When going gluten-free backfires

When going gluten-free backfires

by Eunice Chua 01 Feb 2020

Eating clean has become so mainstream these days. Sometimes we do it for health reasons; other times we do it in the name of ethics. However, these diets don’t always work for us, especially when we follow them blindly. In the case of gluten-free diets , they can even turn out to be downright dangerous.


What it originally meant to be gluten-free

Just a couple of years ago, the only people who consciously excluded gluten from their diet were those suffering from coeliac disease, which robs a body of its ability to digest gluten, leading to health consequences like malnutrition, loss of bone density and even death. Other less serious health conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome also point to gluten as a contributing factor to symptoms of discomfort, further giving gluten a bad rep in the food world.


The cultural definition today

A gluten-free diet is one that excludes barley, wheat and rye, three common ingredients found in most carbohydrates. Any weight-conscious person or fitness junkie will be quick to shun away from carbohydrates, believing that certain types of carbohydrates such as the refined variety, are higher in sugar and cause obesity-related problems. As the line between gluten-free and carbohydrate products starts to blur, promotion of gluten-free products accelerates and the idea of “gluten-free = healthy” takes root.


The consequences of an unnecessary diet

The main problem with completely cutting gluten from your diet is that you’re also depriving yourself of other essential nutrients found in gluten, mainly fibre. Whole carbohydrates are healthy carbohydrates that are digested slowly, provide a steady supply of energy and also increase one’s immunity against diseases. By rejecting gluten from your diet, you increase your body’s vulnerability to cardiovascular diseases – the British Medical Journal backed this claim in a 2017 study.


What you’re really doing to your body

First of all, reducing your fibre intake by staying away from gluten affects your digestive system, increasing the likelihood of constipation. Also, the lack of fibre is detrimental to your microbiome, increasing your body’s susceptibility to diabetes, heart disease and various cancers. Apart from eliminating a source of fibre, going gluten-free unnecessarily also causes a loss in essential vitamins and minerals like iron and vitamin B12, weakening your immune system.


Are gluten-free foods really good for you?

It may be a hard fact to swallow, but gluten-free snacks could be even unhealthier than gluten-containing ones, because the gluten may be substituted with vegetable oil or sugar. Furthermore, the mental toll of a gluten-free diet shouldn’t be taken lightly. This special diet requires a lot of scrutiny over food choices, causing stress and possibly even triggering gluten-intolerant symptoms in an originally healthy person.


Going gluten-free shouldn't be treated as a health fad when it is a dietary requirement for some. The myth that such a diet is good for everyone is untrue, and research has proven that it’s the other way around: going gluten-free when you don't have a legitimate reason to is more trouble than it's worth!