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Gluten-Free Diets Can Harm

This month two studies in prestigious medical journals show that gluten-free diets can cause nutritional deficiencies in all age groups (Clinical Nutrition, published online May 7, 2016) and interfere with growth and development in children (The Journal of Pediatrics, May 13, 2016).

The study in Clinical Nutrition (May 7, 2016) reviewed scientific studies published between 1990 and 2015 and found that most gluten-free diets:
• lacked fiber because low-fiber foods made from sugars, starches and refined flours were substituted for fiber-rich foods made from whole grains;
• lacked vitamins B12 and folate, and minerals such as iron, zinc, magnesium and calcium; and
• contained more high glycemic load foods and larger amounts of saturated and hydrogenated fats.

The study in The Journal of Pediatrics (May 13, 2016), from researchers at Dalhouse University in Canada, found that when given to children, gluten-free processed foods could cause:
• delayed growth and development because they often lack essential nutrients (the B vitamins, fiber, calcium, magnesium and iron), and
• weight gain because they are usually low in fiber and higher in sugar, other refined carbohydrates and fats.

They felt that if parents used gluten-free foods to self-treat children's problems such as belly pain, diarrhea, headaches, attention deficit disorder or behavior disorders, they could be delaying or preventing a proper diagnosis from the child's pediatrician. Some families could also be hurt by the added expense, since gluten-free products cost more than two and a half times as much as their gluten-containing counterparts.

What's Wrong with Gluten-Free Products?
Gluten is an alcohol-soluble protein in wheat, rye, and barley. It may be found in oats because oats can be contaminated when they are stored in silos that have been used to store wheat, rye or barley. It is possible to follow a gluten-free diet simply by eliminating these foods, but many people seek out substitutes for the breads, pastas, cookies, crackers, cereals and other flour-based foods they have always eaten. The gluten-free products are manufactured by replacing wheat and other whole grain flours with flours and starches made from corn, rice, potatoes and various other sources. These foods cause the same high rises in blood sugar as the gluten-containing versions, and are just as likely to cause weight gain and increase risk for diabetes. Furthermore, because gluten-free products are seldom made with whole grains, they are likely to lack fiber, iron, zinc, folate, niacin, thiamine, riboflavin, calcium, vitamin B12, phosphorus and other nutrients.

Most of the 100 million North Americans who buy gluten-free products don't need them because fewer than one percent have celiac disease or a specific IGE allergy to gluten. There is no good evidence that a gluten-free diet will help other diseases or conditions. People are willing to spend extra money on gluten-free products because they have been led to believe that a gluten-free diet will help to treat abdominal pain, gastroesophageal reflux, gas/bloating, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, headaches, fatigue, a foggy mind, anxiety, depression, muscle aches, skin rashes and a host of other conditions, despite the lack of evidence (Gastroenterology, 2015;148:1195-1204). I have written many previous reports about this persistent diet fad; see:
Will Gluten-Free Make You Feel Better?
Should You Avoid Gluten?
Problems with Gluten-Free Diets
Gluten-Free Doesn't Make It Good For You
Ignore Grain Brain and Wheat Belly: Eat WHOLE Grains

What Should You Do If You Think Gluten Is Harming You?
Check with your doctor who will test you for celiac disease. He or ahe will order a blood test called immunoglobulin A anti-tissue transglutaminase antibody (IgA TTG) and sometimes IgG-deamidated gliadin peptides. In some cases, the test could be questionable and a gastroenterologist may have to biopsy your intestines. Your doctor may also order special X rays of your intestines. If all these tests are negative, it is extremely unlikely that you have celiac disease. Your doctor will check for IGE allergy with a blood test. 

Checked 6/7/17

May 22nd, 2016
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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