Gluten: Ending Common Misconceptions - Nemours Blog


Gluten: Ending Common Misconceptions

The gluten free diet has become a popular diet trend over recent years. The most common conditions that require a gluten free diet include celiac disease, wheat allergy, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, gluten ataxia, and dermatitis herpetiformis. Some individuals may choose to adhere to a gluten free diet for other reasons.

Gluten is the protein found in the grains wheat, rye, and barley. A gluten free diet requires avoidance of these grains. When foods are removed from the diet, it can make it more difficult to maintain a healthy and balanced diet, so if gluten is removed from the diet it is important to do so with the guidance of  a Registered Dietitian.

The purpose of this article is to clear up some common misconceptions surrounding gluten and the gluten free diet.

Do I need to avoid all gluten if I have a wheat allergy?

-No. Only the grain, wheat, needs to be avoided for a wheat specific food allergy. The grains barley and rye can still be consumed. A product does not need to be labeled “gluten free,” but does need to be “wheat free.”

A gluten free diet is healthier for you.

-This is not necessarily the case. As mentioned previously, anytime a food or group of foods is removed from the diet, there is an increased risk for nutritional deficiencies. Removal of gluten removes a group of nutrient dense whole grains. If processed and refined gluten free starches are used to replace whole grains, this can result in poor nutritional intake of fiber, vitamin B12, iron, zinc, selenium, and magnesium. Some examples of processed and refined gluten free grains includes: gluten free baked goods, gluten free crackers/chips, white rice, gluten free white bread. To ensure you are still receiving a healthy, balance diet, is important to include gluten free whole grains when on a gluten free diet. Some examples of gluten free whole grains include: quinoa, amaranth, teff, millet, gluten free oats, and brown rice.

A gluten free diet can result in weight loss and/or weight gain.

-The switch to a gluten free diet should not be done for the sole purpose of weight gain or weight loss. Healthy weight goals can be achieved without a gluten free diet. If a gluten free diet is medically needed, there is an increased risk for weight change due to the removal of certain types of foods.

-Weight gain can occur on a gluten free diet if gluten containing whole grains are replaced with processed gluten free foods such as crackers, chips, baked goods, and pre-made meals. Gluten free processed foods are often higher in calories, fat, and sodium. Choose naturally gluten free whole grains such as quinoa, brown rice, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy.

-Weight loss may occur on a gluten free diet if gluten containing foods are removed and are not replaced with a nutritionally equivalent alternative. It is important to be mindful of foods that are being removed and be sure to replace with a gluten free alternative.

Oats are not allowed on a gluten free diet.

-The topic of oats can be controversial when it comes to the gluten free diet. Oats are a naturally gluten free grain in their pure form. However, the concern is that there is a high risk for cross contamination between oats and gluten containing grains during the growing and processing periods. When consuming oats and oat-based products, it is important to choose those with a “gluten free” label and consume in moderation. Take note of symptoms that may be associated with intake of oats. As always, be sure to talk with your healthcare provider if you have questions/concerns.

Natalie Moore, MA, RD, CSP, LDN

Natalie Moore, MA, RD, CSP, is a registered dietitian nutritionist at Nemours Children's Hospital in Wilmington, Del. She specializes in liver disorders, rehabilitative nutrition, and general pediatric nutrition.