Is a Gluten-Free Diet a Healthy Diet for Those without Celiac Disease?

A helpful commentary (NR Reilly. J Pediatr 2016; 175: 206-10) on the gluten-free diet (GFD) tries to separate fact from fiction.  A few key points:

  1. There are some health problems that can occur with a GFD, particularly when the diet is started without the support of an experienced dietician. GFD foods frequently contain a greater density of fat and sugar and can contribute to obesity and metabolic syndrome.  A GFD may lead to nutrient deficiencies in B vitamins, folate, and iron.  GFD without sufficient dietary diversity may contain increase in toxin exposures (eg. arsenic, and mercury).
  2. Gluten is not toxic. “There are no data to support the theory of an intrinsically toxic property of gluten for otherwise-healthy and asymptomatic adults and children, and certain studies have specifically demonstrated a lack of toxic effects.
  3. Most individuals with NonCeliac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS) do not have NCGS!  First of all, many receive a GFD without proper testing to exclude celiac disease.  Secondly, most will tolerate gluten reintroduction.  In an Italian study, “only 6.6% of consecutive patients with presumed gluten sensitivity…actually had NCGS. 86% did not experience symptoms when gluten was reintroduced.”
  4. Timing of gluten introduction: “The most current understanding…in at-risk infants is that neither delaying gluten introduction from the recommended 6 months of age to 1 year, nor introducing at 4 months of age alters long-term CD risk estimates.”

My take: This is an excellent commentary.  While many people (without celiac disease) perceive benefit from a GFD, only a minority are likely  to derive better health or improved quality of life.  Those who stick with a GFD should seek the help of a well-qualified dietician.

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5 thoughts on “Is a Gluten-Free Diet a Healthy Diet for Those without Celiac Disease?

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