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Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources

Gluten-free diets not for everyone

STILLWATER, Okla. – With the rising popularity of gluten-free diets and the wide variety of products catering to the lifestyle, it might make you wonder if you are missing out on something important.

For most of us, the short answer to that question is no, said Janice Hermann, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension nutrition specialist.

“Gluten-free diets are designed for individuals with specific diagnosed medical conditions,” she said. “In fact, because gluten is found in so many foods, unnecessarily cutting it out of your diet may lead to deficiencies in important nutrients you’d normally get from enriched and fortified cereals, breads and pastas.”

Gluten refers to proteins found in certain grains such as wheat, rye and barley. Because it enhances the taste and texture of foods, it is added to items like deli meats and French fries.

For the majority of people, gluten is absolutely harmless, Hermann said. However, there is a small percentage of the population that cannot tolerate these proteins. About 1 percent of Americans battle celiac disease, an autoimmune condition that causes the body’s immune system to release antibodies that attack the intestines.

The symptoms can be unpleasant – gas, bloating, diarrhea and weight loss or gain. If left untreated, the condition could lead to complications such as anemia, osteoporosis and neurological disorders.

Another estimated 6 percent of Americans are affected by non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), which also involves the immune system reacting to gluten, but does not produce dangerous antibodies.

“The only treatment for celiac disease and NCGS is a gluten-free diet,” Hermann said. “If you suspect you have either of these conditions, consult your health care provider.”

However, if your goal is to lose weight or just maintain a healthy lifestyle, and you do not have a medical condition that prevents you from eating foods containing gluten, a well-balanced diet that includes lots of fruits and vegetables and features lean protein sources should help do the trick.

The website www.choosemyplate.gov offers easy-to-follow, age-appropriate guidelines and recommendations to encourage weight loss and living a healthy lifestyle.

Also, check with your local county Extension office for helpful resources, including related fact sheets (www.osufacts.okstate.edu) and classes.

“Gluten-free diets aren’t for everyone,” Hermann said. “Outside a medical condition like celiac disease that requires a specific diet, for good health, there isn’t really a substitute or short cut around eating right and exercising regularly.”

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Oklahoma State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture, State and Local Governments Cooperating: The Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to all eligible persons regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, gender, age, disability, or status as a veteran, and is an equal opportunity employer.

 

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Email: leilana.mckindra@okstate.edu

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