Is a gluten-free diet healthy or is it unhealthy? One of the first steps I recommend to a healthier diet is eliminating grains because it’s the fastest way to reduce inflammation. Why grains? They contain gluten. Changing one aspect of your diet won’t necessarily make it healthy but there are certain foods that are damaging to your health. Foods that have gluten are some of those foods but let’s talk about it a bit more before you load up on the gluten-free donuts.
Isn’t a Gluten-free diet Just for those with Celiac Disease or Digestive Issues?
Isn’t a gluten-free diet just for those with celiac disease? No, not necessarily, and according to the Celiac Disease Foundation, 1 in 100 have celiac disease and 80% are undiagnosed. (1) Celiac disease is when the protein gluten causes damage to the small intestine. Gluten is a trigger that causes inflammation. While a number of people are undiagnosed with celiac and other gluten sensitivities, gluten is a trigger to all individuals.
What we can learn from what we know about celiac disease is how damaging gluten can be to the body. By removing gluten, you remove a trigger that is damaging to the body, leading to this autoimmune condition and others.
Learn more about celiac disease and what it can tell us about eliminating gluten in this video:
Let’s talk about gluten and zonulin. Zonulin is an intestinal protein that modulates intestinal permeability and is a biomarker for gut health. If there is a high amount of zonulin, your body is trying to flush something out. That’s why many, but not all, will experience symptoms such as diarrhea and malnutrition. In studying celiac disease during a 2006 study, researchers found in patients who were in celiac remission and nonceliac patients that gluten initiated zonulin release for both groups. (2) That means 100% of people who eat gluten have a response.
Even if you don’t have recognizable symptoms that you associate with eating gluten, it still causes a reaction. There is still inflammation, disruption in the GI and an increase in gut permeability (or what some people think of as leaky gut). When the integrity of this barrier is compromised, it can lead to systemic problems and potentially an array of autoimmune disorders.
For many of us, it can manifest as symptoms like headaches, skin problems, fatigue, and digestive issues. Because reactions can be delayed and not immediate, some of you might not connect your reactions to eating gluten. So, you might not realize the benefits of a gluten-free diet until you try it.
Removing Triggers Like Gluten
Just because something is gluten-free doesn’t make it healthy and a gluten-free diet isn’t always healthy. Removing gluten and replacing it with other inflammatory foods won’t help heal your gut. There are a number of unhealthy and/or overprocessed gluten-free foods. To heal gut inflammation and reduce the hyperpermeability of your gut, you need to avoid inflammatory foods. If you replace the gluten containing foods with ones with a lot of inflammatory ingredients, then you will have an unhealthy gluten-free diet.
You may also be potentially removing one of your sources of fiber and since many people have diets with low amounts of fiber this could leave you at an even great deficit. So, as you replace those gluten containing foods look for fiber rich vegetables. Your body needs a variety of nutritious whole foods that are ideally organic. If you need help, check out our article on giving up gluten and check out the many healthy, gluten-free recipes we have. By doing this you can work on healing your gut and potentially benefit from some common benefits of a gluten-free diet.
Common Health Benefits of a Gluten-free Diet
1) Decreased Inflammation
Chronic inflammation is a sign your body is trying to heal itself. So, while inflammation in the short term is a good sign you want to remove the trigger. Studies on mice have found that gluten increases inflammatory biomarkers while a gluten-free diet improves them. (2) (3)
2) Better Digestion
If you aren’t damaging and inflaming the gut, then your digestion will go a lot smoother. You might notice less bloating, flatulence, diarrhea, nausea, and other digestive symptoms once you remove gluten from your diet.
3) Increased Energy
Gut inflammation can inhibit the absorption of vital nutrients that give you energy and gluten sensitivity can lead to anemia. Your body also uses a lot of energy when you have chronic inflammation, and it is trying to heal. If you remove the trigger, you could have increased energy. Who doesn’t want more energy?
4) Improved Mental Clarity
A common reported symptom after eating gluten is brain fog. Hyperpermeability in the gut can also lead to permeability in the blood brain barrier. When there is higher permeability there is the potential that toxins and bacteria can cross that barrier leading to brain fog. One of the common benefits of a gluten-free diet is improved mental clarity.
5) Reduces Risk of Depression
So, if you have better digestion and more energy, of course you’re going to be less depressed. It’s also because those feel-good neurotransmitters like serotonin are created in your gut and they need nutrients that your gut absorbs to be created. A healthy gut may help reduce your risk of depression.
6) Better Skin Health
Do you have bumps on the back of your arm? It’s a common side effect I see from eating gluten. It can also result in a number of skin conditions that are similar to eczema, dermatitis, or rosacea. As you clean gluten out of your diet you may see your skin health improve.
7) Improved Joint Pain
Many people wake up in the morning with achy joints and assume it is a normal part of getting older. It’s a sign of chronic inflammation and inflammation that leaves you achy. Remove the trigger and you might just reduce a lot of that joint pain.
Is a Gluten-free Diet Healthy?
Any diet can be unhealthy, but a healthy diet doesn’t include gluten. Start making your diet healthier by giving up grains and the gluten they contain. When you experience common benefits, you won’t be asking if a gluten-free diet is healthy, but you will be asking if the gluten is worth the pain.
Written by Dr. Patrick Flynn
Learn more about gluten and gut health in this video with Dr. Zach Papendieck:
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