Should I go gluten-free?

Wednesday, September 06, 2017. Author Sarah Barron

Should I go gluten-free?

Never before has the availability of ‘gluten-free’ foods and alternatives been higher. From magazine articles to supermarket aisles and restaurant menus, this dietary modification has become the new craze for both the health conscious and weight loss crowds alike. However, following a gluten-free diet may not be as beneficial as celebrities endorse. Although this diet is essential and the sole treatment for people with Celiac disease, going gluten-free is not necessarily better for your health or superior to making other dietary alterations.

So what is gluten?

Gluten originates from the Latin term meaning ‘glue’. As the Latin name suggests, gluten is responsible for the sticky and elastic properties of dough and the chewy texture of baked bread products. It is a combination of two proteins and, against popular belief, is not only found in wheat-based products but is also present in many other cereal grains including, barley, rye and spelt. So why does gluten get such a bad rep?

Celiac disease vs. gluten sensitivity:

For some people, eating gluten can have disastrous health consequences, the prime example being Celiac disease (CD). CD is more than just an intolerance to gluten; it is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s defense system mistakenly attacks the gut lining rather than the proteins found in gluten. This process will happen soon after the ingestion of gluten containing foods and cause inflammation, widespread pain and a variety of gastric complaints [1]. If left untreated, small ‘finger-like’ projections that line the intestinal wall, called villi, can become severely damaged and affect how nutrients are absorbed. Additionally, the gastrointestinal (GI) tract may become more permeable and allow toxins and undigested proteins to seep into the blood stream. This further triggers the body’s immune response and, if chronic and untreated, can lead to malnutrition, weight loss and even osteoporosis [2]. Following a gluten-free diet is currently the only treatment for CD, but if followed strictly and any intestinal damage is allowed to heal, sufferers can live a relatively symptom-free life. However, depending on the severity of the condition, the benefits of a gluten-free diet may take several months or even years to take effect [3].

Gluten sensitivity on the other hand, is less severe than CD. Although it produces similar symptoms such as bloating, abdominal pain and changes in bowel habits, no autoimmune reaction occurs in response to gluten ingestion, meaning the intestinal wall is spared and remains functional [4]. Although less severe, it does not negate the impact of this condition on quality of life. For example, long-term digestive dysfunction and imbalances in gut bacteria are linked to a variety of mood and mental health conditions via the gut-brain axis [5]. Depending on the severity of the sensitivity, it may not be necessary to completely eliminate gluten containing foods, but this varies from person to person.

The advantages of going gluten-free:

With so many people raving about the benefits of going gluten-free for their health and weight loss goals, surely the benefits of this diet extends beyond the medical recommendations above? One reason behind this claim is that by cutting out gluten you may be more inclined to make healthier food choices in general. For example, swapping refined and processed carbohydrates with naturally gluten-free alternatives such as quinoa, brown rice, fruits, and vegetables may lead to greater feelings of satiety and an overall calorific reduction. Going gluten-free may also help you to become more food label savvy.  By checking ingredients and nutritional contents for gluten, you will intrinsically become more aware of the types of foods you are consuming and discover how many hidden ingredients are lurking in processed foods! These long-term lifestyle changes involved in going gluten-free may therefore offer a healthier approach to conventional dieting and help you to lose weight! [6]

In summary:

Going gluten-free is absolutely beneficial for those diagnosed with Celiac’s disease or who have gluten sensitivity. As a lifestyle choice, it may help people to cut out processed and refined carbohydrates and replace them with whole grains or other natural, unprocessed carbohydrate sources. However, please do not assume that going gluten-free is a weight loss method, as many gluten-free alternatives are still high in fat and sugars and devoid of nutrients such as vitamin B, iron and fiber. So whether you are cutting back on gluten for medical or for personal reasons, make sure to seek nutritional guidance before starting a new dietary program, but as a start,  why not swap in some of our healthy and nutritious recipes as alternatives to your regular meals? For example, try our Cauliflower Pancakes with Wild Mushrooms or our Avocado and Tomato Courgetti instead of pasta.  These two recipes substitute vegetables for grains, and they are easy, delicious and nutritious.  And if you just can’t live without bread, why not try our naturally gluten-free Teff and Pecan Loaf or make some sweet potato toast instead.  Simply slice a sweet potato, pop it in the toaster for a couple of cycles and then top it with avocado, hummus, or whatever you normally put on your bread.

I hope you enjoyed my blog.  You can find my other blog posts here:

The Benefits of Exercise on Brain Function and Mental Health
What’s the Difference Between Bodybuilding, Powerlifting and Olympic Lifting?
How Your Sleep Cycle Affects Your Weight and Your Workouts


1.    Ludvigsson, J.F., Bai, J.C., Biagi, F., Card, T.R., Ciacci, C., Ciclitira, P.J., Green, P.H., Hadjivassiliou, M., Holdoway, A., Van Heel, D.A. and Kaukinen, K., 2014. Diagnosis and management of adult coeliac disease: guidelines from the British Society of Gastroenterology. Gut, pp.gutjnl-2013.
2.    Zanchetta, M.B., Longobardi, V. and Bai, J.C., 2016. Bone and celiac disease. Current osteoporosis reports, 14(2), pp.43-48.
3.    Newnham, E. and Shepherd, S., 2015. Treatment of coeliac disease-What to expect after five years. Australian Coeliac, The, (Sep 2015), p.13.
4.    Fasano, A., Sapone, A., Zevallos, V. and Schuppan, D., 2015. Nonceliac gluten sensitivity. Gastroenterology, 148(6), pp.1195-1204.
5.    Cheng, J., Brar, P.S., Lee, A.R. and Green, P.H., 2010. Body mass index in celiac disease: beneficial effect of a gluten-free diet. Journal of clinical gastroenterology, 44(4), pp.267-271.
6.    Schmidt, C., 2015. Mental health: thinking from the gut. Nature, 518(7540), pp.S12-S15.
7.    Laurière, M., Pecquet, C., Bouchez‐Mahiout, I., Snégaroff, J., Bayrou, O., Raison‐Peyron, N. and Vigan, M., 2006. Hydrolysed wheat proteins present in cosmetics can induce immediate hypersensitivities. Contact Dermatitis, 54(5), pp.283-289.
8.    Marcason, W., 2011. Is there evidence to support the claim that a gluten-free diet should be used for weight loss? Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 111(11), p.1786.


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