As a nutritionist, I often come across people who would benefit from going on a gluten-free diet. And while I’m not a big fan of gluten, I also understand that going gluten-free is not for everyone and there are both pros and cons to consider before making the switch.
While I personally believe most individuals will benefit from removing or limiting gluten in their diets, it’s important to recognize that doing so can come with its own set of challenges.
In this article, I’m going to discuss 15 of the most common pros and cons of a gluten-free diet so that you can make an informed decision about whether or not it’s right for you.
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8 pros of eating a gluten-free diet
1. Lowers your chance of developing digestive problems.
Eating gluten-free lowers your chance of developing digestive problems as over time, gluten can damage the gut lining and cause leaky gut. Leaky gut is when the cells in the gut barrier become damaged, allowing toxins and food particles to leak into the bloodstream.
This in turn causes inflammation and a myriad of other health issues. By going gluten-free, you can help your body repair this damage and restore your gut to optimal health.
2. Allows your gut to heal.
Some people develop a sensitivity to gluten, which can manifest in digestive symptoms and skin irritation when they consume it. This includes, but is not limited to, heartburn, indigestion, upset stomach, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea.
Going gluten-free can help reduce these symptoms or even eliminate them completely.
If you suffer from any of these digestive issues, going on a gluten-free diet can help reduce the inflammation and pain associated with them allowing your gut to heal itself.
3. Alleviates other food sensitivities.
Gluten and leaky gut are oftentimes the culprit of poor gut health and by getting rid of gluten in the diet, our guts are able to heal which enables them to tolerate more foods properly.
This means that if you have any other food sensitivities, such as lactose or dairy intolerance, they may be reduced or even eliminated altogether when gluten is removed from the diet and the gut is able to heal properly.
4. May improve symptoms of SIBO and bacterial overgrowth.
Removing gluten from one’s diet may improve symptoms of bacterial overgrowth, such as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). This is because when gluten is consumed, it can damage the lining of the gut and cause leaky gut.
When this happens, bacteria and toxins are able to pass through the damaged intestinal wall into the bloodstream, causing inflammation and other digestive issues.
Going gluten-free helps to repair this damage and allows your gut health to be restored which can help rebalance bacterial overgrowth and thereby improve symptoms.
5. May improve symptoms of Candida and other fungal infections.
Candida and other gut fungi thrive on simple sugars, including those found in wheat and gluten-containing foods. Consuming too much gluten can increase your risk of developing fungal infections which can cause symptoms like fatigue, brain fog, cravings for sugar and carbohydrates, digestive issues, hormonal imbalances and joint pain.
By avoiding gluten in your diet you can help reduce the amount of sugar that the fungus needs to survive, leading to a reduction or elimination of these unpleasant symptoms.
6. Leads to the consumption of fewer processed foods.
When you go on a gluten-free diet, it requires that you focus more on eating whole, unprocessed foods. This can help reduce your intake of unhealthy processed foods and increase your consumption of fruits and vegetables which are rich in vitamins, minerals and fiber.
While you can purchase a bunch of packaged, gluten-free foods these days, since it’s more expensive, people on gluten-free diets tend to consume fewer processed foods and opt for healthier, real foods instead. This is great for overall health.
7. Helps balance your thyroid hormones, adrenals, and sex hormones.
Gluten places extra stress on the body, especially when it’s not tolerated and digested well. This stress, in turn, affects your thyroid negatively as well as your adrenals, hormones, and overall health.
Gluten can also interfere with hormone balance by causing inflammation which in turn can lead to symptoms such as weight gain, fatigue, depression and anxiety.
Removing gluten from your diet can help naturally reduce inflammation in the body and promote better hormonal balance.
8. Increases your energy throughout the day.
Many people who adopt a gluten-free diet report feeling an increase in their overall health and energy levels. By eliminating inflammatory foods from the diet, our bodies are able to function better and feel more energized.
In turn, this helps us to be more productive and enjoy life to the fullest. So if you’re looking for an increase in your overall health and well-being, going gluten-free may be just what you need!
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7 cons of eating a gluten-free diet
1. May be more expensive.
Eating gluten-free can be more expensive than the traditional diet. If you stick to clean, whole foods when eating gluten-free, you likely won’t see much, if any, of a jump in price.
However, many cheaper restaurants do not offer gluten-free options and if they do, the price is often raised. Additionally, most popular pre-packaged snacks contain gluten so if you’re looking for something quick and easy to grab while on the go, in-store options are likely going to be limited.
These processed gluten-free foods tend to be a little higher in price since gluten-free snacks often cost more to produce.
2. Makes it harder to eat out.
Whether you’re looking for a place to eat near home or on the road, eating gluten-free can be a challenge. The majority of fast food chains and popular restaurants don’t offer gluten-free options and the ones that do tend to have a very limited menu.
And if you’re staying in hotels or other lodging establishments that don’t offer designated gluten-free food items, preparing your own meals can be challenging due to limited kitchen facilities and access to suitable ingredients.
That said, more independent restaurants are offering gluten-free options making it easier than ever before for you to find something that meets your dietary needs.
Additionally, many restaurants are now familiar with accommodating special dietary needs and can provide you with all the information you need to make an informed decision.
This means that sticking to a gluten-free diet can make dining out a bit more of a challenge, but with just a little extra work and planning ahead of time, you can find restaurants that will meet your needs and make it easier for you to enjoy an evening out no matter where you are.
3. Makes going to parties and enjoying food around a table with family a bit more stressful.
Eating a gluten-free diet can be tough, especially when it comes to attending parties or dinner gatherings. For those with dietary restrictions, the prospect of going to a party and not being able to enjoy all of the food available can be daunting.
Not only do you have to worry about finding something that fits within your dietary limitations, but also having enough energy and focus on socializing with other guests.
This is why it’s important for people who eat gluten-free diets to plan ahead before they attend any kind of gathering so they don’t feel left out at the table.
4. People may judge you and may see you as high-maintenance.
When following a gluten-free diet, it can sometimes be difficult for people to avoid the judgment of others. People might think that someone who follows a gluten-free diet is being picky or high maintenance.
While there are many health benefits associated with going gluten free, those who follow this lifestyle are often faced with judgment from friends and family members who don’t understand the need for such dietary restrictions.
This can sometimes lead to frustration and feelings of isolation as they try to manage their dietary needs while still enjoying social activities like dining out or attending parties.
Just keep in mind that the decisions you make are never wrong as long as they are ones that make you feel better.
5. You may need to “prep” before you go out.
Eating out while on a gluten-free diet can be tricky, but it doesn’t mean you have to miss out. To make sure you enjoy your meals and don’t end up feeling sick afterwards, it’s best to prepare yourself before going out.
Checking the menu ahead of time is essential so that you know what options are available for you. This does force you to take a few extra minutes out of your day to prepare, but it’s well-worth the effort.
With some prior research and planning, eating out while following a gluten-free diet can be enjoyable and worry free!
6. You usually have to make adjustments to your restaurant orders.
That high-maintenance comes out in the open when you’re ordering food at a restaurant. Unless gluten-free menu items are available, you will oftentimes have to ask for an adjustment to make a dish completely gluten-free.
Thankfully, many restaurants are coming out with more gluten-free menu items to make this step a little easier, but not every restaurant has adapted this just yet.
So just know that it may take a little longer to order at restaurants and people may look at you funny, but as long as you’re courteous to your server, you shouldn’t run into any issues.
7. You may have to spend more time in the kitchen.
Eating gluten-free may require more time in the kitchen than a typical diet. This is because many foods that contain gluten are processed and pre-packaged, which means you have to make an effort to find alternatives that fit into your dietary needs.
While there are plenty of gluten-free swaps for common items such as bread and pasta, you’ll likely still have to make sauces, spice blends, and other dump-ready types of foods from scratch as they often contain gluten among their ingredient list.
Plus, many ready-made meals contain gluten so these are no longer an option for quick dinners and snacks.
Who should eat gluten free?
Now that you have a list of some gluten free pros and cons, it’s your turn to make the decision that is best for you.
If you suffer with digestive issues such as bloating, gas, IBS, constipation, and diarrhea, you will likely do better on a low gluten or gluten-free diet. Also, those who have a known gut dysbiosis or autoimmune conditions should highly consider removing gluten from their diet if they want to fully heal their body.
Additionally, if you suffer from skin conditions like psoriasis or rosacea, chronic inflammation, or get frequent headaches and fatigue then it may be worth your while to try a gluten-free diet.
Finally, always listen to your body and seek out advice from a medical professional or nutritional consultant if you’re unsure whether or not gluten is right for you.
What are some common foods that contain gluten and their alternatives?
Since we’ve discussed many pros and cons of a gluten-free diet, let’s discuss how to actually adjust your diet and what swaps you can make in order to avoid gluten.
If making swaps in recipes seems a bit overwhelming, you can also consider finding a meal plan service like Prep Dish or Real Plans that takes the guesswork out with a gluten-free plan you can follow! Not only will it save you time and stress from doing it yourself, but it will also teach you how to be more creative in the kitchen and fully understand how to make delicious gluten-free recipes with simple substitutions.
If you’re looking to make your own swaps, below is a table I put together that includes common gluten-containing products along with alternative options to make the switch to gluten-free simple:
|Almond flour, rice flour, coconut flour, chickpea flour, oat flour, gluten-free flour blends*
|Rice noodles, zucchini noodles, spaghetti squash
|Gluten-free bread, corn tortillas, lettuce wraps, portobello mushrooms
|Quinoa or rice
|Buckwheat, corn, quinoa, rice, lentils
|Certified gluten-free oats**
|Gluten-free beer, hard cider, wine
|Gluten-free croutons, sunflower seeds, chopped nuts
|Tamari sauce, coconut aminos
|Homemade gluten-free teriyaki sauce
*Gluten-free flour blends often contain a combination of rice flour, tapioca flour/starch, and potato starch.
**While oats themselves do not inherently contain gluten, they are often contaminated with gluten during processing. Therefore, it’s important to specifically look for certified gluten-free oats if you are avoiding gluten.
Please note that this list is not exhaustive, and there are many more gluten-free alternatives available.
As always, it’s important to carefully read food labels and look for gluten-free certifications when purchasing foods to ensure they meet your dietary needs. Be sure to consult with a registered dietitian or nutrition consultant if you’ve been diagnosed with celiac disease.
Hasn’t gluten been around forever?
So you may be thinking that “this is all fine and dandy, but why would gluten make that much of a difference? I mean, hasn’t it been around forever?”
The answer to this question is “yes” and “no”.
Yes, technically gluten has been around for thousands of years. It is a protein found in a plant, after all.
But here’s the problem – the farming industry has changed the compound of the wheat, along with other gluten-containing grains, that we consume today.
Because of our fast-paced, need-it-now world we’re living in, wheat today has been hybridized and deamidated before it reaches our shelves. In short, this means that the chemical structure of these plants have been changed making them a completely different substance than what was consumed by our ancestors.
It’s no wonder why many people can eat bread without any issues in Europe, but struggle with chronic symptoms when they consume the same types of gluten-containing foods here in the US.
So while gluten has technically been around forever, the type of gluten we’re exposed to today is much different and more likely to cause digestive issues, food sensitivities, and other negative side effects.
Conclusion: 15 pros and cons of a gluten-free diet
Now that you’ve gone through some pros and cons going gluten-free and adapting a new lifestyle, you can make an informed decision about whether or not it’s right for you.
Overall, removing gluten from your diet can have a positive impact on your health and quality of life. It may take some getting used to at first, but with a few simple substitutions and new recipes, you’ll be well on your way to a healthier lifestyle.
So why not give it a go? It doesn’t have to be forever, but it’s worth giving it a try!
If you don’t feel any different, then maybe you already have a strong digestive system and gluten isn’t an issue.
However, if you have any digestive issues whatsoever, then I highly recommend you try eliminating gluten for a few weeks and seeing how it goes!
Just remember that eating gluten-free can be challenging at first but with the right resources and support it can also be super rewarding!
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