May is Celiac Disease Awareness Month, so we wanted to share some of the side effects – both beneficial and adverse – that can occur if you go without gluten.
If someone is gluten intolerant, it means they are having adverse reactions to the main protein found in wheat, rye, and barley (gluten). While sensitivity or mild intolerance affects many people, the worst case scenario of gluten intolerance is celiac disease, an autoimmune disease that affects around 1% of the population. If left untreated, celiac disease can potentially damage the digestive system.
While some people are diagnosed with gluten intolerance or celiac disease during childhood, others may not know they have it until much later in life. If you think gluten is negatively affecting you, be sure to see your GP or gastroenterologist for a test. Read about four possible side effects of not using gluten, then stick with the 7 healthiest foods you should be eating right now.
Those who have recently discovered they have celiac disease may be nutritional deficiencies due to malabsorption of important vitamins and minerals such as calcium, folic acid, iron, and vitamin D. If left untreated, it can even impair the body’s ability to properly use carbohydrates and fats and for energy, which can lead to weight loss. A 2019 report published in the journal BMC Medicine found that a gluten-free diet could help malnourished celiac sufferers gain weight, as some gluten-free products tend to be high in vegetable fats.
Conversely, it could also help people lose weight. According to a 2010 study, a gluten-free diet helped adults newly diagnosed with celiac disease normalize their weight. More specifically, those who were overweight lost pounds while those who were underweight added pounds. The key is to make sure you aren’t eating lots of processed, gluten-free snacks that are high in fat and low in nutrients.
Do you need some snack inspiration? Check out the 6 best gluten-free flour alternatives, according to nutritionists.
Unfortunately, avoiding gluten also means avoiding whole grain bread products, which often provide a significant amount of fiber. Because gluten-free bread or baked goods don’t have nearly as much fiber, it’s important to get fiber from plant-based foods like beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, or even gluten-free whole grain bread. Otherwise, you could become constipated on a regular basis.
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If you are gluten sensitive or intolerant, you have likely still been able to get important nutrients from foods, unlike those who did not know they had celiac disease and continued to eat foods containing gluten. Switching to a gluten-free diet may lack the B vitamins, iron, and other micronutrients found in wheat-based products. A gluten-free cereal, like one from Nature’s Path Cereals, is fortified with important nutrients.
An even better idea? Increase your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, and legumes, which are naturally high in B vitamins. Examples are avocado, chickpeas, salmon, and spinach.
One of the most common signs of gluten intolerance is inflammation, which can lead to indigestion (think constipation or diarrhea) or even joint and muscle pain. By removing the source that is causing the inflammation in the body, you can have regular bowel movements again and relieve joint and muscle pain. There’s even a link between gluten and arthritis!
For more information, see How to Eat Gluten-Free in Your Favorite Chains of Restaurants.