In 2020, gluten-free diets are on the rise. Not only for patients who are gluten intolerant, but also for healthy people that don’t experience negative symptoms after eating gluten-full foods.
In that sense, “Gluten-free” is a phrase that we often see stamped on multiple food products in the supermarket: on the cereal box, ham package, frozen vegetables, chocolate desserts, etc. Automatically, our brain perceives the word “free” as something good, without knowing exactly why (and whether it’s actually true).
That being said, a large number of people buy gluten-free foods only because they assume those foods would positively affect their health (and weight). But are they right?
This article will guide you through the benefits and risks of gluten consumption (and gluten avoidance), and will give you a list of 10 naturally gluten-free foods that are often marketed at a higher price as exceptionally gluten-free.
Let’s get started.
Table of Contents
What is gluten?
According to the International Celiac Disease Foundation, gluten is the general name for one of the proteins found in grains: wheat, rye, barley, triticale, and others. In fact, this is the substance that makes the dough hold together and stretch when you mix flour with liquid.
However, gluten is not only naturally found in grains.
Artificial gluten (mix of proteins) is heat-stable and relatively cheap, which motivates companies to add it to processed foods to improve texture, hold the shape of different ingredients together, as well as to support better moisture retention and flavor.
Is it bad to eat gluten?
The answer is that this completely depends on the individual. Eating gluten can be harmful to some people, while it may not pose any health risks to others.
That being said, eating gluten may lead to negative health symptoms in:
- Patients with Celiac disease
- Individuals allergic to gluten
- Gluten-sensitive individuals
- Patients with IBD (inflammatory bowel disease) or IBS (irritable bowel syndrome)
People suffering from celiac disease usually experience strong immune response and inflammation as a result of eating foods with gluten (e.g., pizza, pasta, bread, pastries). That being said, the consumption of gluten is harmful to the health of those patients, as the protein may cause damage to the small intestine, digestive problems, and decrease their quality of life. 
According to Harvard Health Publishing, the consumption of gluten negatively affects the health of another group of people: gluten-sensitive individuals. The source suggests that while the Celiac disease test results of those patients are negative, they may experience bloating, cramps, diarrhea, or allergy symptoms after the consumption of gluten-full foods. 
Additionally, if you suffer from IBS or IBD, there is a possibility that you may be sensitive to gluten. it’s a good idea to consult your dietitian or healthcare provider whether to include foods with gluten in your diet (and in what amounts).
Is eating gluten-free healthier?
It is a common misconception that eating gluten-free grains can improve the health of individuals who are not gluten-intolerant.
Gluten is digested in the body similarly to every other dietary protein. A diverse and balanced diet (with the presence of gluten) has many hidden benefits, which are forgotten, because of the booming gluten-free trend in recent years. And there are a number of scientific studies conducted on this topic:
According to a study published in the Official Journal of American Gastroenterological Association, people who eat foods with natural gluten content tend to accumulate less heavy metals in their bodies through food sources, compared to people who make gluten-free food choices. The buildup of toxic substances like heavy metals in the body can result in cell and organ damage, allergies, rash, digestive problems, and chronic headache. 
A 2017 study of the American Heart Association suggests that people who have adopted a gluten-free diet may end up consuming less dietary fiber (than the daily recommendation). This may have a direct relation to increased risk of type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome, as dietary fiber plays an important role in the prevention of those health conditions. 
Another 2017 study in the BMJ suggests that avoidance of gluten-full foods (in healthy individuals) can be associated with increased risk of heart disease, due to insufficient consumption of whole grains. That being said, the study mentioned that the daily consumption of unrefined grains may decrease the risk of developing coronary disease by 15%. 
Should you eat gluten-free?
By avoiding gluten-containing foods, you are likely consuming less whole wheats, proteins, and fiber, which are all important for gut health and weight management. I recommend working with a Registered Dietitian to determine whether you’re experiencing negative symptoms when including gluten in your diet.
If you are not, there is no reason to exclude the protein from your diet. If you physically feel better without this protein in your diet, there are plenty of healthy alternatives to substitute in the diet, to make sure you’re getting the nutrients you need while feeling your best.
All things considered, making wise dietary choices can help you find the balance in your diet. If the consumption of gluten causes unwanted symptoms and allergic reactions, it’s probably best to focus on gluten-free foods.
However, if foods with gluten don’t trigger any health issues, avoiding this protein may result in insufficient fiber consumption and other adverse health effects. That being said, if you want to exclude gluten from your diet, you can first exclude it’s artificial forms, without letting go of the naturally gluten-full wholegrains.
And if you want to go all in with a gluten-free diet, it’s a good idea to consult a registered-dietitian or your healthcare provider.
Which grains are gluten-free?
Nowadays, you can find all types of gluten-free grains. But which one of those are naturally gluten-free?
The Celiac Disease Foundation shares information on the topic. Here are 10 popular gluten-free grains:
- Nut flours