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Going Gluten-Free: Can It Fuel You?

By Stephanie Booth
WebMD Feature

teen eating slice of pizzaChances are that you’ve heard of a gluten-free diet, but you’re not alone if you don’t really know what gluten is. 

It’s a protein that’s found in grains like wheat, barley and rye. (It’s also added to a lot of packaged foods to give them texture.) For most of us, eating gluten is no big deal. But it makes some people sick. 

Going gluten-free (GF) isn’t simple. Gluten’s in more foods than you probably realize.

What’s a gluten-free diet?

Just like it sounds, you’ll give up all products that have gluten. That means you’ll focus on foods that are naturally gluten-free such as:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Meat
  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Beans
  • Most dairy products are OK, too.

If you’re in the mood for pizza, cookies, bread, or pasta, you’ll have to buy special GF versions of those foods.

Is giving up gluten good for you?

That depends. If you have an illness called celiac disease, gluten attacks your small intestine and makes you feel sick. Or you could have problems because you’re super-sensitive to gluten. Either way, cutting it out of your diet can help with those symptoms.

But the verdict’s still out as to whether a gluten-free diet helps if you’re not having any symptoms. You may not notice a big difference in how you feel.

If you’re doing it because you think foods with gluten are bad for you, think about this: Your body thrives on different types of fuel, including healthy carbs (like whole-grain breads and cereals) that have gluten. Cut them out, and you may not get what your body needs to have enough energy and feel your best.

If you try it …

Know that “g luten-free” doesn’t mean “healthy.” “A package of gluten-free cookies isn’t better for you than wheat-based ones,” says Debra Nessel, a registered dietitian at Torrance Medical Center. You’ll still need to make healthy food choices.

Read labels. Passing on pasta is easy to remember. But lots of prepared foods, from canned soups to ready-made smoothies, also use gluten as a thickener. You’ll need to make a habit of checking labels. Brown rice syrup, modified food starch, “seasonings” and even “natural flavors” may all have gluten.

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