Should you eat gluten free if you don’t have celiac disease? Here are a few thoughts and some research on when changing your diet can be helpful
Should you go gluten free?
This is a question that many people have asked themselves, either because they heard people praise the gluten free “diet” or they have friends who have tried a gluten free diet and feel better.
Speaking from experience, I have had great results with going gluten free. I have IBS, interstitial cystitis (bladder ulcers), food sensitivities, fatigue, and mild depression, so I need to make sure my nutrition is excellent.
Several years ago I started doing some investigating into my diet to see what was causing so much of my problems. Eating the same foods every day, combined with certain medication contributed to gut problems, along with having giardia when I was a kid (I think that started the gut problems for me!). It was a perfect storm to create an oversensitive GI tract complete with leaky gut and resulting food sensitivities and intolerances. Fun times!
I got some blood allergy testing done (skin tests never showed foods), so I was able to eliminate most of the offending foods, so not all of my health improvements have been solely from going gluten free. I also cut out other foods I was sensitive to, such as soy, eggs, beans, yeast, and others.
I have even gone grain free for periods when my seasonal allergies were out of control, and I noticed a positive difference with that change, too. For me, changing my diet to gluten, soy, egg, and yeast free (and occasionally grain free when my allergies are crazy) has helped with joint pain, fatigue, brain fog, bloating, gas, water retention, and other health problems.
As I mention, some people are very divided on this topic of non-celiacs going gluten free. Some critics claim that most of the results are from improving their diet overall and that results are purely anecdotal. But there are plenty of people (like me) who feel that eliminating gluten has made a difference in their health.
Be an advocate for your health. Doctors are amazing and help us feel better, but they don’t always know exactly how you feel – only you really know how you feel. Listen to your body: if certain foods make you feel icky, try going without them for a while and see how you do.
In short, if you have health problems and chronic illness (like arthritis, depression, GI issues, etc.), it may be worth trying a gluten free diet. These days I am about 99% gluten free, with the occasional cheat item. I don’t have celiac disease, so this isn’t quite as big an issue for me, but “cheating” on a gluten free diet is NEVER recommended for someone with celiac disease – just don’t do it!
A gluten free diet also isn’t a quick weight loss fix. Remember to focus on whole foods first: gluten free cookies are still cookies that still have lots of sugar, fat, and refined ingredients in them.
Should I Go Gluten Free? 4 Reasons To Eat Gluten Free Even if You Don’t Have Celiac Disease
With the steady increase in celiac disease awareness and better means of diagnosis and treatment, the gluten free diet has gained widespread attention in recent years. But with many celebrities adhering to gluten free diets, some people worry that it has simply become a fad diet for people who want quick weight loss. It begs the question: is a gluten free diet for non-celiacs a ridiculous notion, or are there real health benefits? If you are considering trying a gluten free diet, here are 3 things to consider even if you don’t have celiac disease.
1) Emerging research suggests the existence of several gluten-related non-celiac disorders .
Aside from celiac disease (CD) and wheat allergy (WA), certain people can have reactions to gluten that is neither allergic in nature nor autoimmune. This type of reaction is considered a gluten sensitivity (GS). People who react negatively to gluten but who don’t have CD or WA can still improve their symptoms on a gluten free diet.
Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity are seen as clearly separate conditions but with similar symptoms. Many of the symptoms of gluten sensitivity go well beyond digestive problems: behavioral changes, joint pain, muscle cramps, rashes, and chronic fatigue are just a few of the symptoms of GS.
2) Most people will have a reaction to gluten at some point in their life1.
Modern wheat varieties are higher in gluten content (particularly the problematic 33-mer gluten peptide) than ancient varieties of wheat. Wheat is also one of the most commonly consumed foods in our western diet. An overload of wheat-containing foods along with added food chemicals, an increase in gluten concentration, decreased food quality, the prevalence of the celiac gene, and declining GI health all culminates in a perfect health storm. According to some researchers, most people will react to gluten at some point in their life1.
3) A gluten free diet may improve other digestive disorders.
A study published in Gastroenterology suggests that a gluten free diet can help improve symptoms for patients suffering from IBS-D. While a gluten free diet isn’t a cure for this condition, it can go a long way in managing and improving symptoms.
4) A gluten free diet may help improve athletic performance.
While the evidence is mostly anecdotal and there are no studies yet to prove this, a gluten free diet could help athletes perform better. Some dietitians believe that the results athletes are seeing on a gluten free diet are not related to reduced gluten intake at all. But other physicians, like Alessio Fasano, MD (MassGeneral Hospital for Children, Gastroenterology & Nutrition) believe that gluten is not suitable for consumption and the human body is not equipped to digest it properly4. Too much gluten in an athlete’s high-carb diet can cause result in GI problems, overall poor health, and a resulting decline in athletic performance.
What does all this mean for you? Unless you are in 100% perfect health, a gluten free diet is something to consider for improving your health even if you don’t have celiac disease. Eating gluten free (or even just eating less gluten) can go a long way in reducing inflammation and improving digestive health. The only way to know if a gluten free diet will work for you is to give it a try yourself.
As always, check with your doctor or registered dietitian before making big diet changes. If you have other food allergies and intolerances, you may consider going to a registered dietitian to make sure you are getting enough nutrients in your limited diet.
 Sapone et al, BMC Medicine 2012, “Spectrum of gluten-related disorders: consensus on new nomenclature and classification”.BioMed Central. http://www.biomedcentral.com/1741-7015/10/13
 Center for Celiac Research: Gluten Sensitivity FAQ, http://www.massgeneral.org/children/services/celiac-disease/gluten-sensitivity-faq.aspx
 Vazquez-Roque et al. May 2013. “A Controlled Trial of Gluten-Free Diet in Patients With Irritable Bowel Syndrome-Diarrhea”. Gastroenerology. http://www.gastrojournal.org/article/S0016-5085%2813%2900135-2/abstract
 Epstein, David. November 2011. “Running Away From Gluten”. Sports Illustrated Magazine. http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1191808/
 Keller, Maura. “Debunking the Myths of Gluten-Free Eating”. Today’s Dietitian. http://www.todaysdietitian.com/enewsletter/enews_0514_01.shtml
Disclaimer: I am not a nutritionist or a physician. This post is my opinion and should not be used in place of medical advice. Please read responsibly 😉
Sarah Jane Parker is the founder, recipe creator, and photographer behind The Fit Cookie. She’s a food allergy mom and healthy living blogger based in Wyoming. Sarah is also an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer, ACE Certified Health Coach, Revolution Running certified running coach, and an ACE Certified Fitness Nutrition Specialist