What is Gluten and Why are so Many People Going Gluten Free?

Are you gluten free? Chances are that you’ve either thought about going gluten-free or you know someone who has already adopted the gluten-free lifestyle. Gluten is the protein found in grains, such as wheat, barley, and rye. Those with celiac disease experience damage to the intestines when they ingest gluten. This is often accompanied by diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain and bloating, and nausea or vomiting, to name a few symptoms.

According to a recent poll, as many as one third of Americans say they would like eliminate gluten from their diet. This is interesting, since less than 1 percent of people have celiac disease, according to the National Institutes of Health. Yet, many people continue to view gluten unfavorably despite having no apparent sensitivity or intolerance to gluten.

While a gluten-free diet is a necessity for someone with celiac disease, it may not be beneficial for others who are not gluten intolerant. If not done properly (with the help of a doctor or dietician), a gluten-free diet may be lacking in many vitamins and minerals, such as folate, iron, thiamin, niacin, fiber, and riboflavin. Furthermore, studies show that people on a gluten-free diet tend to consume a higher amount of calories from fat, and less from carbohydrates.

Many of the positive benefits that people (who are not diagnosed with celiac disease) experience while on a gluten-free diet can be attributed to the fact that a gluten-free diet cuts out a lot of processed food and “junk” food. Someone who is looking for the same benefits, such as more energy and weight loss, could adopt a Mediterranean style diet.  The Mediterranean diet is consistently promoted by health professionals as one of the healthiest and most balanced diets available. For starters, it’s a well-balanced style of eating that is rich in fresh, whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and seafood.  Other foods like dairy, red meats, and sweets are not entirely eliminated, but consumed less often. For more about the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet, visit the Army H.E.A.L.T.H. blog.

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