The internet is littered with information on a special diet can ease digestive problems in those who are sensitive to gluten, a protein found in certain grains. Additionally, many sites mention that avoiding gluten might reduce headaches, fatigue, hyperactivity and autism symptoms.
However, are these sites reliable providers of information? Is gluten-free the cure-all?
Nada Jawahery, Registered Dietician at Royal Bahrain Hospital tackles the topic. “Although, it may be true that gluten reactions are responsible for numerous health problems, there are a lot of alternative practitioners out there that blame gluten for everything, even though there's not a lot of research behind it.”
“Gluten causes big problems in individuals with a rare condition called Celiac disease. This condition is a result of an autoimmune response that results in damage to the lining of the small intestine after gluten is eaten. The damage results in malabsorption of important nutrients in food and, if untreated, the individual eventually becomes malnourished. Symptoms of celiac disease include extreme fatigue, anemia, weight loss and severe diarrhea. It's imperative that anyone with celiac disease follows a gluten-free diet, even the occasional slip can be damaging!”
Nonetheless, Nada clarifies that for people who don’t have celiac disease, the chance of gluten sensitivity is probably low, existing in probably no more than 1 % of the Bahraini population.
“The good news is that a gluten-free diet is generally considered safe. A dietitian can help to ensure you're getting all the necessary vitamins and nutrients if you decide to undertake a gluten-free diet. Although it may seem like an easy diet to follow, in truth small amounts of gluten-containing grains find their way into a large number of foods. Gluten can be found in prepared foods, from thickening agents to fillers in foods ranging from ketchup to ice cream! So it is important to be able to identify the gluten containing agents and to check the list of ingredients on products. A gluten-free diet can also be high in calories and contribute to weight gain if you're not careful. Many processed gluten-free foods are made with more sugar, fat, carbs, and contain more calories than their gluten-containing counterparts.”
However, there is no added benefit to eliminating gluten to improve your health unless you are truly intolerant to gluten. If people want to follow a gluten-free diet and they don't mind it, it is completely safe while they're willing to bear the inconvenience and cost.
Nada Jawahery is the Registered Dietician at Royal Bahrain Hospital and is a member of, and licensed by, the American Dietetics Association. For more information call 17246832 or email: nada.Jawahery@royalbhrn.com