Our latest Expert Answer is from Nancy Schive, dietitian for McFarland Clinic in Marshalltown, IA.
Are there health benefits to a gluten-free diet for people without celiac disease?
No. Going gluten-free means saying no to many common, nutritious foods. Gluten is a protein that is found in wheat, barley and rye. Gluten also can be found in many whole-grain foods related to wheat - bulgur, spelt and triticale (a wheat and rye hybrid) to name a few. In some cases, too, celiac disease experts encourage avoidance of oats. Gluten alone does not have any particular nutritional benefits. But the whole grains that contain gluten do. They are important sources of many vitamins and minerals such as the B vitamins and iron, as well as fiber. Meeting the dietary guidelines goal for whole grains is difficult when wheat, barley, rye and other gluten-containing whole grains are eliminated from the diet.
Because wheat is so prevalent in the American diet, total elimination of this food category requires the adoption of a whole new eating plan. And, when whole categories of food are eliminated from what you are used to eating, nutritional deficiency risk increases. Gluten-free products tend to be low in B vitamins, calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium and fiber. If there is no true celiac disease or gluten sensitivity diagnosed, there is no reason to take this risk. If you think you may have a problem with gluten in your diet, get tested. That is the best way to determine the need for a gluten-free diet.