Choosing to Go Gluten-Free Not Without Risks

Is going gluten-free good for everybody?


A gluten-free diet is the only course of treatment for people with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity. But for the overwhelming majority of the population, avoiding gluten may not be beneficial and can even be harmful.

“It’s not necessarily a healthier diet if you don’t need it,” says Anca M. Safta, MD, director of Wake Forest Baptist Health’s Gluten & Allergic Digestive Disorders Program.

“Any time you restrict your diet you have a greater chance of not getting all the nutrients you need,” says Angie Almond, the program’s clinical dietitian. “With a gluten-free diet, the risk is that you can develop some nutrient or vitamin deficiencies because the gluten-free products aren’t fortified or enriched like most regular bread and cereal products are.”

Shunning gluten is also not an effective way to shed excess pounds.

The weight loss attained by people on gluten-free diets is generally attributable to their eating fewer processed foods and more fruits and vegetables, not eliminating gluten. And gluten-free foods can contain as many calories as standard products, or even more.

“Many of them contain added sugars to make them taste better,” Safta points out, “so you can actually gain weight.”