Gluten-free diet should be avoided unless you suffer from coeliac disease, warns medical expert
A gluten-free diet should be avoided unless you have been diagnosed by a medical professional with coeliac disease, warns a leading expert.
In the last few years the gluten-free diet required and maintained by those who suffer from coeliac disease has become a major health trend.
However, cutting gluten from your diet could actually damage your health if you do not suffer from an intolerance to the food.
At least one in 100 people in Ireland suffer from coeliac disease, a genetic condition which affects the lining of the small intestine.
For sufferers, the condition causes inflammation of the small bowel when the body reacts to gluten, a food found mostly in products containing wheat, but also barley, rye or, in some cases, oats.
So that would be foods such as breads, pasta, pizza, cake, cereal and beer.
It can result in symptoms, such as diarrhoea, chronic fatigue, anaemia, weight loss and recurrent mouth ulcers.
However, if you do not have coeliac disease, a wheat allergy or a confirmed sensitivity to gluten, you could be missing out on vital nutrients by excluding gluten from your diet.
And gluten-free alternatives are often highly-processed and packed with fat and sugar, warns Dr Norelle Reilly from Columbia University Medical Centre in New York.
She said there was no evidence of adults or children experiencing any health benefits from avoiding gluten when they hadn't been diagnosed with an intolerance.
"In fact, the opposite may be true in certain cases, particularly when the diet is followed without the guidance of an experienced registered dietitian or physician," she said when writing in The Journal of Paediatrics.
Dr Reilly also said that patients who had religiously followed a gluten-free diet often had a higher calorie and fat intake, were more likely to become overweight and could be deficient in vitamins and iron found in fortified foods such as breakfast cereals.
They are also at a greater risk of exposure to certain toxins like arsenic, which can build up in people who consume too much rice, a cereal commonly used a gluten-alternative.
The crusade against gluten can also prove to be costly with gluten-free products averaging at 242 percent more expensive than their gluten-containing versions, according to research by Dalhousie University in Canada.
Gluten-free diets have become popular with celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow endorsing the benefits and popular "wellness" blogs using negative language when speaking about gluten, describing it as "evil," "poison," "contaminating," and "toxic."
This language has led to a widespread belief that gluten should be avoided, regardless of a person's medical history.
Dr Reilly described the diet as a "fad".
She said: "The gluten-free diet should be recommended judiciously, and patients self-prescribing should be counselled as to possible financial, social and nutritional consequences."