reviewed 10/31/2018

Going gluten-free: Myth or fact?

Gluten is a protein found in certain grains—and in many processed foods, from pastas and pastries to salad dressings and veggie burgers. But as the gluten-free trend has emerged, myths about gluten have also popped up. Can you separate fact from fiction?

Myth or fact: A gluten-free diet is healthier for everyone.

Myth. A gluten-free diet can help some people—those with celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity or wheat allergies—avoid serious health problems. But many gluten-free versions of products like breaks and pastas are lower in important nutrients and aren't healthier choices for people without gluten-related conditions.

Myth or fact: Many people may not know they have celiac disease, in which gluten damages the small intestine.

Fact. Experts say more than 3 million people in the U.S. have celiac disease—and only 17 percent of them have been diagnosed. If you think you might have this genetic disease, see your doctor before you quit gluten. Why? Because cutting gluten from your diet before being tested could lead to inaccurate results.

Myth or fact: All grains contain gluten.

Myth. Gluten is only in wheat, barley and rye. But if your doctor recommends a gluten-free diet, it's important to learn all the forms these three grains can take—like bulgur and couscous (wheat), brewer's yeast and malt vinegar (barley), and rye berries and rye flour.

Myth or fact: A gluten-free diet can include potatoes, quinoa and rice.

Fact. Potatoes, quinoa and rice are all gluten-free grains or starches, as are corn, millet and buckwheat. So are oats, but they often come into contact with gluten during shipping and processing and may need to be avoided.

Myth or fact: Go gluten-free, and you'll lose weight.

Myth. Swapping processed foods that contain gluten for healthful options like fruits and veggies may lead to weight loss in some people. But gluten-free processed foods often have extra calories from sugars and fats added for flavor and texture, so many people actually gain weight.

If you think you have a gluten-related health issue—such as celiac disease—it's important to talk to a doctor about it.

Read more about celiac disease

Sources: Gluten Intolerance Group; International Food Information Council Foundation; National Institutes of Health

Related stories