condition known as “leaky gut”, in which gluten causes small holes in the wall of the intestine, allowing toxins and proteins like gluten to sneak through and wreak havoc in the body. 4 Going gluten-free gives the gut time to repair itself and help get you back on track.

  • Increased energy – One of the biggest benefits of being gluten-free for many people is the increase in energy they feel. While science hasn’t hashed out the reason behind feeling more energetic on a gluten-free diet, if you’ve been feeling sluggish, a gluten-free diet may be just what you need to get moving in the right direction again.

Risks of eating gluten-free

While gluten-free foods themselves don’t come with risks, a gluten-free diet can be missing important nutrients.  The biggest risks would be not getting enough fiber or vitamins, like folate, that are added to gluten-containing foods. 

So how can you ensure you are getting the nutrition you need while enjoying the benefits of eating gluten-free? 

  • Focus on eating fiber and nutrient-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and gluten-free whole grains like brown rice and quinoa
  • Avoid eating processed gluten-free foods made with refined flours like white rice flour
  • Fill up on whole foods, limiting packaged foods that tend to be lower in nutrients
  • Read labels on packaged foods, and look for choices that are higher in fiber, vitamins, and minerals

What is it like to live a gluten-free lifestyle?

The transition to a gluten-free lifestyle can take a little effort, but once you get in the groove, it will become second nature.  Luckily, there are a bunch of gluten-free options available, making going gluten-free much easier than it used to be.  It may help to make a list of a few meal ideas for each meal of the day and then build on it from there.  Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Breakfast: Overnight oats or High Key Protein Cereal

Lunch: Cobb Salad or Sandwich Wrap

Dinner: Chicken and Vegetables or Stuffed Peppers

With your body feeling its best, living a gluten-free lifestyle can free you from symptoms that may be holding you back so you can focus on doing the things you love.

What to eat and not to eat on a gluten-free diet

When you’re first getting started with eating gluten-free, it can feel overwhelming trying to figure out what you can (and can’t) eat.  Don’t sweat it!  We’ve got a simple list to help with the transition to gluten-free eating:

What to Eat
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Nuts and Seeds
  • Gluten-free grains – Rice, Quinoa, Gluten-free Oats, Millet, Corn, Sorghum
  • Dairy
  • Meat and Seafood
  • Beans and legumes
  • Fats and Oils
What to Avoid
    • Gluten-containing grains: Wheat, rye, barley (and any food that contains them)

Foods to Watch Out for:
  • Oats: Most conventional oats have traces of gluten in them, so be sure to buy gluten-free oats
  • Sauces and condiments: Check the labels for wheat, barley, or ingredients like malt or natural/artificial flavors that indicate gluten may be present
  • Snacks: Granola bars, crackers, and packaged snacks may have gluten, so check the labels
  • Bread and Pasta: Buy ones that are labeled gluten-free
  • Cereals: Many are gluten-free, but to be sure check the label
  • Baked Goods: Check for specialty stores and/or bakeries that make gluten-free versions

Closing

The benefits of being gluten-free may have you wanting to try it for yourself, so we say go for it!  Now that you’re armed with the basics of what you can and can’t eat, make a list of a few gluten-free meals you want to try and get out there and get started living your best life!

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Lindsay Malone, MS, RDN, CSO, LD
Lindsay Malone is a Functional and Integrative Medicine dietitian empowering individuals to take charge of their health with evidenced-based nutrition information.

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