Should You Try To Go Gluten-Free?

February 19, 2013   48 Comments

Gluten-free foods are a big new product category. At my local cafe, I could choose to eat a gluten-free muffin.

Gluten Free Advice

My cafe got me thinking about the benefits of going gluten-free, which means giving up cupcakes, pizza, bread, pasta, etc. to avoid the gluten found in wheat. If I had toast for breakfast, pizza for lunch, and a hamburger on a bun for dinner, this would be tough!

Gluten sensitivity is a fairly new area of research (see Gluten-Free, Whether You Need It or Not). Researchers aren’t sure how widespread the allergy to gluten is at this point.

Anecdotal evidence suggest that certain people can benefit from a gluten-free diet. I have a friend who went gluten-free a couple years ago and says he has more energy and less sinus infections. I’m sure plenty of you have friends like this.

Thinking about how much wheat, barley, and rye you eat on a daily basis is not a bad thing. Those of us who are trying to decrease the amount of processed foods we eat should take a look at it, but not necessarily because of gluten. Wheat is in a bunch of processed foods and so when we cut down on wheat, we will hopefully eat more fruits and vegetables.

What do the experts say? From the above article:

“It is not a healthier diet for those who don’t need it,” Dr. Guandalini, medical director of the University of Chicago’s Celiac Disease Center, said. These people “are following a fad, essentially.” He added, “And that’s my biased opinion.”

I have noticed that certain gluten-free foods, like my favorite frozen waffles, are less healthier than the their wheat counterparts. I discovered this by mistake when I purchase gluten-free waffles and checked the fiber amount (1 gram) versus the 6 grams found in the original style.

My advice is that if you want to go gluten-free don’t substitute the pizza, pies, and waffles with gluten-free versions, just stop eating pizza, pie, and waffles and see how you feel.

With my plan, you get the benefit of eating less processed foods in your diet whether or not you are actually sensitive to gluten. You really can't lose!

Have any of you adopted gluten-free diets? How has it helped you?

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Great post! I debated about going gluten-free, but now I'll skip it!!

I am currently experimenting with a gluten-free way of eating to see if it will help my tummy problems. It isn't as difficult as I thought it would be. I do find myself eating less proccesed foods and lots more fruits and veggies. And my tummy is thanking me.

I think it's similar to the low-fat diet in the 80s. At first, people lost a bunch of weight on low-fat diets, because there were avoiding overly processed foods. Then, the food industry caught up and there were all these products. So low-fat no longer meant low calorie and people ate as much as they always did calorie-wise (because sometimes you need more low-fat ice cream to get the same satiation as from a smaller amount of the full-fat variety).

That said, in my 40s I seem to have developed some food sensitivities (I'm not calling them allergies). Avoiding gluten and dairy makes my digestive system work better and for me, not against me.

I personally do better just avoiding, with a few substitutions (there's this lemon-almond flour cake that I make and just love). Because in general, I find that having a gluten-free waffle is very dissatisfying. I make pasta sauce and serve it to my kids over pasta, and I eat it over polenta, for example.

Lisa, This post is terrific. The crux of the matter* is that giving up bread/pizza/bagels/muffins/beer in favor of whole foods is smart. Whether that eliminates gluten or not is not the issue. Paying attention to what you eat, making healthy choices, and shopping responsibly will make anyone feel better, inside and out! (*I realize Celiac and gluten intolerances are real; my comment is aimed at those who haven't been diagnosed but think that hopping on the GF bandwagon will cure what ails them.)

Thank you! Thank you for being a voice of reason. I was a little worried when I saw the title of the post and thought "here we go again." Going gluten free when you don't have an issue with gluten is like giving up peanut products when you don't have a peanut allergy. Unfortunately marketers win in the media. I have a very good friend who's 9 year old son has celiac disease and she is THRILLED at the new gluten-free products on the market. That doesn't mean I'll start eating them. I'm just glad they are there for those who need them.

I can give up everything (, bagels, bread..) BUT I WILL NOT GIVE UP MY BEER!! Therefore, gluten free is not for me.

Appreciate getting your thoughts on this one. While I do believe some people benefit from a gluten free diet, the prevalence of it is like the next magic pill for weight loss. IMHO it's not.

For the rest of us it's a good reminder (those w/o true gluten issues) to continue to pay attention to ingredients and making wise choices. I continue to be amazed at the growing amount of shelf space dedicated to "gluten free" - it certainly isn't "process free." Just like "fat free" foods wasn't the answer to weight loss, "gluten free" isn't either.

I personally like Dr. Oz's segment on Gluten Free Diets...lots of great information! Thanks to his list of symptoms, I went gluten-free about 6 months ago and feel MUCH better now! However, I have to say I am working to get off 10-15 lbs because my mind went into starvation mode! OMG--if I can't eat breads, pastas, and pizzas I will starve to death! Of course I haven't--now I have to relearn to eat more healthy!

You're so right about gluten-free being a fad. I get annoyed when people give me a hard time about my food choices. After working with a gastroenterologist for about a year, I decided to give up wheat (not gluten) about 7 years ago. My stomach troubles completely cleared up, and so did my skin. (I used to have terrible psoriasis.) Now when I explain to people that I don't eat wheat, they dismiss it with an "Ugh, so YOU'RE gluten-free, too?" As if it were a personal choice.

On another note, our society is so food-centered and wheat-centered that this lifestyle really puts a damper on my social life. I'm fine if I can plan my family's meals and eat at home. However, it's very difficult to eat out and at other people's homes. Wheat and gluten are in absolutely everything, and people don't even realize it unless they have to live the lifestyle themselves.

You've hit it on the head - it's the substitutions that are less healthy, not the actual gluten free lifestyle. Gluten-free cookies, for example, tend to have more sugar and less nutrition than their wheat-based counterparts, mostly to cover the taste of strong bean flours, etc. .

You don't have to think of gluten free as impossible, especially if you don't have celiac & it won't "kill" you if someone touches a piece of bread before touching your food.

For gluten free, concentrate on what you CAN have. You can have all fruits, all vegetables, all meat, all fish, all dairy, all rice, all potatoes, all nuts, etc.

A rule of thumb -- if you're going gluten free, in general it means shopping the perimeter of the store rather than the middle.

My thoughts exactly!

I think the issue for many people (those without celiac disease) is not whole grains per se, but the way they are processed. For hundreds/thousands of years across many cultures, grains were sprouted (just by laying harvested in the fields), soaked and/or fermented before use in breads, porridges etc which changed their chemical composition and made them more digestible for humans. Modern, industrialized farming and ended all of that -- and brought with it a host of problems. There is a lot of good information (including scholarly work) on the web about grains and fermentation. Check it out!

There is more than just a problem of celiacs. I would strongly recommend looking at Dr. Davis' Wheat Belly cookbook to understand how to be wheat free with healthy foods rather than the processed, higher sugar, gluten free processed foods that are touting "gluten free."

I do believe some people may be sensitive to gluten, but I'm on the it's a fad side. I have a friend who in addition to gluten can't have dairy and a whole list of other ingredients and its almost more like an eating disorder. Not surprising she used to be heavy and now she's not but she rationalizes her elimination of a lot of foods as allergies. In the end snack girl right cut out the junk and you'll feel better and look better! Oh exercise is good for digestion too lol!

I think a lot of people out there are more sensitive to foods than we all realize. I agree that a lot of it has to do with the way our foods are grown, harvested, and processed. The end result, however, is the same. Erin's friend who is perceived as having a borderline eating disorder is probably sensitive, but not intolerant or allergic to those trigger foods. I feel her pain. It is definitely perceived as an eating disorder, when in reality we are trying to self-medicate for a food sensitivity in a society that doesn't recognize their existence. Our bodies are delicate systems. Once we find the triggers that interfere with our individual bodies' functioning, we will be healthier and happier.

Great info! If you don't need to go gluten free, save yourself the trouble. My family went gluten free (dairy free, soy free, etc) based on all of the allergy testing and real life experiences we endured. I could have never dreamed ten years ago that I would be one of those people who couldn't have whatever I wanted. But the sinus infections, flu systems, thyroid problems, weight gain and inability to lose the weight consistently (even with a trainer) and fatigue ultimately led me to this new way of life. We are much healthier, the kids aren't sick all the time and we feel better overall. I miss the days of throwing whatever I wanted (or was cheap) in the cart at the store, eating at drive thru's on the really busy days, and not thinking twice about reading a label for anything more than figuring how many points something might be. So, if you don't need to go gluten free, don't worry about it! If you do, or if you experience a host of issues, try it, learn it and you'll feel better for it. If you aren't sure, request food allergy testing. While it isn't the be-all, end-all, it offers the perfect starting point to uncovering a mystery and your body will definitely thank you for it. :)

"My advice is that if you want to go gluten-free don’t substitute the pizza, pies, and waffles with gluten-free versions, just stop eating pizza, pie, and waffles and see how you feel."

Yes, eating gluten-free doesn't necessarily mean it is healthier food--many gluten free foods use processed flours just like their wheat counterparts (ie: white rice flour). I am gluten-free, and try to only choose whole-grain gluten-free baked goods for obvious reasons.

What makes me upset are comments I hear from others suggesting living gluten-free is a fad. I feel it is very rude to dismiss those who have sensitivities to wheat. I would love more than anything to down a whole pizza, but I know I would pay for it for days of feeling awful, with stomach cramps, and other symptoms I don't want to mention online. So, I am in the process of learning how to make my own GF pizza (using whole grains), which will never be as great as the real thing, but I physically feel much better in the long run.

Now I feel bad for saying that I agree that eating gluten-free is a fad. I should clarify. What I meant was that it's becoming trendy for people to go gluten-free because they have vague ideas about it being a more healthy lifestyle. I cannot tell you how often I've heard people saying that they are eating gluten-free because it's better for you. Obviously, if you don't have Celiac (or some other type of sensitivity or intolerance), a gluten-free will not be beneficial.

I don't have celiacs but my body doesn't know how to process gluten, so I've been off of it for quite some time now and I feel so much better. I have more energy, not as many migraines and no bowel issues. When I do 'cheat', I feel awful! I know that some ppl want to just experiment and treat it as a 'fad', but not everyone does this. Some of us need to eat this way and substitutes are nice from time to time. I wish they were more healthy, but unfortunately, we get what we get right now.


I'm currently experimenting with a gluten-free diet since my mother was diagnosed with gluten intolerance 5 years ago. I prepped for this self-testing by conducting a juice cleanse first. Read about my juice cleanse here:

Brenda -- we keep my house gluten free as one of my daughters has Celiac, and I think pizza is one of the hardest things to substitute! In general I just don't feel that homemade gives you the same gooey experience you crave every so often. The closest thing we've found -- and we've tried just about everything -- is Trader Joe's frozen GF pizza. Uno's GF is a close second.

I don't recommend going gluten free unless you are in the Celiac-intolerant range. I unfortunately am either Celiac or extremely intolerant, and was dealing with horrific stomach bloating and pain, including joint pain. It's no picnic when you have to give it up %100, right away. The replacement foods for the most part are higher in fat and sugar, and much lower in fiber. This resulted in my packing on the pounds, which I am now slowly shedding, finally.

My grandmother had Celiac disease, so I obviously have some kind of gene marker for it I guess.

My symptoms are completely gone with eliminating it from my diet, thank God. But if someone doesn't really have an issue with it, I would just suggest cutting back on breads and processed foods in general, and maybe doing a lower acidic diet for any inflammation type issues. That is something that surprisingly has helped many of my friends with arthritis or other auto immune situations, more than just cutting out gluten.

If you do not have a glueten intollerance, going gluten free can still be a plus for you. I have an issue with "inflamation" in my body. (general inflamation, constant sinus infections, I've had testing done on these issues and don't want to go on any kind of medication). My nutritionist told me that within 3 days of dropping gluten and dairy from my diet I would feel better.

Have I done it? Not yet, but I am trying to get there. The thought of not having a stuffy nose every day of my life is thrilling.


Wonderful info as usual. I find myself using so much of your advice and wisdom--and recipes.

Two grammar corrections (sorry, I am a grammar snob--and expect you to do this for me too, lol): it is fewer sinus infections (if you can count 'em it is fewer; if you can't it is less), AND, is is less healthFUL not less healthier. Most people don't use the word healthful, and I guess we have almost lost it in the language, but still it is the correct word there.

Thanks for your blog.


Hi, I'm gluten-free because of an intolerance, but I can tell you it can only change your life for the better. Wheat is not something that can be processed naturally - it has to be processed, so this should tell you that you do not need it (IMO), it is beneficial (proven) for kids w/autism, for cancer patients & for diabetics. I say try it & see how much more energy you might just be shocked!

For those of us that can enjoy whole grains as part of a healthy diet, making waffles, bread, pasta from scratch is a delicious alternative to eating highly processed foods.

As a type II diabetic, my dr suggested the new Adkins for a new you diet - I have to say, in addition to bringing my blood sugar back to really good "normal" levels, it has done some amazing things for my digestive system! And I had no idea I was going "gluten free" at the time. Let's just say my kids grew up calling me "fluffy" - and that problem is no longer one of mine thanks to being gluten free!

Actually, with the explosion in gluten free products, there is a ton of junk gluten free foods too these days. So one has to be careful to look into what is going into the gf product too. Check out our online health food store at FoodSniffr Deals - We source healthy foods from small artisan manufacturers..

I'm finishing up a wheat/sugar/grain-free month, and I've learned a lot - for one thing, I don't have any problems with gluten or wheat, so no magical disappearance of my various aches and pains, dramatic energy boost, etc. Oh well :) I didn't have any digestive issues to begin with so no differences there either. (Although, probably TMI, after about 2 weeks without much fiber there were some, ahem, movement issues...they passed ;) But eating mainly meat, veggies and dairy kept me full between meals, and I ate much less, though a lot more dietary fat (hence the fullness). No more midnight snacks or starving for lunch by 11am. I baked a lot with almond and coconut flours so I could have some "treats," like pancakes, cookies, etc. It was easier than you'd think, especially after the first few days when cravings passed. I tried it in order to give my weight-loss efforts a boost and to cut the constant eating cycle I was on after the holidays - I definitely feel impacted by the blood sugar spike and later crash after eating wheat, sugar or grains, where you get full, then hungry an hour later regardless of the size of the meal. It definitely worked to end that for me. I lost 5 or 6 pounds, and will continue to minimize my wheat consumption though I won't cut it out entirely, as I don't feel I'm suffering any health or digestive impact from eating it as I know many people are. Thanks for the article, I know lots of people are confused/intrigued by the concept of eating GF.

I haven't thought very much about the gluten free diet until recently when I really learned what the word "gluten" meant. I know I eat more bread and starch than I should--I have a PB&J for lunch every day, usually with some sort of crackers, pretzels, chips, etc. Not really healthy. I do have frequent sinus issues and problems with having low energy. Thanks to this post, I may look more into the benefits of gluten free. Although due to some constraints above my control, I won't be able to go gluten free, but I will certainly make an effort to cut a lot of gluten from my diet and replace it with fruits and veggies.

I do better when I avoid wheat. I have more energy, my mood improves, my skin looks better (in general and my mild psoriasis).

But just like vegetarian foods, gluten-free definitely doesn't mean healthy. I think your advice to skip gluten-free bread products is spot on. Besides being less healthy, most do not satisfy and just leave you craving the original.

I've been thinking a lot about this post since I read it this morning. While I do not have celiac's, I do have a gluten intolerance. Since going gluten free last November, I have less tummy issues, more energy and feel better in general. I would never have known that gluten negatively effected me unless I tried going without it. (Well technically I could have had bloodwork and/or an endoscopic test but giving up gluten seemed like the easier path before committing to expensive tests.) It is true that many GF products are not healthy. Much like the low fat processed stuff we are all encouraged to stay away from, many GF foods have chemicals and other junk added to them to enhance taste. Going gluten free is not a fad for 1 in 133 Americans of which I am one of them, but I am very pleased that this "fad" has lead me to a proper medical diagnosis for years of IBS and lead me to feel as good as I do today. I think everyone's health journey is a personal one and what's right for me, may not be for you, but no one should judge how someone gets there, fad or not.

I am a recently diagnosed with celiac person. It is not fun, is a hard struggle to live without some of my favorite foods and an endless process of reading labels. I know people who avoid wheat because they feel better when they do that. I think that is fine. But a gluten free diet is no panecea for good health. As you say, many gluten free foods are full of sugar and empty caleries particularly from white rice flour and other non-whole grain flours. I would give a lot to be able to enjoy a chunk of real italian bread.... Some of what I bake GF is tasty but eating gluten free is tricky and rather expensive. If you bake your own GF breads, crackers, cakes and the like it can be somewhat like an ongoing chemistry experiment! But please do not suggest as some do that celiacs are being faddish. We have to stop eating wheat products or face many serious health consequences including cancer of our small intestines. I just wish there were more places that had GF breads as many foods are only possible if I make it myself with non wheat flours.... And nothing GF tastes quite like a slice of fresh warm wheat bread :(

Great post and I enjoyed reading everyone's comments.

Re: a previous comment, no diet is "proven" to help autism and it's irresponsible to share personal anecdotes that claim to support this and give false hope to others. Of course parents should try whatever they think will help their child but they more often than not end up disappointed, and medical research has not been able to back this up consistently. On a more relevant note, my sister had stomach problems for years (including ER visits) and eventually cut out gluten last year. Her problems pretty much vanished and it was pretty amazing to witness. Going gluten free for weight loss (like celebrities do) is absurd.……

I have many friends who live in this world of Autism Spectrum Disorder & all who HAVE gone gluten-free/cassein-free have seen dramatic changes in their children's behavior. I was NOT making a "broad" statement, I would do something so irresponsible. It has been studied extensively in Europe as well, where they eat far less processed foods in general.

Again, parents should try whatever they think will help their child. There is no harm in that in this case. It's the generalizing statements that can be harmful, even when someone is trying to help. I think it's unfortunate that there is not enough research on the subject because it seems very promising, but the problem is that there isn't and the effects tend to vary among children. This adds to parents' frustration. Even that Webmd page states that research does not support this idea. That doesn't mean that we won't have these results at some point though. I hope I don't sound insensitive, it's just a result the negative consequences of misinformation in mental health in general. I'm at the tail-end of a doctoral program in psychology and it's hard not to be frustrated when information about research doesn't come from a scientific source.

this is true, things should come from scientific research, unfortunately the u.s. government does not give the same research (financially) to mental health disorders that they do in europe, especially when it comes to food issues. I grew up in a house very affected by mental health (my mother is bi-polar) and wasn't diagnosed until I was 12, since I've been gluten-free (horrible exhaustion, digestive issues & crippling migraines were my symptoms), I started feverishly doing research myself on symptoms, etc. & found that gluten has been strongly linked to depression issues, etc. (no i am certainly not a doctor, just seeker of information). I suggested to my mother that she should try it, and though she is not strict w/it the way I am (have to be), she will tell you she honestly feels (mentally & physically) better when she's gluten-free. I completely agree there needs to be much more scientific research. I only meant to initially state that it is widely recommended.

You are right! We tried going gluten-free (actually just wheat-free) and it was just easier not to eat bread and baked goods altogether. Plus we make better choices than just taking the easy road boiling up the pasta.

I decided to go gluten free when my allergist suggested I try avoiding these foods during allergy season. I m highly allergic to grass pollens and since wheat rye and barley belong to the grass family I thought I would give it a try. I feel much better and I had a much better allergy season. I don t miss the gluten products and eat more fruits and vegetables.

I went gluten/wheat free last summer and have felt so much better. I no longer have aching joints, or body swelling. I have lost weight and feel so much better. I was checked for celiac and don't have it, but I feel that I've a gluten/wheat intolerance. I am the same, when I "cheat" I end up feeling horrible - stomach pains and multiple trips to the washroom. It's just not worth it. I don't really care what people say to me about it, I just know that I feel much better now.

I gave up gluten as an experiment: I have autoimmune thyroid disease and was feeling like crap even though I'm very good about taking my Synthroid. I immediately felt better and lost a lot of abdominal bloating as a result of going grain free. About a year later I tried to incorporate wheat into my diet as a test, and now I have HUGE digestive issues that I never had before: much more than bloating! I've warned people in my gene pool to think twice about giving it up as a "fad" because I've just found I can't go back :( I really shouldn't complain though: My digestive system is functioning well, I have lots of energy, and I've lost 20 pounds. I did NOT start eating all the gluten-free processed foods because they are JUNK foods and not "better for you."

My husband read Wheat Belly at my suggestion and has been wheat free for almost 5 months. His sinus, skin and tummy troubles cleared up in the first few weeks of eating wheat free. He seems to be able to tolerate some things better than others. For example, he can eat corned beef cooked in beer without any issues(after I cooked it that way without thinking that beer is made from wheat), but he mistakenly ate some Twizzlers (I think wheat is the second ingredient) while we were at a theme park and paid the price by being sick most of the night. There's definitely a learning curve for people who don't have Celiac, but do have a sensitivity toward wheat or gluten.

The kids and I usually eat gluten free at dinner with him, but have kept wheat in our diet for breakfast and lunch. It's pretty easy to cook gluten free dinners, but eating out is harder to navigate, so I'm glad lots of places are offering more gluten free choices.

I personally don't have a problem with gluten, so I won't cut it, but if I find a tasty option that just might be gluten free then I will have at it like everything else I enjoy

I tried no gluten, sugar, soy or dairy for a nutrition challenge and I did notice a difference. In the challenge we were instructed not to substitute "gluten-free" versions of our favorite foods either. If you are doing/trying it for your own health benefits, I completely agree with just wiping out all processed foods then. Especially since the gluten free versions tend to have more sugar and salt to make up for flavor.

I had to go gluten-free due to Celiac's disease. At first it was hard, then it got much better, but then I went on vacation and wanted to CRY! It's so hard to travel on a strict gluten-free diet. I started my own gluten-free recipe blog at first as a coping mechanism, but it's turned into a love affair: I'm planning on linking a few recipes from your site soon! Thanks for your great recipes!

I have a gluten intolerance that was only discovered after many, many months of absolutely miserable stomach issues. I have many allergies and am also lactose intolerant. People who say they are allergic to gluten when they are not are "cheapening" the diagnosis of gluten intolerance and Celiac disease, which can be life-threatening. People who truly cannot eat gluten, such as myself, cannot "cheat." I accidentally consumed a food at a restaurant with an outdated ingredient list on the establishment's website, and I vomited blood for two days. Those who are truly allergic cannot just decide to be "bad" and order regular ole Pizza Hut. Snack Girl, you always preach moderation with "treat" foods. If you think I shouldn't have a burger on a gluten free bun or a slice of gluten free pizza every once in a while (especially after watching my friends and family enjoy all the foods I cannot eat and constantly struggling to find things to eat when I dine out with them), then you shouldn't be able to have pizza or a burger once in a while either.

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